2011 Grassroots Citizen Advocate Award Recipients

2011 Grassroots Citizen Advocate Award Recipients

2011 Freshwater Future’s Citizen Advocate Awards:

DianeHofnerCitizen Award:  Diane Hofner, CROP PLUS  – Portland, New York
(CROP-PLUS stands for Concerned Residents of Portland – People Like Us Portland)

It takes strength to stand up for the truth, especially when the alternative means changing a system that has been in place for years as well as higher dollar costs for a community.

When Diane Hofner and her husband retired to their summer home in Portland, NY, she started paying closer attention to the piles of dark ash that were used on the roads to increase traction during the winter. She discovered that the coal ash was available for free from the local coal plant and putting it on the road kept it out of the landfill. She also discovered that this had been going on for decades.

In the spring of 2007, Diane made her first call to the Health Department and began a long, informative, and alarming journey that revealed many levels at which her community was being contaminated by unsafe disposal of both waste products from coal burning: bottom ash and fly ash.

At that time, Diane found out that the use of coal ash was allowed through the state of New York.  Since then the ash had been regularly used as a cheap alternative to more costly sand and salt. She also discovered that a local golf course had been built on millions of tons of fly ash, and within two years, nearby wells had been contaminated.

Initially using her own money for expensive tests on the ash, it was a lonely, uphill battle. Eventually, Diane was connected with the group Great Lakes United which led her to discovering Freshwater Future. “At first, a consultation grant in 2009 was awarded which helped me organize my thoughts,” explained Diane who had never before written a grant and had minimal computer skills. A second grant of $4,000 was used for testing the ash samples. “I did what people needed to see as proof. With the grant, we were able to hire a professional sampler this time.”

Hofner took her local work to the national level by attending federal hearings in other states where she persevered to connect with other individuals who would listen. She found out that in 1980, Congress had stopped any regulations of coal ash until the EPA could study it more. Today, two proposals are being discussed for both federal and state levels to reinstate regulation of coal ash and to define it as a hazardous waste.

What started out as an effort to ensure the safety of her local community rolled into a much larger initiative than Hofner could have imagined. Today, her local community has stopped using coal ash on their roads and Hofner has engaged the interest and support of young people who are taking her message forward. Diane is to be commended for standing up to protect the lakes, rivers and drinking water in her community from pollution.

YellowDogWatershedYellow Dog Watershed Preserve – Big Bay, MI

If you asked Cynthia Pryor, 16 years ago what the biggest threat to the Yellow Dog River—she probably would have answered unchecked logging.  In 1995, when the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve first organized, mining was not on the radar screen.

In 2003, that changed when Kennecott Minerals – a Utah based mining revealed a proposed mining site located directly below the Salmon-Trout River, adjacent to the Yellow Dog River, all within a watershed that drains to Lake Superior. In addition, the location of the mining facility is next to a rock outcropping known by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as Eagle Rock, a site of spiritual significance to the tribe.

For several years, numerous volunteers and the small staff of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve—Cynthia, Emily Whittaker, Chauncey Moran, and Wendy Johnson– have worked to raise awareness of the looming threats of sulfide mining in this Great Lakes watershed.

The Grassroots Advocate Award for an Organization goes to the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve  for their leadership over the years to build a collaborative effort and partnerships to to conduct a multi-year effort to prevent this form of mining – or at the very least be assured that best practices would be employed.

Supremely adept at engaging the community and local citizens, the group has held multiple meetings, demonstrations, and more. Nationally known musician Greg Brown devoted an entire album called “Yellow Dog” to support the cause.

However, construction of the mining facility began in the spring of 2010 and this past fall, blasting began at Eagle Rock.

Despite this long challenge, Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve has persevered and today is diligently monitoring the operations and doing all it can to hold the mining industry accountable and protect the watershed. The organization has received several grants from Freshwater Future over the years and more recently, a climate change grant was awarded. The climate grant is being used to inform decision makers about how extractive industries (such as sulfide mining) will be affected by climate change.

This group of individuals and their associates are to be commended for all they have done and continue to do to protect this northern Michigan wilderness watershed.

Cool Learning Experience – First Baptist Church, Waukegan, IL

Nature is good for the body, mind and soul.  Ok—we know we are preaching to the proverbial choir—but it is true.

Research continues to show that the amount of time kids spend outdoors has an impact on academics, their self-esteem, and their mental and physical health. No matter where a child is from or what that child’s past has been, nature offers unlimited opportunities for learning, growing, and finding peace. Just ask, Coyote (also known as Barbara Waller), the creator and director of Cool Learning Experience in Waukegan, Illinois—how getting kids outdoors makes a difference.

Over the past several years, Barbara and her daughter, Kimberly (Monarch Butterfly) have organized a six-week summer program for upper elementary kids in Waukegan, Illinois.  Their mission is to foster the well-being of children – mind, body, soul and spirit within the context of the web of relationship among which they live out their lives.

By the way, they are also raising academic performance.  One of their most outstanding accomplishment was a marked increase (overall 17% for all grades) in students’ academic performance as measured by the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) sample exam in the areas of science and reading.

After choosing their own token animal name, the students are encouraged to be kids!  For example, in their “Exploring Waukegan’s Ravines”  activity—children investigate wild places in their neighborhood: Waukegan’s ravine system, lakefront dunes, beach, and harbor areas. Nature games and self-discovery activities were used to heighten the children’s interest, foster a “sense of place,” and stimulate a thirst to learn more about the local environment. Reading, writing, speaking, science and math skills were cultivated through independent research using field guides, work on creative projects, and delivering presentations. Parents became involved when a family-night pizza party was held and the children shared about what they had learned.

The CLE children are taught about sustainable living and individual responsibility and feedback shows this is carrying well beyond the learning environment at the church. Parents report on their children’s efforts in their homes to conserve water and recycle. One parent shared a story of how her son encouraged his grandfather, an avocado farmer in Mexico, to use composting to replace some of his expensive fertilizers.

The CLE program also places an emphasis on social responsibility through volunteer work and service learning opportunities. Participants regularly help with community gardens by planting, weeding, and harvesting. Community members have given back to CLE by volunteering as reading buddies/tutors and mentors, translators, master gardeners and much more.

CLE receives Freshwater Future’s Organization Advocate Award for sharing their love of nature and growing future scientists, and most importantly strengthening a community by connecting people to their community.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.