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Skip Navigation LinksDNREC : News : Governor Markell joins DNREC Secretary David Small in honoring Delawares 2015 Young Environmentalists in State Fair ceremony

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Contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902, photos available.

Governor Markell joins DNREC Secretary David Small in honoring
Delaware’s 2015 Young Environmentalists in State Fair ceremony

HARRINGTON (July 30, 2015) – Today at the Delaware State Fair, Governor Jack Markell, DNREC Secretary David Small and DNREC Deputy Secretary Kara Coats honored eight Delaware students recognized as DNREC’s 2015 Young Environmentalists of the Year.

“These exceptional young Delawareans are well on their way to becoming the conservationists, naturalists and environmental stewards who will help preserve our natural resources for generations to come,” Governor Markell said. “We appreciate their interest, their talent and the promise they bring for Delaware’s future.”

“Through these awards, we have had the opportunity for more than 20 years to recognize and meet tomorrow’s environmental leaders who are already making a difference at an early age,” said Secretary Small. “We congratulate them for their work today and look forward to their future contributions as responsible citizens leading and serving our communities, state and nation.”

Established in 1993 in honor of former DNREC Secretary Dr. Edwin H. “Toby” Clark II, the Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards are presented annually to Delaware students who have worked to protect, restore or enhance our state’s natural resources through environmental stewardship, innovative projects and promoting public awareness.

Judges for the program’s 22nd year were Education Coordinator Maggie Pletta and Administrative Assistant Colleen Holstein, both with the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve; Michelle Jacobs, educator and DNREC Small Business Ombudsman; and Environmental Scientist Jennifer Luoma, DNREC Division of Watershed Stewardship.

DNREC’s 2015 Young Environmentalists of the Year are:

  • High School – Liam O’Connor of Wyoming
  • Middle School – Jack Flairty of Smyrna
  • Elementary School – Madeline “Maddie” Cole of Bear and Quinn Hamrick of Bear (NOTE: The judges determined a tie for the award at the elementary school level.)
  • Special recognition – Cassidy Foskett, Lun Kong, William Khan and Benjamin Garrett

Here’s more information about the honorees.

High school winner Liam O’Connor, 17, of Wyoming, will be a senior at Caesar Rodney High School this fall. For the past two years, as a volunteer with DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, Liam has led a total of 450 volunteers who contributed more than 1,000 hours of service on several large Kent County projects at the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area near Felton. Projects included building, posting and monitoring 26 bluebird, six wood duck and four kestrel nesting boxes; collecting nearly two and a half tons of trash and removal of a half-acre of large invasive autumn olive trees from a hedgerow. After the trees were removed, Liam secured $1,800 in donations from the local community to purchase trees to reforest the hedgerow and coordinated volunteers to plant them.

“Liam is a natural leader with a passion for nature,” wrote his nominators, Kent County Wildlife Area Manager Bill Jones and Wildlife Outreach Coordinator Lynne Pusey of DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife. “He conducted research for every one of his projects and is learning more and more each year about Delaware’s flora and fauna and about habitat and wildlife management.”

In addition, Liam’s community projects outside state wildlife areas include coordinating the planting of 4,000 native loblolly pines at the Akridge Scout Reservation near Dover and an upcoming environmental work day in September for the Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow, with hopes of having at least 50 volunteers in each of Delaware’s three counties.

Michael Valenti, Delaware State Forest Service’s Forestry administrator and also Liam’s scout advisor, recommended Liam for the Young Environmentalist award, noting the Eagle Scout’s bid to earn the coveted William T. Hornaday silver medal, which has been awarded to only 1,100 scouts since 1917. “As an Eagle Scout, Liam has shown outstanding leadership in conservation over the past several years,” Valenti wrote. “Although he is quite busy, Liam still managed to find the time to significantly impact Delaware’s natural resources through no less than four ongoing, high-quality Hornaday conservation projects.”

“It’s one thing to simply show up and participate in a volunteer activity, but it’s much more impressive to be the volunteer leading and coordinating everything,” wrote contest judge Michelle Jacobs. “From the earliest efforts of researching a proposed project to working out the fine details of getting everything accomplished and educating everyone participating, Liam has certainly demonstrated his leadership abilities. His countless service hours are a testament to his concern for our natural world and his efforts will have very long lasting positive impacts on our environment.”

"People often go to national parks to appreciate nature at its finest, but they forget that the same beauty can be found in their backyard,” Liam said simply of his inspiration for taking on environmental projects. “This is what I enjoy the most about these projects. I get to work with great volunteers from the community to improve a piece of nature close to home."


Middle school winner Jack Flairty, 14, of Smyrna, will be a 9th grader in the Sanford School in the fall. Jack has a long history of practicing and promoting environmental stewardship, including: active membership in his school’s Go Green Club, including fundraising for recycling pickup; eight years of volunteering with the Adopt-A-Highway program; and active membership since 2002 in the Nature Conservancy, including volunteering for the spring stream cleanup and horseshoe crab count. Jack is currently working with the Smyrna Town Council to draft, develop support for, and pass a new ordinance requiring all storefront businesses in town to provide recycling receptacles outside their businesses for patrons and pedestrians.

Jack’s nominator, Jennifer Merrill, research coordinator with Delaware Sea Grant, described Jack as “a dedicated, intelligent and thoughtful young man who seeks opportunities to serve his community and encourage conservation and protection of our natural heritage.”

“His activities have included hands-on stream clean-ups, scientific horseshoe crab counts, policy work with the Town Council, and outreach at his school to encourage others to plant trees, recycle, and work to protect our environment,” Merrill continued. “In addition, Jack has volunteered to raise money for the Red Cross after Hurricane Sandy, helped maintain his family’s organic vegetable garden, and had a small plant sale table at the local farmer’s market.” 

“From trees to trash, and recycling to planting flowers, and counting horseshoe crabs to stream cleanups and everything in between, Jack covers a lot of ground,” said judge Michelle Jacobs. “He works with the powers that be to implement efforts and he works to raise funds to support projects.”

“It is truly wonderful to see someone so young be involved in environmental programs,” noted judges Maggie Pletta and Colleen Holstein. “He encompasses the meaning of a Young Environmentalist!”

"It does not matter how old you are, you still need to make a difference,” Jack said of his dedication to the environment. “My parents introduced me to volunteering and over the years I have become most interested in helping the environment."


The elementary school contest was a tie between two Bear residents, Madeline Cole and Quinn Hamrick.

Madeline “Maddie” Cole, 10, will be a 5th grader at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in the fall. As a preschooler, Maddie wanted to start the “World’s Best Cleanup Club” to pick up trash “so the earth wouldn’t get sick.” Maddie has helped with beach grass planting since she was 2 and now teaches others how to plant beach grass properly each spring. She is also an avid recycler, native tree planter and gardener.

“Maddie’s continued involvement with environmental projects, sharing her enthusiasm with her friends and having them join her in activities shows Maddie’s dedication to being a good environmental steward,” said judge Michelle Jacobs.

“Her continued love and support of protecting the environment especially in an enthusiastic and contagious way is so refreshing to see in our youth,” judges Maggie Pletta and Colleen Holstein said.


Quinn Hamrick, 8, will be a 3rd grader at H.M. Brader Elementary School this fall. Quinn is passionate about gardening and has worked on his school’s vegetable garden since kindergarten, as well as planting and growing his own vegetables at home. On April 22, 2015, Quinn addressed the Delaware General Assembly about the importance of school gardens and his love of growing things.

Quinn’s nominator, Brader librarian Sharon Brubaker, describes Quinn as “a bright and curious young student with a great passion for the outdoors and gardening.” On his visit to Legislative Hall, she noted that he spoke well, tried out a state representative’s chair, and invited two legislators to visit his school garden in May.

“When so many people do not know where their food comes from, or about everything involved with getting it to their table, it is refreshing to hear about a youngster who is so passionate about vegetable gardening and is helping out in his school garden,” said judge Michelle Jacobs.

“His early passion for gardening and wanting to express that to others – especially our state legislators – is awesome!” judges Maggie Pletta and Colleen Holstein said.

Quinn himself loves the simple pleasures of gardening and growing, and encourages others to try it. “I enjoy digging in the dirt, planting the seeds and eating the vegetables!” he said.


Also recognized were a group of fourth graders from McVey Elementary School in Newark who participated in Delaware’s legislative process this year. Cassidy Foskett, Lun Kong, Benjamin Garrett and William Khan did research on the issue, organized their peers and testified before the State Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Control Committee to express their views and concerns about proposed legislation for managing the gray fox in Delaware, where it is the official state animal. 

For more information on the Young Environmentalist of the Year Awards, please contact Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902, or

Vol. 45, No. 252

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