Lily Thrailkill isn't afraid to get her hands dirty as she cleans out Santa Rosa Creek.
Among the teens who volunteer doing creek restoration at Chop's, Thrailkill often is the first one to get into a pair of waders, venture into the creek and pull out a shopping cart that's been stuck in the ground for years, said Justin Atkinson, volunteer coordinator.
Thrailkill, a student at Willowside Middle School, sees the activity as the way to help make the community a little less polluted.
And the group puts a fun spin on the old junk they find by creating sculptures, including a witch they cobbled together out of an old traffic cone, wood scraps and bicycle parts.
"It just makes me feel like I'm actually making a difference, and it's really fun to hang out with other people who want to make the world a better place," Thrailkill said.
For a 13-year-old, Thrailkill has a busy schedule, and a grown-up way of deciding what's important.
She finds ways to make a difference wherever she goes, and doesn't always follow the prescribed mold.
She joined a coed flag football team, and was worried that she'd be the only girl on the field.
"I sort of thought the guys were going to push me around and say, 'She shouldn't be playing,' " Thrailkill said. "But then I saw other girls that I was going to try out with, and I felt very happy."
As a part of her school's oceanography program, Thrailkill and her classmates conducted experiments studying crab behavior. They placed the crustaceans in tanks, and noticed that smaller tanks encouraged more aggressive behavior as the crabs became territorial.
Eventually, one of the male crabs attacked a female crab, which was a bit shocking, Thrailkill said.
"He started playing rough and tough, and she was the innocent victim," Thrailkill said. "She got torn apart. Circle of life."
Beneath a tough exterior, Thrailkill is a sensitive girl who helps her classmates climb rock walls and makes sure her fellow volunteers don't throw out belongings found in homeless encampments along the creek, Atkinson said.