By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
When Elizabeth Joshi moved to Ponte Vedra Beach one-and-a-half years ago, it was a dream come true. She has family in town, loves the weather and values the beauty of the area. “I always thought that this was one of the most beautiful areas of the country. We are very fortunate to live here,” said Joshi, who grew up in New York. Enjoying being outside and getting exercise as a stress reliever, Joshi started to go for daily walks. It wasn’t long before she noticed all of the litter along her path on Palm Valley Road. One day, she decided to take a trash bag with her and fill it as she walked the four-mile path. That was a year ago, and Joshi has continued to walk and collect trash for an hour every day ever since. “I am lucky enough to live here, so I can contribute and provide that to the community,” said Joshi. “This is our community. If we want to keep it beautiful, then we must help keep it clean.” Other community members sometimes join Joshi on the clean-ups, and she also contacted St. Johns County to find out what more could be done to beautify the area. Joshi, who used to practice law, and her husband, an anesthesiologist, have two children, Shefali, 20 and Shaan, 18. Shefali is a sophomore at the University of Texas in Austin, and Shaan is a sophomore at Ponte Vedra High School. Shaan was born with a rare genetic disorder known as Joubert Syndrome in which a part of the cerebellum is missing, impacting his motor skills, vision, and kidneys. Shaan is nonverbal and underwent a kidney transplant from his father six years ago. “Having a child with special needs is a great equalizer. You realize what is important in life,” she said. “We live in a place of gratitude for what we have. Simple things are important to us.”
Q: What are your thoughts about beautifying the community?
A: If you can take action to improve something, you should. It does not have to be something grandiose. I don’t expect everyone to get out there and pick up trash for an hour; however, everyone can do their part like keep a bag with you when you walk, bring reusable bags to the grocery store, and own a water bottle. We can all do small things to keep our area beautiful, nice, and protected. None of us are perfect and we never will be. If we take small steps then cumulatively, it makes a difference. There will always be people who are thoughtless and rude. Show your kids what it looks like to help the community. Let’s pick up that can along the way. It may not be ours, but it is our community.
Q: How much trash do you usually pick up, and what types of items do you find?
A: I will fill an entire bag every day when walking Palm Valley Road. One drainage area near Sawmill Lakes turned out to be a very big job and filled 20 bags. I pick up a lot of cigarette butts. I think that there is still a misconception that it will disintegrate. Plus, a lot of chemicals from the butts are being put into nature if they sit there for a while. I find a lot of construction debris, food wrappers, lots of Styrofoam cups, alcohol bottles, and vapes. One of the weirdest things that I find is parts of cars, bumpers, and hub caps. You can learn a lot about people by cleaning up after them.
Q: Where did you attend college?
A: I attended Notre Dame for undergrad, and I attended DePaul University for law school in Chicago. I practiced law for 10 years in civil defense litigation. I stopped practicing law when my son was born.
Q: Where did you meet your husband?
A: We met in Chicago through a mutual friend. The common friend’s name is Shefali (the name I chose for our daughter), and that friend is now a U.S. Ambassador.
Q: What concerns you the most about all the litter you see?
A: Some of the trash can make it into the water drainage area and into the woods, basically into areas that I cannot reach. Wherever I go, I try to get to the trash before it goes any further. When someone litters, the damage can be done to the environment before someone can clean it up.
Photo courtesy Elizabeth Joshi
Elizabeth Joshi and family.