Not long ago, Pat Hatton fertilized her lawn without thinking about the Chesapeake Bay. But one spring morning, her 9-year-old grandson met her in the yard with a lecture on the risks of chemical runoff. “He made me see connections I hadn’t before,” said Hatton.
That new understanding led Hatton to the Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment (HoLLIE), which offers intensive training in environmental issues to volunteers over age 50. Hatton, now a board member for the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, is one of more than 40 HoLLIE graduates since 2009. The organization’s success at empowering volunteers like Hatton is credited with the group’s selection for a Green Footprint Award for Community Leadership in 2012.
Created by the James and Anne Robinson Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to support the Robinson Nature Center and other environmental education initiatives in and around Howard County, the Green Footprint Awards annually recognize individuals and groups for environmental accomplishments in Howard County. “So many times, environmental efforts are under the radar screen,” said Marianne Pettis, executive director of the Robinson Foundation. “This award brings public awareness to some of the good works that are making our community better.”
Greening the Community
In 2010, the first Green Footprint Community Leadership Award went to Conscious Corner, a business that includes Roots Market, Nest and Great Sage Restaurant in Clarksville. Pettis called Conscious Corner a “great model for other businesses” that grew out of consumer demand for organic food and other sustainable products. “We hoped to raise awareness of a local business that is environmentally sensitive,” said Pettis.
The latest community recipient is the HoLLIE organization. Based on a University of Maryland leadership training model, six weeks of coursework feature expert lectures and field trips around the Bay watershed. The capstone for each HoLLIE student is 150 hours of a mentored field internship. Cathy Hudson, a HoLLIE program coordinator, said that sending trained volunteers to nonprofits and government offices throughout the county “helps the environmental community work together.”
HoLLIE graduates have cleared trash out of streams, organized the Discovery Room at the Robinson Nature Center and developed a donor database for the Robinson Foundation. The environment doesn’t just need scientists, said Hudson. “There’s nothing I love to do more than find a person’s passion and put it to work in the environmental community.”
Leadership in Arts & Education
To honor diverse environmental passions, the Robinson Foundation recognizes accomplishments in several categories. Holly Highfill, this year’s arts leadership recipient, described her paintings for the Robinson Nature Center as a “labor of love.”
The Center’s signature exhibit is an abstract tree, with Plexiglass leaf panels depicting four seasons in a central Maryland forest. It took Highfill the better part of three years to design and paint the tree, plus murals and other illustrations in the new center. Highfill’s innovative acrylic techniques create a stained-glass effect on the panels and helped earn her the award. “No one has ever painted something like this,” said Pettis.
Even before beginning the painstaking brushwork, Highfill devoted weeks to photographing local plants and wildlife. Highfill, primarily a theatrical designer, hopes her art at the center will “get people to look closer at what’s around them, realize it’s fragile and needs to be preserved.”
Green Footprint Awards also honor accomplishments in education. A highly competitive category, education awards will be conferred in 2012 to Georgia Eacker and the Howard County Master Gardeners for community education, and to Ann Strozyk for her teaching in the public schools.
Karen Learmouth, an education award recipient in 2010, said that recognition can have broad impact. Learmouth is elementary science coordinator for Howard County Public Schools and led development of curricula that focus on ecosystems and the Chesapeake Bay.
Said Learmouth, “I felt I was getting the award on behalf of all the teachers and students who have been involved for a long time in these efforts.” She added, “It’s a wonderful confirmation of the direction we’re going.”
Footprints Toward the Future
Learmouth is also a strong supporter of the Green Footprint Award for Student Environmental Leadership. Each spring, the Robinson Foundation honors one graduating senior from each Howard County public high school with a small honorarium and a copy of Ned Tillman’s book, The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action. As Learmouth points out, high school students are deciding what directions their lives and careers will take. “An award can be very influential and life-changing.”
Student awards are presented at ceremonies at county schools, but the other Green Footprint Awards will be conferred at Howard County GreenFest at Howard Community College on April 14.
“GreenFest is the premier environmental event in our county,” said Pettis, and the ideal place to present the awards. “This year’s theme is ‘Saving the Environment, One Backyard at a Time,’” she said. “That’s exactly what these recipients are trying to do.”
The ceremony at GreenFest also will include a talk on the importance of outdoor play by Sandi Olek of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The public is welcome to attend and applaud for Pat Hatton, Holly Highfill, and other 2012 recipients.
“One goal of the awards is to let the public know about the positive achievements of leaders in the community,” said Pettis, “but another important goal is to encourage others to follow in their green footprints.”
For more information about Howard County GreenFest, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Howard Community College, visit www.howardcountymd.gov/DisplayPrimary.aspx?id=4294967857.