In spite of more than a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, three Delaware students were rather resourceful in finding ways to make a positive impact, says Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary Shawn Garvin. He, along with Gov. John Carney, hosted the 28th annual Young Environmentalist Award ceremony over the summer at the Delaware State Fair.
“Our young 2021 environmentalists put on their masks, followed protocols and made a difference,” Garvin says. “Like past years, DNREC sent out the message statewide electronically, seeking nominations of young environmentalists from teachers, youth leaders and others, and we were buoyed by the response.”
The winner for elementary school students was 9-year-old Rowan Smith of Dover, who independently formed a plant club in her third-grade class at Banneker Elementary and used her recess time to lead nature walks and plant investigations, sharing plant facts she learned from avidly reading about and researching Delaware flora.
As an active third-year member in Kent County’s Peach Blossom 4-H Club, middle-schooler Maggie Wieber, age 11, was praised for taking on projects involving wildlife, woodworking and community service. Upon learning of a need for bat boxes at Killens Pond and Trap Pond state parks, she first researched box plans and then solicited funds from the Delaware 4-H Foundation to buy materials. Using these resources, Wieber developed kits with precut parts and enlisted eight fellow 4-H members to construct 10 boxes, which were donated to the two parks where they are currently being used to provide nesting areas for these important insect-eaters.
Eighteen-year-old Julia Rial, of Lewes, planned beach cleanups in Sussex County, organized tree plantings and made videos at James Farm in Ocean View. With her friend Jade Carter, Rial founded the Delaware Youth Chapter of Extinction Rebellion to work in her community on environmental issues and sustainability. In February, the duo gathered a dozen volunteers and organized a “sustainable free market” for the Shepherd’s Office in Georgetown, an organization that helps homeless and needy people, which collected five truckloads of usable goods, keeping the items out of landfills. During the event, the two arranged for hot lunches, donated by local businesses, to be provided for 100 people in need.
Each honoree received a gift card, a Delaware State Parks annual pass and a prize pack of items featuring the new DNREC logo. Additionally, Richard Morris of New Castle County—a volunteer firefighter with the Belvedere Fire Company in Newport, who serves as the primary keeper and driver of DNREC’s Hazmat 30 “Beast” and has responded to 50 hazardous incident calls—was recognized as DNREC’s Volunteer of the Year. Nine-year-old Kane Messina of Millsboro was awarded the top trophy in the 35th annual Youth Fishing Tournament by hooking (and releasing) a 21-inch bass. The annual summer tournament’s purpose is to introduce young people to the sport of fishing and teach the catch-and-release approach to conservation.