We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Charles H. Callison Awards and the Tamar Chotzen Educator of the Year Award! The Charles H. Callison Awards are given to honor outstanding efforts contributed by staff and volunteers to continue Audubon’s mission for birds and habitat conservation. One award is given to a staff member, and one award is given to a volunteer. This year’s Callison Awards recipients are Paul Gray, Everglades science coordinator for Audubon Florida and Jeanne Dubi, president of Sarasota Audubon Society.
Paul Gray has been with Audubon for more than 25 years in a variety of areas, including water quality and management, and agricultural best management practices. He has focused on habitat connectivity on public and private lands and water management and quality challenges in the Everglades, and also tackled bird conservation issues in the Northern Everglades and Lake Okeechobee watersheds. Gray was recently recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for his work with the Florida Grasshopper Working Group and its efforts to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow from extinction. Researchers and managers in the group began a captive breeding program for Florida Grasshopper Sparrows in 2015. The first releases of birds born and raised in captivity occurred in 2019; the released birds have not only survived but are successfully breeding on Central Florida prairie. In 2020, biologists recorded 64 sparrows fledged from wild and captive-bred sparrow nests in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area.
"Dr. Gray's deep expertise is matched only by his skill in engaging diverse interests and bringing them to the table," says Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida. "He moves fluidly from testifying at a podium, to driving an airboat, to slogging barefoot and gleefully through the wetlands of Central Florida. He makes mountains of dense hydrologic data accessible and even elegant for audiences ranging from decisionmakers to ranchers. His humility, eloquence, and warmth - paired with a keen intellect and world-class subject matter expertise - make him the embodiment of what Audubon should be to conservation: a source of pragmatic solutions grounded in strong science to build constituencies for birds and our environment. His career has been and continues to be an act of devotion to birds, Lake Okeechobee, Central Florida's prairies and floodplains, and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem."
Jeanne Dubi, President of Sarasota Audubon chapter, has received the Charles H. Callison Award from the National Audubon Society to honor her outstanding contributions to advance Audubon’s mission for birds and habitat conservation. Jeanne has been in leadership positions at this chapter for several decades and most notably helped turn the Celery Fields, a regional stormwater treatment facility, into a world-class ecotourism destination. This effort also included fundraising and overseeing the construction of a new LEED Gold-certified Audubon nature center. Jeanne, along with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, successfully persuaded Sarasota County to give Sarasota Audubon the right to manage 27 acres adjacent to the Celery Fields. This acreage was granted a conservation easement (held by the Conservation Foundation) and will become a newly created wildlife habitat. Her most recent initiative engages multigenerational families from the area's Hispanic/Latinx community for Spanish language field trips. Jeanne has lifted the voice of Audubon, taken incredible risks, and will be leaving a legacy for the entire community and beyond.
“Jeanne is a truly extraordinary individual,” says Jacqui Sulek, chapters conservation manager for Audubon Florida. “While it is important to have passion, vision, creativity and boundless energy, key is her ability to build community. Nowadays, it’s difficult to imagine Sarasota County without the ‘Celery Fields.’ What was once an actual celery field is now a refuge for both resident and migrating birds, an outdoor classroom and an economic driver for the community. And while this would be enough “legacy” for some, Jeanne continues to take another and then another step forward to continue to build this space where birds and people thrive.”
The Tamar Chotzen Educator of the Year Award recognizes outstanding talent and accomplishment by an educator on Audubon’s staff.
This year’s recipient is Sally Maxwell, education specialist and summer camp director at Randall Davey Audubon Center in New Mexico. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Maxwell quickly transitioned to a distance-learning format that enabled her to engage more than 1,000 students during the 2020-2021 academic year; more than 85 percent of these students came from Title 1 schools and Hispanic/Latinx communities. Anticipating the inequities the pandemic would exacerbate, she also hand-packed over 2,700 science kits that were handed out at local free lunch distribution sites and schools. Additionally, Maxwell adapted in-person lessons into virtual programming to excite kids about birds and conservation and put together popular virtual programs such as Curious Critter Storytime and Introduction to Wildlife Tracking webinar.
“It was incredible to see the nimbleness and adaptability that Sally employed in the early days of the pandemic," says Jon Hayes, executive director of Audubon Southwest. "When most of us were just trying to figure out how to operate a remote office and navigate Zoom, Sally was already anticipating the inequities in broadband access that were going to challenge low-income families and immediately began mobilizing partners and resources to distribute thousands of science kits to students in need. It was pretty inspiring.”
Congratulations to all the winners!