Five “Volunteers of the Year” set record for Give A Day for the Bay

It’s an impressive accomplishment when a volunteer attends every one of the half-dozen Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) workdays held each year – which makes it truly amazing when five volunteers attend all six of the “Give A Day For The Bay” 2015-2016 events.

“We’ve been doing Give a Days for at least 15 years but have never seen so many people attend every single event,” notes Misty Cladas, who coordinates the workdays for TBEP. “It’s a great opportunity for families to get outside and really make a difference in the health of the bay.”

It’s also the second time that most of these five winners have attended every event, she adds. “We have a core group of volunteers that work together – and then work with their friends and neighbors to bring more people out.”

David Westmark

david-westmarkThat’s particularly important to David Westmark, a fish biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg and co-chair of the TBEP’s Community Advisory Committee. “I attended my first event in the early 2000s to inspire my son to get involved in community service,” he says. “But then a light bulb went off in my head — I realized that my enjoyment of Tampa Bay as a boater and fisherman was taking from the bay and disrupting its balance, and that it was time for me to give back.”

Westmark and his wife, Stephanie Cain, founder of the Blue Turtle Green Bird Society, would rather not be recognized for their accomplishments, but feel that it’s critical to “walk the talk” to persuade other people to get involved. “We need our neighbors and other people in our sphere of influence to see us get hot, sweaty and dirty to make Tampa Bay better for all of us.”

Jerri and Tim Cobine

jerri-tim-cobineJerri Cobine is only half joking when she talks about the “dirtiest person” award, an informal but ongoing joke among Give A Day participants. “Tim and I both work inside all week — me with millimeters as a dental assistant and he with keystrokes — so we really appreciate the opportunity to get outside and do something that’s bigger than we are and really makes a difference.”
Events like planting marsh grasses at Robinson Preserve are particularly gratifying because they can see the changes they’ve helped create when they return for a series of workdays. “When we first started planting at Robinson, it was hard to imagine that it could ever become what’s there today. I like to think we’re doing something for all the animals who have been displaced by development.”

Harry Cunningham III

harry-cunninghamAs a child, Harry Cunningham remembers diving in the bay in water so clear that visibility was 15 to 20 feet. “By the ‘60s, you could really see the decline,” notes the fifth-generation Floridian.

He’s encouraged by the improvements over the last 20 years as well as the involvement of young people in events like Give A Day — including his granddaughter who is a student at the University of South Florida. “You see a lot of young people helping out so I’m hopeful that things will keep getting better.”

Tom Paczkoski

tom-paczkowskiA conservationist since he was a Boy Scout, Paczkoski can be seen at events sponsored by nearly every environmental organization in the region. Along with 100% attendance at the 2015-16 Give-A-Day events, he’s an experienced diver and volunteers with the Florida Aquarium, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and Tampa Bay Watch.
“I do this for the reward of knowing that I’m doing something that makes a real difference,” says the retired financial analyst. “We all work together and we all enjoy the benefits of a clean and healthy bay.”

Upcoming events for 2017 include:

  • Jan. 14 Removing invasive plants and helping staff prepare for a prescribed burn at Boyd Hill
    Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg
  • Mar. 18, Removing invasive plants at Lake Lisa Park in Pasco County.
  • April 15, Pinellas County event in partnership with Keep Pinellas Beautiful. Location to be determined.
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