-Naia Mader co-founded River Kidz in 2011; today she is a junior at UC, Berkeley .This week, as part of my River Kidz series, I proudly feature Naia Mader. Naia, the daughter of Nicole and Donny Mader, co-founded River Kidz in 2011 with friend Evie Flaugh. Naia was only ten years old at the time. Today, she is twenty and earning a bachelor’s degree in Society and Environment, College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley. Right in line with her River Kidz training, Naia is also completing a minor in Public Policy.
I had not spoken in depth with Naia since she left her hometown of Stuart, Florida, three years ago. I was happy to hear that Naia feels River Kidz helped prepare her for her studies. Last week, I interviewed her briefly by phone while she was in between classes.
JTL: “Hi Naia.” My having been born at Travis Air Force Base in California, in 1964, makes me feel like we have something in common. How do you like it out there in the Golden State in 2021?”
N: “Well, it was a shock in many ways. It is very different from Stuart. Now I love it.”
JTL: “What was the first thing you noticed was different?”
N: “Mmmm, the mindset of the people I think. Like when I think back on how those adults were against us at the CRC. I think there is more support here for youth and the environment. People are more hopeful, less divisive. For everyone, there’s more of an eco-consciousness. It’s not negative.”
JTL : (Laughing) :Naia that was incredible. Those were not just adults, those were very powerful Gunster lawyers -working against what you and Evie spoke in favor of “A Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment“- at the Florida Constitution Revision Commission in 2017. You and Evie learned a lot at a very young age. Water is the big issue here. What are some of the big environmental topics facing people in California?”
-River Kidz co-founders Evie Flaugh (11) & Naia Mader (10) 2011.-Evie & Naia, Tallahassee 2017. River Kidz advocated before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, the Florida Senate, members of the House of Representatives in Washington DC, and various Florida county and city commissions. There have been over 600 members of River Kidz since 2011. Today’s generation is writing the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and politicians to get the ailing manatee back on the Endangered Species List.N: “Water too. But it’s water shortage, along with drought and fire.”
JTL: “Yes, we read a lot about the fires in California. Can you compare them to hurricanes in Florida -where it’s sometimes a little bit scary, and you hunker down and wait for it to pass?”
N: “It’s a different kind of scary. In a hurricane there is time and you prepare for this big storm, but with these fires they are always kind of looming over our heads. It’s more of an eerie feeling- it’s a constant thing…”
JTL: “So it’s more pervasive….”
N: “Yes, don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely beautiful here most of the time, but still. I’ll send you some pictures I took last year in September. Due to distant fires the sky was glowing completely orange. Its was like I said, eerie more than scary. And we are very aware of the AQI (Air Quality Index) out here and check it daily.”
JTL: “What’s the AQI?”
N: “The air quality index.”
JTL: “Wow. I take that for granted!”
N: “Two years ago we couldn’t go to class for four days because the AQI was over 270. It was strange; my roommates and I stayed inside. Sometime we don’t go out to exercise.”
JTL: “Well thank you for sharing about that Naia. I know people back in Florida are interested.”
-In 2020 Berkley had twenty days of red flag warnings. Photo Naia Mader “outside” Sept. 2020.JTL: “Naia, like you said, drought is a big environmental topic and linked to the fires affecting people and wildlife. Clean water and stopping the discharges from Lake Okeechobee was the mission of River Kidz, so what is it like dealing with drought – not enough water? How is it affecting people you know or yourself?”
N: “It is also pervasive. And yes a shift. So I for instance, I had class with fellow students two days ago, who, you know, they have water caps imposed by their local governments. They can only shower with the full strength of the water for an allowed period of time per day and the other part of the day has to be on half pressure.”
JTL: “Your’e kidding? Wow. I practice conservation, but I can’t imagine having a government cap on my showering time! Has this affected you too?”
N: “No, Berkeley is not in that situation. But other places not far away from here are, and some of my friends experience it when they visit home.”
JTL: “Water is everything…”
N: “Yeah, and another thing about drought, like here in California, it “never” rains, which is such a foreign concept to me because it rains all the time in Florida. For many of my classmates’ families that are from California, the effects of drought are far reaching and they talk about it a lot and are very conservation oriented. But don’t get the wrong idea, not everything is dry here, there are a lot green places too!”
JTL: “Yes, California has always been considered one of the most beautiful states desert or forest. It is a very special place. It think it’s great you are going to school out there.”
-Naia walks trails around Berkley, always a tree hugger! JTL: “Naia, I know you have to go to class. Before I leave you, if you had something to say to next generation of River Kidz what would you say? Thank you so much for your time today.”
N: “I would tell them to be totally encouraged and to keep on fighting, to keep on getting involved, to use their voice. I think that’s the most important thing we can do right now.”
JTL: “Last question. Did River Kidz help prepare you for – life – basically? Can you explain?”
N: “Oh, I think ten-thousand percent. Like I’ve actually spoken to Evie about this. I feel like the way I present myself in speaking terms, writing terms… How I see things from many different perspectives… I feel like on a global scale, it has totally stemmed down from River Kidz. It taught me to mature at a young age, not forced to mature but… being able to write speeches, understand adults, and know what was going on even if I was a kid.
And I feel like I’ve carried that sense of self over to being here a Berkley. In class, I can speak much more eloquently. I know how to do presentations, speeches – I feel like I kind of have that down on lock.
I feel like River Kidz really prepared me. I also feel that on the environmental scale I have been learning about these big environmental issues from a young age. It’s actually funny, one of my friends at school was learning about the toxic algae blooms in the St Lucie River/ Indian River Lagoon. So I was like “oh my gosh- that’s my home!”
It’s so far reaching…It definitely prepared me.”
Ironically, today parts of California are experiencing torrential rains. I will be interviewing more grown River Kidz in the future.