Keep Austin Beautiful 2016 Annual Award Winners Announced

Since 1985, Keep Austin Beautiful has been recognizing the outstanding achievements of businesses, individuals, and communities who clean, beautify, and protect the Austin environment by awarding Keep Austin Beautiful Awards in multiple categories! The Keep Austin Beautiful Annual Awards serve to distinguish those who demonstrate continued commitment to Austin’s vibrancy and serve as an inspiration for others. For these reasons and many more, Keep Austin Beautiful will celebrate the award winners while also raising funds for  the organization’s mission at Beautify Bash on Thursday, November 17, 2016 from 6:30pm to 9:30pm at Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (605 Robert E Lee Road, Austin, TX 78704)

At this time, Keep Austin Beautiful would like to recognize the 2016 Annual Award Winners. These wonderful winners have gone above and beyond by volunteering to restore local creeks, taking action to clean-up Lady Bird Lake, fostering the next generation of environmental leaders, and having led the way in establishing Austin as a green and sustainable city.  Each has utilized Keep Austin Beautiful’s resources and programming to amplify their contributions to the city. The 2016 Annual Award Winners are:

Visa Beautification Award - Friends of South Zilker Park 

Wells Fargo Community Involvement Award - Friends of Tannehill Branch Creek

Texas Disposal Systems Education Award - Burnet Middle School 

Dennis Hobbs Individual Achievement - Mike Valescu  

Samsung Litter Abatement Award - Capital Cruises 

Dell Youth Achievement – Jaime Rodriguez, Lanier High School

Visa Beautification Award - Friends of South Zilker Park 

The Friends of South Zilker Park know a thing or two about creek restoration. Two years ago, the group, led by Gail Rothe, formalized their commitment to the Robert E. Lee Tributary by adopting the segment through Keep Austin Beautiful’s Adopt-a-Creek program. As adopters, they dedicated themselves to completing four service projects a year along the quarter mile stretch. Over the course of a year, more than 50 Friends removed 150 invasive plants, established native seedlings, and removed 200 pounds of litter. Their service adds up to 140 volunteer hours dedicated to beautifying and restoring the Grow Zone habitat. Inspired by the success, Friends of SZP adopted another section of creek in the same park - Old Little Zilker Creek Channel. Keep Austin Beautiful, the City of Austin, Watershed Protection Department, and Austin Parks and Recreation provided guidance along the way ensuring restoration was completed in an ecologically sound way. Friends of South Zilker Park are just one example of how Adopt-a-Creek strengthens ties both between communities and nature.

Samsung Litter Abatement Award – Capital Cruises

With every piece of litter that is removed from our city, our pride for the beauty of it increases exponentially. Lady Bird Lake is enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors each year. More people = more trash, which is why Keep Austin Beautiful launched Clean Lady Bird Lake, an initiative to conduct large-scale cleanups of the lake bimonthly. From the onset of the program, Capital Cruises hosted cleanups at their site and donated canoes and kayaks to help volunteers remove trash from those hard-to-reach areas. Over the past year, Capital Cruises helped remove over 1900 pounds of trash from the lake. Beyond cleanups, Capital Cruises is connecting youth to nature by donating boats for youth paddle expeditions.  Capital Cruises’ altruism serves as a model and inspiration for small business philanthropy in Austin.

Wells Fargo Community Involvement Award – Friends of Tannehill Branch Creek

Once Nadia Khan noticed the large amounts of trash and erosion present along the creek from across her house, she couldn’t help but take action. Nadia reached out to Keep Austin Beautiful about adopting the creek segment. Unfortunately, her section of Tannehill Branch Creek flowed through private land. Nadia created flyers and spoke at neighborhood association meetings to garner community interest in the creek. Led by Nadia, Friends of Tannehill Branch Creek formed and tenaciously reached out to land owners until full access to the creek was granted. In one year, the group removed over 1600 pounds of trash including bulky items from an illegal dumping site that had been established in the area. Friends of Tannehill Branch Creek is a story of how one person’s mission can unite an entire neighborhood to care for their creek.

Dell Youth Achievement – Jaime Rodriguez, Lanier High School

Keep Austin Beautiful leads weekly Green Teens afterschool activities at Austin schools to engage youth in learning about and exploring the outdoors and natural resources. Through the program, youth leaders emerge who take their newly found knowledge and turn it into action. This can be said of Jaime Rodriguez. From talking to custodians about the goals of composting, to handing out flyers door to door to spread the word about community cleanup projects, Jaime went to great lengths to involve the students, staff, and local community in the beautification and sustainability at Lanier High School.

He solicited the assistance of his construction teacher to surprise Green Teens sponsor, Ms. Colasanti, with a custom sign holder for the fall festival display. Putting in over 40 hours of volunteer service last year Jaime is a model student, Green Teen, and Austinite.

Dennis Hobbs Individual Achievement – Mike Valescu

An active Austin volunteer for over 23 years, Mike Valescu often refers to himself as a professional volunteer. This past year Mike stepped up his volunteer role to assume a leadership position at service projects. Mike can be found volunteering and leading volunteers around town - from mulching and landscaping at Mable Davis Park, to packing Clean Sweep cleanup supplies for three days straight, and then turning around a few days later to volunteer at a cleanup site the day of Clean Sweep, to leading custom service projects for corporate teams at designated locations, and caring for his adopted section of Country Club Creek. Mike is always ready to lend a hand and a funny story. For his dedication, we are excited to honor him with the Dennis Hobbs Individual Achievement Award.

Texas Disposal Systems Education Award – Burnet Middle School

Keep Austin Beautiful Green Teens engages students in meaningful service on their campus and in their community. Hector Hernandez leads weekly Green Teens activities at Burnet Middle School. During his sessions, he invites students to understand environmental issues and empowers them to develop and implement solutions related to the issues. When students wanted their campus to be more beautiful, Hector was resolved to help them make it happen. With support from the Burnet Student Council, the Keep Burnet Beautiful campaign was born.  One of the most impressive aspects of the campaign is the number of students, community members, and local businesses that have become actively involved with beautifying this school. In 2016, 92 students participated in the campaign, three work days with over 20 community members and 35 students were held to landscape the campus, install edible gardens, and build a chicken coop. In addition to resources secured by Keep Austin Beautiful, Burnet teachers garnered donations from Lowes, H-E-B, and Dan's Hamburgers to support the project days. Burnet Middle School harnessed the power of the community to make their school a more beautiful and sustainable learning center for years to come.