Young people making a difference by caring for our natural world were honored today at the Delaware State Fair, as Governor Jack Markell and DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara presented DNREC’s Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards.
In the elementary category, judges selected Yusuf Kose, a 7-year-old from Newark who will start second grade in the fall. The son of Nayma and Murat Kose, Yusuf participates in community environmental events such as the Christiana River Cleanup. However, it is his mature perspective on the environmental challenges we face that caught the attention of Saba Anwar.
“His understanding of the plights and downfalls of our current way of living which produce excess pollution of our Mother Earth is evident in the fine details in his artwork and posters,” said Ms. Anwar, who nominated Yusuf.
Yusuf placed in several recent poster contests, including a first place in the National Association of Conservation Districts contest with “Water Is Life So Save Water.” Another poster, which took first in a Delaware Solid Waste Authority contest, accurately and concisely details the steps in composting yard waste. In a third first-place poster, “Super Yusuf to the Rescue,” the artist dons a cape to rescue marine life from the trash which finds its way into our waterways.
“Outreach is an important aspect of environmental stewardship. Yusuf’s winning posters increase public awareness of environmental issues,” said contest judge Michelle Jacobs, a community relations officer with the DNREC Division of Soil and Water Conservation.
Top honors in the middle school category went to Matthew Nickle, a 14-year-old from Viola who will begin high school in the fall. Matthew, who also received a Governor’s Youth Volunteer Service Award in April, resides with his parents, Ed and Vickie Nickle.
In April 2008, Matthew began volunteering at the DuPont Nature Center near Milford and was assigned to assist with school groups and summer day camps. Soon after, Matthew began seining the waters off Slaughter Beach to expand the center’s living classroom ecosystem with additions including mussels, whelks, spider crabs, quahogs, hermit crabs and even seahorses.
Matthew has earned the title of aquarium specialist for his knowledge and knack for maintaining tricky saltwater tanks as well as tending to the special needs of their occupants, such as calcium for seahorses and natural lighting for terrapins. So far, the hard-working volunteer has put in more than 350 hours teaching visitors and caring for the center’s now 200+ live animals.
“Live animals displayed within their natural habitat can capture an audience, intriguing them to listen, understand and most importantly, gain respect for the issues surrounding wildlife populations in decline,” said center director Dawn Webb. “Matthew Nickle has made a huge difference at the DuPont Nature Center and our facility has made a positive impact within the community because of his living additions to our teaching curriculum.”
Judge Jennifer Holmes, education coordinator at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve, cited Matthew’s commitment to Delaware’s natural resources, calling his initiative in increasing the number of species for his classroom outreach “impressive.”
The winner in the high school category is 17-year-old Samuel Piascik of Dover, who will be a junior in the environmental program at Polytech High School in Woodside this fall. He is the son of Trish and Mark Piascik.
Through a partnership between Polytech and the DNREC Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Junior Certified Citizen Naturalist Volunteer Program, Samuel became a volunteer instructor for the Hooked on Fishing - Not on Drugs (HOF-NOD) program in 2006. He has since logged more than 300 hours of volunteer time at the Division’s Aquatic Resources Education Center (AREC) near Smyrna, teaching more than 200 children to fish, earning expert level naturalist certification as an outreach specialist, maintaining and repairing the center’s fishing equipment, promoting HOF-NOD at special events and training other volunteer instructors.
“Sam doesn’t spend his summer vacation relaxing. He volunteers his time several days a week at the center teaching kids to fish and promoting environmental awareness along with positive activities,” said AREC Volunteer Service Coordinator Trina Cale-Rosario. “At events Sam brings a world of knowledge and enthusiasm that entices the public, and he loves sharing his knowledge while conveying an environmental conservation message.”
Samuel especially enjoys sharing his love of fishing with others through HOF-NOD. “It gives kids that normally don’t have the opportunity to fish the chance to learn. The kids really enjoy it, and I hope they will enjoy fishing for a long time,” he said.
Jacobs noted Samuel’s impressive number of volunteer hours, adding, “To put the time and effort into reaching the expert level certification shows Sam’s dedication to the environment,” she said.
Each winner was presented with a certificate, a $100 U.S. savings bond, a Delaware State Parks 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 Holmes and Jacobs, this year’s judges also included DNREC environmental scientists Terri Brixen of the Division of Air and Waste Management and Terri Cole and Patty Murray of the Division of Water Resources.
For more information on the awards program, please contact Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs Office, at 302-739-9902.