Young environmentalists honored at fair

Young people making a difference by caring for our natural world were in the spotlight on Thursday, July 24, at the Delaware State Fair, as Governor Ruth Ann Minner presented the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards. Sixteen nominations came in from all over the state, and judges said they had to make some difficult choices in naming the winner in each of three age groups.

In the elementary category, judges selected Alexis “Lexi” Houston, a 7-year-old from Wilmington, who will start second grade at Children’s House Montessori in the fall. Her nomination contains a remarkable resume of environmental projects: teaching toddlers about composting; making a “Save the Earth” presentation to her Brownie Troop; working on her school’s nature trail and on class experiments to determine how much water we waste and how much waste we produce; creating recycled art; and multiple projects promoting the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — in her school and community.

Cathy Lopez-Cooling, head of Children’s House Montessori, who nominated Lexi, noted that her concern and determination as an environmental steward has moved her school in a greener and more positive direction, as well as the community at large.

“Lexi has most definitely had an impact on the lives of the students and families around her. In turn, these individuals can take that message out to others and expand it, impacting the Delaware community on a larger scale,” Lopez-Cooling wrote, adding, “She may be small, but she is mighty.”

Judges agreed. “It seems that Lexi’s passion and persistence has helped push the adults in her life to pursue useful, hands-on projects that are, in turn, impacting the smaller and larger community with their knowledge and passion,” noted Judge Jennifer Bowman, a planner with the Division of Water Resources.

“Wow! What an awesome young lady! Lexi’s care and concern for the environment is very evident by all the projects and programs she is involved with. Her willingness to share her views and to teach others is impressive,” said Judge Michelle Jacobs, a community relations officer with the Division of Soil and Water.

Top honors in the middle school category went to Emma Brown, a 14-year-old from Claymont who will be a freshman at Concord High School in the fall, having completed the eighth grade at Springer Middle School in Wilmington this spring. Emma resides with her parents, David and Riva Brown.

Emma’s wide range of environmental work included serving as a volunteer assistant with the Delaware Nature Society on its “Wizards and Lizards” program for ages 7 to 12; participating in Springer Middle’s Stream Watch program; organizing events such as a tree planting, planting native species and educating other children about urban landscaping through the Horticultural Education and Leadership Program; organizing Claymont’s Green Day; and planting, tending and harvesting organic foods in her school garden, which the students ate during demonstrations for a school-wide awareness program on organic foods and nutrition.

“It’s great to see young people who are dedicated to improving the environment, and it’s awesome when someone young, like Emma, is willing to share her passion with others,” Jacobs said.

The winner in the high school category is 17-year-old Meagan Santangelo of Middletown, a new graduate of the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington. The daughter of Edward and Donna Santangelo, Meagan plans to study pharmacy at Salisbury State University in the fall.

For her Girl Scout Award project, Meagan started last August to organize a household hazardous waste collection event to be held in January in her Middletown community. She obtained the support of State Rep. Richard Cathcart and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority and dedicated many hours to making the event happen.

“Due to her tenacity, Meagan won the support of the community at large,” wrote Bill Johnston, a school guidance counselor, in nominating Meagan. “It is not an easy task to organize a community, and for a 17-year-old girl to possess the skills and dedication to do so, speaks volumes of her as a responsible citizen and her leadership skills.”

Held at the DSWA’s Pine Tree Corner Transfer Station on Jan. 26, the event drew 179 cars in just four hours, and collected more than 12,000 pounds of household hazardous waste, including medical items, paint, flammable liquids, antifreeze, light bulbs and aerosols. In April, Meagan was also among the recipients of the 2008 Governor’s Youth Volunteer Service Awards.

“Meagan’s project seems to have become more than just a task — it gained a purpose for the greater good. Her individual leadership and efforts to bring this event together is a tremendous demonstration of her dedication and passion for environmental stewardship and education,” Bowman noted.

“Impressive! If you have ever put together an event you can appreciate the time and effort that Meagan put into her project. Meagan’s persistence and organization really paid off with an event that surpassed everyone’s expectations,” Jacobs added.

Each winner was presented with a certificate, a $100 U.S. savings bond, a Delaware State Parks boating pass and gate pass, and a gift basket from Bella’s Cookies, an organic and natural bakery in Sussex County which co-sponsored this year’s awards.

The Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards program was established in 1993 in honor of Dr. Edwin H. Clark II, who served as DNREC’s secretary from 1989 to 1993. The awards are presented annually to Delaware students whose actions over the preceding year have protected, restored or enhanced our state’s natural resources through innovative projects by promoting public awareness and by demonstrating environmental stewardship and ethics. The students are nominated by teachers, parents, peers and youth group leaders.

In addition to Bowman and Jacobs, this year’s judges also included DNREC environmental scientists Terri Brixen of the Division of Air and Waste Management and Terri Cole of the Division of Water Resources.

Nominations for next year’s Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards will be accepted in May 2009. For more information on the awards program, please contact Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs Office, at (302) 739-9902.