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2009 Synergy Awards Fact Sheet

Each year, the CEC hosts the Synergy Awards to recognize local individuals and organizations for their notable environmental projects and achievements. The winners are chosen from nominations made by the environmental community at large. Here are this year’s honorees.

2009 Army & Sarah Emmott Conservation Award Winners:

Flo Hannah and Jaime Gonzales

Jaime Gonzales with the Katy Prairie Conservancy, and Flo Hannah with the Houston Audubon Society, were both instrumental in the native plant rescue events held at Saums Road Prairie during the summer of 2008. Native grasses and wildflowers were relocated from this site before its destruction for a development project, and transported to sites across the City of Houston to create small pocket prairies.  The purpose of the pocket prairies is to educate visitors on the value of coastal prairies in our native ecosystem. The project has created several beautiful pocket prairies, each a magnet for wild butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects beneficial to birds. The goal is to encourage visitors to these pocket prairie sites to include more native plants in their own landscaping projects.

With Houston’s accelerated rate of growth, biodiversity is being lost at a rapid pace. The Nature Conservancy has labeled coastal prairies “globally imperiled”. The pocket prairies are small, but they can serve as seed banks for future restoration projects.

The efforts of Jaime and Flo have also led to the creation of the Coastal Prairie Partnership, the first local group dedicated to the conservation of coastal prairies.

  • Pocket Prairie #1 was installed at Houston Audubon’s Sims Bayou Urban Nature Center: 3997 River Drive, Houston, TX 77017
  • Pocket Prairie #2 was installed at Russ Pitman Park (The Nature Discovery Center) in Bellaire. 7112 Newcastle; Bellaire, TX 77401
  • Pocket Prairie #3 is at South Braeswood and Buffalo Speedway in south Houston.  Houston, 77025
  • Pocket Prairie #4 was installed in March 2008, at Mandell Park on Richmond Avenue, in cooperation with the Friends of Mandell Park. A Mandell at Richmond Avenue, 77006.

2009 Government Award Winner: Andy Sipocz

This year’s winner of the government award is Andy Sipocz, wetlands biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. He has spent his career creating and conserving wetlands in the Gulf Coast area. Sipocz’s work epitomizes synergy, sparking collaboration at a grand scale.

One of Sipocz’s notable projects  involved the development of a series of wetland ponds along Brays Bayou, constructed to detain and remove pollutants from stormwater. Monitoring of the water onsite has demonstrated that the wetland is cleaning up the water as designed. Oxygen levels are improved and bacterial levels have decreased by 99 percent since the construction of the wetland.

Another of Sipocz’s projects is the restoration of approximately 500 acres of old rice fields with native prairie and marsh at Sheldon Lake State Park. Andy developed a process using historic photos and modern soil studies to determine the original configuration of Sheldon’s prairie marshes. Volunteers using locally collected and grown plants have now restored the site. The same technique is a model that can be used to restore prairie and wetland to some of the hundreds of thousands of acres of former rice fields on the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Brays Bayou: John T Mason Park, Houston, Texas 77023
Sheldon Lake State Park: 15315 Beaumont Hwy, Houston, TX 77049-1900

2009 Corporate Awareness Award Winner: Keatingrove Farms

This year’s Corporate Awareness Award goes to Keatingrove Farms, the only certified organic farm in Harris County. At this farm, local residents have the opportunity to purchase seasonal, locally grown, organic produce.  As a USDA certified organic farm, Keatingrove met rigorous requirements, including three years with no application of prohibited materials such as synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or genetically modified organisms. In addition, the farm must keep detailed records of all the products used on the farm, create an overall plan for the farm, and undergo regular inspections.

Keatingrove Farm is known for its heirlooms and unique plant varieties. This is valuable because recent decades have seen a serious decline in the range of vegetable and fruit varieties grown on farms and in gardens worldwide. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, crop genetic resources are being lost at the rate of 1-2 percent a year. Keatingrove Farms and others who cultivate heirloom varieties are working to safeguard genetic diversity and the ecological health of food crops.

Keatingrove Farms: Park Road at FM 2920 near Tomball

2009 Community Activist Award Winner: Juan Parras

This year’s winner of the Community Activist Award is Juan Parras, founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. For more than 30 years, Parras has been a voice for low-income minorities through his work as an international union representative, anti-pollution activist and community outreach coordinator. His work has been particularly vital to the Latino community of Houston’s East End, and along the Houston ship channel. He’s been described as the hardest working person in Houston’s environmental justice movement, a person who has spent days from morning to night walking in a community and organizing families at risk to speak out against the pollution they face.

Of particular note is Parras’ work in the Manchester community, situated next to the oil refineries of the city of Pasadena. The community there turns to Parras when they’re facing new problems. He is always willing to hold a community meeting, and work as a facilitator between the community and businesses, or local governments.  Recently, with the help of the UTMB epidemiology department, Parras was able to collect 50 blood samples from members of the Manchester community, which will be compared to blood samples from another local control community. This study may be pivotal in giving legal weight to the health problems that Manchester residents are facing.

Parras still faces enormous odds in the fight for environmental justice, but we know he’ll be tireless in overcoming those odds.

Manchester is just east of the Interstate 610 loop on the Houston Ship Channel at the eastern edge of Houston one mile northwest of Pasadena in east central Harris County.

2009 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: Frank Smith

Frank Smith has been a leader of Houston’s environmental organizations since the early 1960s, when he joined Terry Hershey to fight the channelization of Buffalo Bayou. This successful effort resulted in the formation of the Bayou Preservation Association. In 1972 Miss Ima Hogg called upon Smith and three others to look after Memorial Park when she was no longer able to do so. They formed the Memorial Park Advisory Committee and worked to preserve the park for future generations.

As the Bayou Preservation Association President in 1974, Smith worked to establish the Armand Bayou Nature Center. He was then the second President of the Nature Center, which led him to a term as the Chairman of the Texas Nature Conservancy, and a year as President of the Rice Design Alliance. A lifetime interest in sailing and boating also prompted him to join with others in founding the Galveston Bay Foundation in the late eighties. Smith has truly been pivotal in Houston’s environmental movement.

2009 Media Award Winner: Yolanda Green

Yolanda Green is the host of “Going Green with Yolanda Green,” a weekly, half-hour television program on KIAH-TV, Channel 39, in Houston. The show highlights businesses, commercial products, government programs and local initiatives that are making significant strides in ensuring our communities are eco-friendly. The show covers on local green issues in a way that is both informative and entertaining. Green’s work brings conservation initiatives to a whole new and much broader audience. She covers topics ranging from the new, smart grid technology to invasive species, to composting. All episodes of “Going Green” can be viewed on the Channel 39 website, http://www.39online.com/lifestyle/goinggreen/.

2009 Media Award Winner: Matthew Tresaugue

Houston Chronicle writer Matthew Tresaugue produces well-researched and detailed articles on some of the most controversial environmental topics — from the political landscape surrounding air quality issues, to fishing quotas, to the local impacts of climate change. Within the last year, Tresaugue’s articles have quoted experts from many CEC member groups including GHASP, Houston Audubon Society, Galveston Bay Foundation and Children at Risk.

It is well known that the newspaper industry overall is losing staff writers and slashing coverage in the face of declining readership and advertising revenues. We are grateful that the Chronicle still values the kind of fine environmental reporting that Tresaugue produces. He is uniquely qualified for these difficult environmental stories, and his articles are more important now than ever before.

2009 Sustainable Planning Award Winners: AIA and RDA

The American Institute of Architects and Rice Design Alliance share this year’s Sustainable Planning Award for their joint project, “the 99K House Competition.”  This national, 2-stage competition encouraged the development of a house with as many sustainable features as possible within the constraints of a $99,000 budget. Both the AIA and RDA have made consistent efforts in all of their activities and programs to highlight the advantages of responsible, sustainable construction, and the 99K House competition was a successful and tangible project that celebratres these efforts. The competition garnered 184 entries from national and international designers, creating nationwide awareness that Houston is serious about sustainability.

The winning design of the 99K House Competition has been built and incorporates many sustainable features including rapidly renewable materials, rainwater harvesting, and natural ventilation. It will be sold to a low-income family.

The 99K House is constructed in the 5th Ward.  Contact Barrie Scardino (713) 520-0155 at the AIA for more details.

2009 Environmental Education Award Winner: Josetta Hawthorne

Josetta Hawthorne, Executive Director of the Council for Environmental Education, has been instrumental in developing several national urban environmental education programs. For more than 35 years, CEE has provided environmental education programs and services that promote stewardship of the environment and further the capacity of learners to make informed decisions. Each year CEE’s benchmark programs provide materials and training for more than 50,000 educators, who reach millions of young people with essential information about conservation and the environment. Environmental education programs of the Council include Project WILD, Project WILD Aquatic, WET in the City, and Flying WILD.

CEE’s latest endeavor, Growing Up WILD, targets young children. Growing Up WILD is an early childhood education program that builds on children’s sense of wonder about nature and invites them to explore wildlife and the world around them.  Through a wide range of activities and experiences, Growing Up WILD provides an early foundation for developing positive impressions about the natural world and lifelong social and academic skills.

For information about other CEE education programs, please see  http://www.councilforee.org,
or call Josetta Hawthorne at 713.520.1936.

2009 President’s Award Winner: Ann Hamilton

Selected by the CEC Board President, Ann Hamilton has had a long and distinguished career in non-profit work, spending the last 18 years spent as a grant officer with the Houston Endowment.  She has approved over $220 million in grants at the Houston Endowment, with the majority going to environmental non-profits. Ann has been a steadfast and passionate supporter of CEC member groups, and the CEC itself, and we are deeply grateful to her. Hamilton’s commitment is reflected in the comments she made to the Environmental Grantmakers Association:

“I believe large public and private institutions will begin to focus on serious environmental issues when they learn of the achievements local non-profit organizations continue to make day after day, year after year, bringing communities together to solve problems in their own neighborhoods. This, after all, is the purest form of participatory democracy.”

Houston Endowment is located downtown in Chase Tower.

2009 Founders’ Award Winner: Anne Olson

Anne Olson, President of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, is the winner of this year’s Founders’ Award. Buffalo Bayou Partnership oversees beautification and redevelopment activities along Houston’s historic Buffalo Bayou waterway. Over the past 10 years, Olson and her board of directors have raised approximately $50 million for Buffalo Bayou’s redevelopment. Currently, the organization is facilitating approximately $25 million worth of projects.

Under her leadership, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership has received a host of honors including winning the International Waterfront Center Honor Award twice, and the Central Houston Allen Award for Civic Enhancement. In 2008, in conjunction with World Day of Design, Olson & the Buffalo Bayou Partnership received an Alchemy Award, “for visionary and steadfast work to transform Houston’s ‘birthplace bayou’.”

BBP is at 1113 Vine Street, 77002.