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Meet the State Honorees: Caring for Animals and the Environment

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Meet some 2020 honorees looking out for the planet and its four-legged inhabitants.

For as long as she can remember, Lake Claire Beach along Maryland’s Magothy River has been Olivia West’s home away from home. She started to notice that the beach was shrinking and getting overrun by invasive plants. It turns out an earlier local project to replenish the sand and replant native grasses never got off the ground – so when the Annapolis eighth-grader learned a similar project was in the works, she volunteered to lead it.

After creating a game plan that ranged from consulting with community leaders to caring for the grasses before they were planted, Olivia led 16 volunteers in planting 250 native grass plants at Lake Claire Beach. In addition to fighting back invasive plants and sand erosion, the grasses will filter pollution out of stormwater before it runs into the Magothy River. “It was a beautiful day, and the volunteers were excited to be involved,” Olivia said. “It made us happy to help the environment and see the immediate results of our work.”

Olivia is one of several honorees dedicated to caring for the environment and animals:

Clare Flaherty, an eighth-grader at BASIS Scottsdale in Arizona, fosters homeless newborn kittens for the Arizona Humane Society, caring for them for up to two months at a time until they are ready for adoption.

Rylee Brooke Kamahele, a seventh-grader at Mililani Middle School in Hawaii, founded “The Catayst Club,” an organization that equips young people to be agents of change; one of the club’s focus areas is educating youth around the world about the effects of humans on the planet.

Natalie Geissler, an eighth-grader at Portsmouth Middle School in New Hampshire, travels for 45 minutes to a rescue animal shelter every other Sunday to care for quarantined dogs that have been transferred from overcrowded or kill shelters in other locations.

Darius Brown, a seventh-grader at North Star Academy in New Jersey, has helped hundreds of dogs find loving homes by making and donating canine bow ties – helping dogs “look cute and dapper” to improve their chances of getting adopted.

Sheree Anderson, an eighth-grader at Roy Municipal School in New Mexico, created and distributed a business card to raise awareness in her community about animal testing; the cards highlight shampoos and conditioners that are not tested on animals so recipients can make informed buying decisions.

Kaiya Laguardia, a senior at Roosevelt High School in Oregon, produced a documentary film to raise awareness of the planned construction of a military base in a bay in Okinawa, Japan – the second-most biodiverse ocean habitat in the world – and the movement opposing the project.

Bennett Gordon, a seventh-grader at Sturgis Williams Middle School in South Dakota, organizes recycling drives, conducts a recycling workshop for elementary school students, and sponsors a middle school essay contest about how students can make the world a better place by recycling.

Adithi Raghavan, a senior at International Community School in Washington, educates young people about the environmental and economic impact of declining honeybee populations around the world, and encourages them to plant pollinator gardens to help reverse the decline.

Sanika Datar, a seventh-grader at Environmental & Adventure School in Washington, celebrated Earth Day last year by conducting activities in her backyard to acquaint neighborhood preschoolers with things they can do to help take care of the planet’s natural environment.

We’ll be profiling this year’s State Honorees now through the #PruSpirit2020 national recognition events in Washington, D.C. You can find the stories of all this year’s state-level honorees at