This week, we get tips from Michael Brienza, 16, a sophomore at Charlotte Country Day. Michael recently earned the silver and bronze U.S. Congressional Awards and is working toward a gold. Michael is also a nationally ranked triathlete and founded a conservation program to establish bat habitats along the Carolina coast.
Q: Tell us about your service in Peru and the Caribbean.
For the past two summers, I traveled with a youth group called Overland Programs that coordinates service projects in remote areas around the world. I spent the summer of 2011 in Peru working in the Amazon rainforest building an observation deck. I also worked in Cusco and Urubamba as a teacher assistant (and) at the Virgin Island Sustainable Farm Institute on St. Croix planting and harvesting crops. I also worked at the Virgin Island National Park on St John clearing the beach for sea turtle nesting grounds and at the Alice Pfaelzer Childrens Center in St. Croix.
Q: What is one of your most rewarding experiences?
I have started to work as an assistant coach for the Special Olympic swimmers. A few weeks ago, one of the swimmers kept swimming with a flutter kick during his breast stroke, which is a fault and would disqualify him at a meet. I got in the water with him and had him mirror my stroke with a longer glide to stretch out his arm pull and it corrected his kick. When we both got to the other end of the pool, his mom and the head coach were cheering for him. He smiled from ear to ear and we gave each other a high-five. I have never had such an immediate, rewarding, and worthwhile experience in my volunteering.
Q: How did you come up with the idea to start a habitat?
Last year I was vacationing at the beach and a colony of bats flew out of our neighbors chimney at dusk. It was amazing to watch. I had no idea that bats were living among us. In August, the Schiele Museum in Gastonia hosted a seminar where the director for the Organization for Bat Conservation, Rob Mies, gave a presentation along with his live bats. He explained how bats are probably the most feared and misunderstood animal on the planet and that they are actually a great friend to the environment. They control the insect population, specifically mosquitoes, that can carry disease and be a nuisance and moths that can destroy crops.
Q: How long have you worked on the project?
I began working on the bat conservation project in August . I contacted the nature preserves and parks that surround our beach house in South Carolina and worked with the forest ecologists and park rangers to determine their needs, site location and coordinate the installation of the bat houses. I initially purchased the bat houses myself, but since then have solicited contributions (and) obtained a grant from Planet Connect.
Q: How did you first become interested in triathlons?
I have been competing in triathlons since I was 7 years old and last year was ranked No. 51 in the country among 16- to 17-year-olds. My goal this year is to make the top 25 . The strength of a great triathlete is to have good balance with no weakness. This is a perfect metaphor for my life.
Q: What are three things everyone should always have with them?
Compassion, commitment and clothing!
Q: Whats one thing worth remembering in tough times?
Pain is temporary; glory is forever.
Q: Whats a fun fact about yourself?
I enjoy trying new and exotic foods I have eaten everything from Floridian alligator to chocolate-covered grasshopper to sea urchins to cuy (Peruvian Guinea pig).