Cayman Islands Adventure

January 27, 2020


Harrison Tarabella -National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -
Even though he’s now 23, I still use this as his contact photo when he calls.

I’ve always wanted to tell you a story about something that happened years ago when I first started blogging, but back then, my boys were still young and I didn’t like talking about them much due to safety and privacy issues. Now that they are young men —WOW! — I’d like to tell you about the time in 2011 when Harrison won an all-expense paid trip to the Cayman Islands with Kid’s National Geographic Hands-On Explorer Challenge.

It was an event that helped shape his future, and is also a good example of how being an advocate for your child helps supplement their education and life in general.

Even though Harrison always had a subscription to Kid’s National Geographic (thanks, grandmother), My friend Kathy saw the contest first and told us about it. She and I had been discussing how we thought the children needed more writing instruction in school and it seemed like a fun way to get them to write more. Harrison had to write a short essay (grumble-grumble) on, “How water impacts my community.”

It was right after the BP Oil Spill in our area, so Harrison wrote about how the gully system in Fairhope Alabama acts like a natural filter to clean the waterways. He and his brother grew up exploring every twist and turn of the gullies, so he knew them like the back of his hand. He crept down through the kudzu one stormy day when water was rushing through and snapped the required photo to accompany the entry. We mailed it in on the last day possible.

Leslie Anne Tarabella and Harrison Tarabella, National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -

At 14 years old, Harrison was the eldest winner of the group of 15 children from thousands of entries from across America. Along with a parent (me!), we were all whisked away that summer for a week-long adventure in the gorgeous Cayman Islands. 

National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -

The winners were all super smart, nice and polite. They bonded immediately and we never heard a cross word between them. The older ones helped the younger, and there was non-stop laughter. It was an amazing group of talent.

National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -

The parents traveled on a separate bus to all the outings, and we also had a great time. We kept in touch with each other for years, but now that our children have gone through or are entering college, we’ve scattered, although I’ll try to reach them for this story. I’d love to hear the latest updates from their children.

National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -  - Dan Westergren and Harrison Tarabella
Harrison with professional photographer, Dan Westergren

Each child received a professional camera and personal training that week from National Geographic photographer, Dan Westergren, as well as video and storytelling instruction from journalist, adventurer and film producer, Boyd Matson

We toured every site on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. We were chauffeured to restaurants, concerts, museums. beaches, Stingray City, the Cayman Turtle Centre, and finally chased around by the famous blue iguanas.  All of this adventure was organized to encourage exploration, scientific intrigue, story-telling and photography skills . . . which describes grown-up Harrison completely.

National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -

Oh, that baby face! Harrison already had an interest in photography because it’s also my husband’s hobby, but this trip elevated a hobby into a passion, and inspired him to major in communications/broadcast-journalism in college. At 20 years old, as a college sophomore, Harrison traveled to Turkey and Iraq to film a documentary I’m still not allowed to discuss. (AGGHH!!! a good story I can’t tell is my worst nightmare!)

National Geographic Kid's Hands on Explorer Challenge 2011 -

And since the day he graduated from Samford University, Harrison has been employed full time in the photography and videography industry.

He has traveled extensively (He’s in Hawaii as I write this) and just finished working with Kanye West — hope to tell you more about that later!

Harrison Tarabella

It started with a small contest entry, and because of the great staff at National Geographic, a fantastic college education, a healthy dose of talent and plenty of hard work, Harrison is a happy guy. All grown up. You can see his work here:

Video/Photographer Harrison Tarabella. - story by
He was nervous about the stingray at age 14, but now he dangles down into caves. What’s a mom to do?

To the parents of young children, I say give them all the advantages you can. (Here’s my story about “Always Be Teaching“). Take them to museums, concerts, puppet shows and parades. Have them enter contests, do volunteer work and develop a variety of passions. Don’t spend 18 years repeating one activity when there are many other opportunities out there. You never know what they’ll love. Oh . . . and give them a subscription to NatGeo Kids!

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