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This year was tough, but we found some moments of joy while reporting in 2021 (it's true!)

A child prepares to plant a tree in a hole as an adult assists them
Daniel Rivero
Edward Prado has already planted a tree at age 4 and has ambitions to plant more. Many more.

The pandemic and political strife didn't give us a break in 2021 — but WLRN staffers still found some moments of joy in their reporting.

Last year, we decided to ditch our old year-in-review tradition of rounding up the weirdest so-very-Florida stories we could find.

We felt that we had enough weird in our day-to-day lives in 2020 — and in 2021, too.

WLRN is committed to providing South Florida with trusted news and information. As the pandemic continues, our mission is as vital as ever. Your support makes it possible. Please donate today. Thank you.

So we're continuing our new tradition of bringing you moments of joy WLRN staff experienced in our reporting this year.

Combating climate change one tree — or 20 — at a time

Combating climate change one tree — or 20 — at a time

Cuban national hero and poet José Martí once said: There are three things that every person needs to do to live their most fulfilling life: Have a child, write a book and plant a tree.

With this in mind, I could not help but smile to see Edward Prado scratching off that last one at the tender age of four.

I met Edward at a tree planting event at Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park in South Dade. The event was a part of an ongoing effort to plant a million new trees in Miami-Dade County to help offset rising temperatures by providing shade to residents.

Little Edward did his part and planted a slash pine, which he proceeded to name after himself.

But he didn’t want to stop there.

“Twenty!” he declared. “No, ten thousand!”

I actually talked with Edward the morning after the Surfside condo collapse, when I was deeply in need of something to smile for and feel hopeful about. The drama and the heartache of that first day hung heavily in my mind. It’s not an easy thing to have to inform neighbors about what happened to the building down the street when they stepped out for the morning walk. A building where friends lived. But in a few instances, that’s what a colleague and I had to do, as we looked on at the rubble in disbelief.

And then Edward snapped me out of my stupor with his unabashed enthusiasm for the task at hand. He started to school me about why you need to dig the rocks out of the ground before planting a tree.

“Because then the root is going to be with the rock,” Edward told me in Spanish, “and we don’t want the root with the rock.”

His mother Yasly Prado promised to bring him back to the site, where he could watch the seedling grow into a full-fledged tree. You can’t help but smile at that.

 — Danny Rivero

Amid doom and gloom, a coral researcher provides a glimpse of hope

Amid doom and gloom, a coral researcher provides a glimpse of hope

In Florida and across the Caribbean where both climate change and stony coral disease have fired a double whammy at coral, reefs are in trouble.

“It is a lot of doom and gloom,” said Nikki Traylor-Knowles, a microbiologist at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science told WLRN in July. “I mean, it's hard.”

Andrew Bruckner

Traylor-Knowles, who studies the evolution of immunity and the impacts of climate change on marine ecology, was blunt about her frustration.

“I gave a public talk recently and I started crying because it was just like as I was talking about it, I was like, oh gosh, this is just so hard,” she said.

But her research on genetics this year gave us all a reason to hope.

Traylor-Knowles found that some corals infected with stony coral disease had an immune response. That means they have the ability to fight back.

The disease was first detected off Virginia Key in 2014 and has now spread up and down the Florida reef tract, to the Caribbean and Mexico. The disease has infected nearly half of the stony coral species more in Florida that serve as the main building blocks for the reefs.

Once infected, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coral colonies will die within weeks or months.

“I don't want to oversell and say that we're, you know, anywhere near, like human medicine,” said Traylor-Knowles. “But we are really trying to create a toolkit so that we can better diagnose corals and better inform policies and other things to help save them.”

In a world besieged by disease, the discovery definitely falls in the category of glad tidings.

— Jenny Staletovich

The return of live events brings comfort and optimism

The return of live events brings comfort and optimism

In some ways, 2021 felt like season two of 2020. And I’m not quite sure what episode we’re in right now, but during what seems like a never-ending pandemic series, the return of live, in-person music and art events was a much-needed silver lining that brightened my mood.

An ancient artifact from the Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru exhibit.
Courtesy of Boca Raton Museum of Art
An ancient artifact from the Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru exhibit.

The Boca Raton Museum of Art highlighted ancient artifacts from Machu Picchu. An eclectic community activation in West Palm Beach brought entrepreneurs, musicians and artists together. A local country music star serenaded locals into the holiday season. And an African drum circle at a farm in Loxahatchee promoted community healing and healthy eating.

There was an underlying sense of comfort and optimism in these shared spaces and when I reported these stories, I found the kind of solidarity that I had been yearning for for more than a year.

— Wilkine Brutus

What does WLRN stand for? This 9-year-old listener has a guess

What does WLRN stand for? This 9-year-old listener has a guess

At WLRN, we get plenty of listener emails. Sometimes they just want to know more about a story or how to share it with someone else. Other times, listeners are not shy about sharing with us where they think we could have done better.

In August, we received a listener email that brought a lot of joy amid the summer surge of the pandemic. It started this way:

"Yesterday my godson Joshua, age 9, informed me during our drive down to Robert Is Here that he knows what the letters WLRN stand for."

A little history: Call signs, the letters of a radio station, oftentimes try to stand for something. They can be chosen for a specific reason or a station can find an acronym after the fact.

WLRN wasn't always WLRN. When the radio station first went on the air in 1949, it was WTHS. The broadcast license was held by the Dade County School Board and the Board of Public Instruction Technical High School — THS. In 1973, the call letters changed to WLRN, short for "learn," an obvious nod to the license-holder then and today — the Miami-Dade school board.

Back to that August email. The listener shared Joshua's take on what WLRN stands for: We Love Reporting News.

We do, Joshua. We really do.

— Tom Hudson

A Key West original — and animal lover — is finally getting her due

A Key West original — and animal lover — is finally getting her due

In August, I went to New York City for a museum show dedicated to an artist from Key West — Suzie Zuzek. She was the designer of the prints that made Lilly Pulitzer famous starting in the 60s.

It was surreal and wonderful to see places and people I know from Key West featured on the walls of the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York. And to see all those prints and understand the scope of Zuzek's work.

Her designs had flowers, sure, but also seashells and gold coins and animals — lots and lots of animals.

An image of Key West artist Suzie Zuzek holding a parrot, with a dog in the background.
Courtesy of Martha Depoo
Suzie Zuzek grew up on a farm, loved animals and surrounded herself with them — and included many in her textile designs.

When I got back to Key West, I talked to people who knew Zuzek, including Leigh Hooten. She worked with Zuzek and, when she first got to town, lived with Zuzek's family.

"There was a goat, there were chickens, there were peacocks. There was a rooster that would sleep in a puddle," said Hooten. "A monkey, cats, dogs. It was just a menagerie. And that menagerie and that life she created there was all translated into her work."

For a little island, Key West has had an outsized cultural influence — everyone knows about Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams and Jimmy Buffett.

It was so much fun to tell the story of a visual artist — a woman — and a true island original whose work is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

—Nancy Klingener

Finding joy after a disaster

Finding joy after a disaster

After a tragedy, as a journalist, I need to gather information about the people affected by it so I can document and tell their stories. No matter how long I’ve been a reporter, approaching someone who's in pain, though, never gets easier.

A month after the Champlain Towers South condo building collapsed on June 24, in Surfside, I was in a warehouse in Doral. It belongs to the Global Empowerment Mission, which raised funds and donated vital supplies for survivors of the collapse.

At that event, I approached a number of survivors. While some did want to speak with me, others turned me away. They didn’t want to be interviewed, which I completely understood. Then I noticed Steve Rosenthal, who lost his condo, unit 705 that day.

A woman at the mic mentioned Rosenthal’s “resilience and positivity” as an inspiration to her.

After he spoke and once the event finished, I approached him. Rosenthal gave me a warm smile, which I didn’t expect and he gave me his phone number. He agreed to do an interview, but another day.

Two months later we had a heavy conversation where he now lives, and he made us both laugh. In the radio version of this story you can hear his infectious laughter.

We knew none of it was funny — far from it. Somehow he found some humor in horror and absurdity.

At the end of our conversation, I wanted to know which state he grew up in. I did not expect to hear the answer.

“I was born in Germany,” he said, to which I reacted with complete surprise.

“I was born after the war. I’m a little older than you,” he added, making us laugh yet again.

I knew right away that being born in Germany meant his parents survived the Holocaust. They did, he confirmed, but he didn’t remember which camps they were in. He also told me his parents were from Lithuania, where my ancestors on my father’s side came from, too.

Steve Rosenthal speaks during an event for survivors of the Champlain Towers South collapse at the Global Empowerment Mission's warehouse in Doral on June 15, 2021. Rabbi Zalman Lipskar stood behind him.
Verónica Zaragovia
Steve Rosenthal speaks during an event for survivors of the Champlain Towers South collapse at the Global Empowerment Mission's warehouse in Doral on June 15, 2021. Rabbi Zalman Lipskar stood behind him.

I reached out to Steven Vitto — a researcher at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. We didn’t have much to go on, and yet Vitto managed to find Rosenthal's parents' records and piece together their story.

In 1949, Miriam and Jacob Rosenthal sailed from Bremerhaven in Germany to Baltimore with baby Steve, who was born that year.

Steve Rosenthal lost everything in the condo building collapse — everything he had to remember his parents by. So when I forwarded copies of the documents to him, it felt like a mitzvah — or a good deed, as we say in Hebrew. And that gave me joy.

—Verónica Zaragovia

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