Announcing Our 2021 Environmental Champions

The Rockfall Foundation is pleased to announce the recipients of our 2021 Environmental Champion Awards. The award winners were selected from nominations submitted by members of the community across the Lower Connecticut River Valley. Kim O’Rourke has been selected for the Tom ODell Distinguished Service Award, which honors long-term accomplishments in environmental conservation and preservation. Certificates of Appreciation are being awarded to Dr. Diba Khan-Bureau of Three Rivers Community College and Bernie Gillis of the East Haddam Conservation Commission.

The awards will be presented at the Foundation’s Awards and Grants Celebration on Tuesday, November 9. You are invited to join us for this virtual celebration! Click here for event details.

Tom ODell Distinguished Service Award Recipient

Kim O’Rourke has served 30 years as Recycling Coordinator for the City of Middletown. Starting as the City’s second coordinator at a time when mandatory recycling was new in Connecticut, Kim has built a program in Middletown that has received recognition statewide and regionally. Throughout her career, Kim has expended the purview of her one-person operation to include multiple aspects of environmental conservation, including ecosystem protection, sustainability, waste reduction, composting, and organic food production.

A current Board Member of Recycle CT and Past President and Board Member of the CT Recyclers Coalition, Kim is active with Middletown’s sustainability efforts to achieve bronze and silver certifications. In addition, Kim was instrumental in involving the City in the CT Product Stewardship Council, the CT Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management, and the UConn Master Composter program.

Kim has developed and implemented numerous waste reduction and recycling initiatives in the city. She created the “Feed the Earth” campaign, which is the first of its kind in the state! Feed the Earth, along with Blue Earth Composting, helps Middletown restaurants minimize food waste and reduce what is making its way to landfills and incinerators. Another first of its kind in the state, Kim also started a satellite food waste drop off in combination with a transportation drop off and a pledge drive for food waste collection kits for Middletown residents. She implemented milk carton Recycling in Middletown schools, produced Recycling: It’s a Walk in the Park and Recreation Recycles videos, and created a demonstration vegetable garden at City Hall.

Kim’s work has led her to partner with community groups, including The Rockfall Foundation. Kim was an instrumental part of planning Rockfall’s WASTED: Small Efforts for Big Change series and also works closely with Rockfall to plan Repair Cafes in Middletown – the next one is on October 16! She’s worked with other local community groups to pass the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance, organized Household Hazardous Waste events, a Community Compost Bin, rain barrel sales, and paper shredding events.

Kim O’Rourke is a vital part of Middletown’s efforts towards sustainability, and has achieved so much during her 30-year tenure in her position. The Rockfall Foundation is honored to award Kim with the 2021 Tom ODell Distinguished Service Award.

Certificates of Appreciation Recipients

Bernie Gillis is a member of the East Haddam Conservation Commission, East Haddam Land Trust, and the East Haddam Planning & Zoning Commission who is dedicated to the preservation of, and public access to, open space. Bernie is known as the local authority on the extensive, open space trail systems in East Haddam, and is a consistent mainstay of maintenance done by the Commission on over a dozen preserves. Working with other members of the Commission and with volunteers, Bernie leads the way, whether it be building a kiosk, bridging a stream, felling the remnants of trees fallen over trails, walking borders of prospective open space properties, or blazing new trails. Bernie is also heavily involved in the acquisition of private properties to create new preserves and hiking trails for the town.

Dr. Diba Khan-Bureau works as a Professor and the Program Coordinator for the Environmental Engineering Technology and Biology TAP Pathway at Three Rivers Community College. Diba has successfully blended her career as a professor with her dedication as a local conservationist; she maintains a 15+ year partnership with the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed and the CT DEEP Riffle Bioassessment by Volunteers Program, and since 2005 has worked to teach her students to monitor the health of streams using macroinvertebrates. She has overseen 93 water monitoring events, which provide both invaluable hands-on scientific training to her students, but also generates important data for the State to contribute to the ongoing protection of these waterbodies and ecosystems. Diba strives to foster a stronger awareness and understanding of environmental and sustainability issues among students and community members. As a first-generation college graduate and woman of color, Diba is passionate about encouraging her students to also consider pursuing careers in the sciences.

All are invited to join in honoring the awardees at our 2021 Awards and Grants Celebration on Tuesday, November 9 at 7:00 PM.  Find more information and register for the event here.

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