125th Annual Meeting Highlights
Audubon celebrated 125 years of environmental leadership when members and supporters gathered at the organization’s annual meeting on Sunday, October 23, 2022, at the Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol, Rhode Island.
Honoring Retiring Director Lawrence Taft
Retiring Executive Director Lawrence Taft's years of service and leadership to Audubon was formally recognized through the following citations: Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition signed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, US Senate Certificate of Accomplishment signed by Senator Jack Reed, Certificate of Special Recognition from Representative David Cicilline, RI Senate Citation and RI House of Representatives Citation. Members shared their well-wishes at a reception following the meeting.
Annual Award Recipients
Legislative Leadership Award
Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi
2022 Legislative Leadership Award
Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives K. Joseph Shekarchi was honored as Legislator of the Year by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island at the Society’s 125th Annual Meeting on October 23, 2022. Audubon recognized Speaker Shekarchi for his dedication to Rhode Island’s environment, action on the climate change crisis, and the protection of birds, wildlife, and the people of Rhode Island.
Representative Shekarchi (D) was elected Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives in January 2021. He has served the residents of District 23 in Warwick since first being elected in November 2012.
- Under Speaker Shekarchi’s leadership, the General Assembly has had “the best two years of environmental policymaking in Rhode Island history,” according to the Environment Council of Rhode Island’s Green Report Card. In 2021, Speaker Shekarchi supported the Act on Climate, which makes the state’s reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions mandatory and enforceable. It is one of the most influential environmental bills approved by the General Assembly in decades.
- During the 2022 legislative session, Speaker Shekarchi enacted legislation to substantially increase renewable energy production and supply by requiring that Rhode Island reach 100 percent renewable electricity by 2033 – the most ambitious target in the nation. He also enacted legislation to seek the development of 600 to 1,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity.
- Under Speaker Shekarchi’s leadership, the General Assembly approved the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, which is designed to reduce the use of plastic checkout bags by retail establishments by offering recyclable bag options and providing penalties for violations. Speaker Shekarchi also opposed legislation that would have allowed for the processing of plastic waste using a high-heat process; that legislation did not pass.
- Also noteworthy was the General Assembly taking action on long-time environmental issues by enacting legislation to restrict the use of harmful neonicotinoid pesticides for the health of pollinators and people, and banning PFAS, known as “toxic forever chemicals” in food packaging and capping them in drinking water.
Audubon applauds House Speaker Shekarchi for his dedication and support of critical environmental legislation.
Image from left: Executive Director Lawrence Taft, Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, Senior Director of Government Affairs Priscilla De La Cruz
Educator of the Year
2022 Educator of the Year
Science teacher and long-time Audubon camp counselor Joseph Koger has received the Audubon 2022 Educator of the Year Award. He is being honored for his 40-year dedication to environmental education as a highly respected camp counselor at the Audubon Caratunk Wildlife Refuge in Seekonk, MA. Koger is also a biology teacher at Mount Hope High School in Bristol, RI, and has been teaching in the Bristol Warren Regional School District for over 35 years.
The Audubon Society of Rhode Island recognized Koger at the Society’s 125th Annual Meeting held on October 23, 2022 at the Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in Bristol, RI.
For 40 years, Joe Koger inspired and led over 4,000 campers at Caratunk Wildlife Refuge in Seekonk, MA. He guided young naturalists on thousands of field explorations. They waded into ponds and discovered frogs and turtles, netted insects in the field, and learned to identify native plants, birds, and animals. Koger brought children on hikes where they searched for life under logs, explored stream habitats, and honed their naturalist skills.
With his passion for science and extensive knowledge of the natural world, Joe Koger was a camp counselor extraordinaire. He became a beloved mentor to many as they returned to Caratunk year after year. Many of his campers became junior counselors and camp instructors, and he has inspired many careers in environmental science. Koger has also led numerous Audubon bird walks and nature programs over the years, sharing his knowledge with adults as well as children.
Audubon has named a camp scholarship fund in his honor, looking to thank Koger for 40 years of dedication to environmental education and to offer camp experiences to future generations in his honor.
Koger resides in Seekonk, Massachusetts.
Image from left: Joseph Koger, Education Coordinator & Camp Director Tracey Hall, Executive Director Lawrence Taft
Volunteers of the Year
Nature Center and Aquarium Exhibit Guides
2022 Volunteers of the Year
This year, instead of choosing just one volunteer to honor, the Audubon Society of Rhode Island chose to honor a group of individuals with the Volunteer of the Year Award.
Our Nature Center and Aquarium Exhibit Hall Guides are true Audubon ambassadors, interacting daily with the public. This group greets both our members that visit often, as well as others who visit from all over the state and the country. They not only cheerfully share their knowledge about Audubon and nature, but will often be heard offering directions, travel advice or recommending Rhode Island sites and businesses. These Exhibit Hall Guides are often the face of Audubon to thousands of visitors at the Nature Center each year.
Although only a couple of them are considered true “Naturalists,” they all have the skills that make great exhibit hall guides: patience, experience in dealing with the public, a true sense of wonder about the natural world, and most importantly, the ability to handle the melt-down of a 2-year-old with grace.
In the last 30 years, many museums, national parks, art galleries and historic sites have come to understand the importance of having a welcoming presence to enhance their visitor experience. Our Exhibit Hall Guides help guests to engage with the marine life and exhibits in the Nature Center. Simply put, they make the experience positive, interesting, and fun.
They are also naturally curious. In the past year when exhibits have been added or redesigned, they have been diligent in doing research and training, enabling them to share their knowledge and help guests to enjoy the new installations.
They also happily take on the smaller, but necessary projects of stuffing envelopes, creating ump-teen craft projects, organizing supplies, folding brochures, carting tables and chairs…you name it. We owe them a debt of gratitude as well for assisting with group tours, hosting field trip groups in the exhibit hall, and interacting with campers and parents.
Above all, we truly appreciate that they consistently show up — for every event, every project, every time we’ve needed them. The staff at the Nature Center and Aquarium are so grateful for this wonderful group of people, and we can’t thank them enough for all they do.
Image from left: Director of the Nature Center and Aquarium Anne DiMonti, Jessica Gale, Bristol Volunteer Coordinator Michelle Solis, Paula Lang, Ellen Forman, Pat Jablonowski, Susan Beck, Roxanne Stern (front), Patricia Becker, Margaret Doll. Not pictured: Eloise Angiola, Becky Martin, Karen Nieuwendijk, Nancy Thompson, Ann Yiu, and Sarah Berg.
Gubernatorial Candidate Forum on the Environment
Rhode Island’s gubernatorial candidates, Governor Daniel McKee (D) and Ms. Ashley Kalus (R) spoke at the meeting. They shared their accomplishments with members and addressed pertinent environmental issues. Read more, or watch a replay below.
Audubon 2021-2022 Accomplishments
Hear from our Advocacy, Education and Conservation Senior Directors and Director of Avian Research on what Audubon has been up to this year — along with what we're excited for in the year to come!
Meet our Newest Board Members
Katherine (Kat) Burnham
Kat Burnham is Principal of Policy at Advanced Energy Economy (AEE). Ms. Burnham has years of experience working with state officials and stakeholders on energy and environmental issues.
Kathleen Melbourne, PharmD
Dr. Kathleen Melbourne is a licensed pharmacist and Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacy at URI. Dr. Melbourne brings a strong background in science, communication, and experience with propagating innovative practices.
Stephen Porder, PhD
Dr. Stephen Porder is Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, a fellow in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and Assistant Provost for Sustainability at Brown University.
John C. Woulfe
John Woulfe is retired Executive Director of Scandinavian Home, Inc. He is a URI Master Gardener, serving as a mentor to new student interns in the program, and has been an active volunteer with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island since 2019.
The Audubon Society of Rhode Island gratefully acknowledges the terms of service of the following Board Members who are stepping down from the board of directors this year: Christian Capizzo, Owen Heleen, and Deborah Linnell.
Board of Directors
Katherine (Kat) Burnham
David Caldwell, Jr.
Jameson Chace, Ph.D.
Ann-Christine Duhaime, MD
Thomas Lisi, CPA
Kathleen Melbourne, PharmD
Amy Moses, Esq.
Emily Murphy Prior, Esq.
Stephen Porder, PhD
David T. Riedel, Esq.
Patricia Thompson, CPA
Carol Lynn Trocki