May 12, 2004 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented two Environmental Quality Awards on Wednesday morning at a local recognition ceremony hosted by the Planning and Natural Resources Department at the Frederick D. Dorsch Cultural Activity Center in Frederiksted.
The annual awards recognize organizations and individuals for their contributions to improving and preserving the environment within their communities.
In April, a ceremony was held at the EPA's Region 2 office in New York to honor all of the award recipients in the region, which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and seven Native American nations.
"I feel it is an honor and a privilege to be recognized for the work that I love to do," recipient Ann Marie Gibbs, an environmental science teacher at Education Complex High School, said at Wednesday's program. "If I can advance preservation efforts on St. Croix and the world, then I am just happy."
Gibbs told the audience of well-wishers that it is important to spread the word about the need to take care of the environment.
"This is a happy occasion," Carl Soderberg, director of EPA's Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, said. "We are honoring those who work for the good of our environment. In my opinion, these people represent a ray of hope for the future. If we get involved, we have a future for our children."
Hollis Griffin, director of DPNR's Environmental Protection Division, said the award is one of the greatest honors that can be given to people who give of their time. As professionals, he and others "do what we do because we get paid," he said. "When our paycheck stops, probably the dedication will stop. I can't say enough."
Also in attendance were Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett and the EPA's V.I. coordinator, Jim Casey.
Albion Francis, who accepted the Environmental Rangers' award on behalf of the St. Thomas group, said: "Our goal is to have a camp where individuals can come and enjoy nature."
Although they were unable to travel to St. Croix for the event, Justin Francis and Anna Wallace-Francis, program directors of the Environmental Rangers, said they are thrilled about receiving the award.
In a telephone conversation, Wallace-Francis said growing up in "the country" on St. Thomas gave her a sense of environmental consciousness. She remembers when Tutu was a rural area, before the malls and large housing communities were built. "We can't keep developing without a plan for the future," she said. "What will people enjoy?"
Mandahl Bay is one of the areas Wallace-Francis would like to see preserved. "In August there is an explosion of soldier crabs all around," she said. Her youth group, made up of youngsters ages 4 to 15, conducts beach cleanups and goes kayaking in the bay.
(Ironically, St. Thomas Source carried a report earlier this week on litter by the bay, including the remains of stripped, stolen cars, that has residents hard at work in ongoing efforts to clean the area up. See "Mandahl Beach Finds Friends".)
"St. Croix has so many cultural activities," Wallace-Francis said, noting that the Rangers visited the island in February to attend the Agricultural and Food Fair and tour the Bethlehem Sugar Factory. And in April, 17 of the students and five chaperones returned and stayed at Camp Victory in the rainforest. "St. Croix should concentrate on their natural beauty and culture," she said.
"There is a difference between country kids and city kids," Wallace-Francis noted. Many of the latter "have not experienced nature, although they live on an island. We provide that for them. The joy is to see children fascinated. It's really a great learning experience."
For more background on this year's V.I. award recipients, see "Teacher, Youth Program Receive EPA Awards".
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