This year’s State of the Climate will feature our 2019 Blue Sky Awards ceremony. Formerly known as the Airkeeper Awards, the Blue Sky Awards will recognize the individuals, organizations, and partners who have shown extraordinary commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
2019 Alan Burns Legacy Award: Mary Ellis Stevens
14-year-old climate activist Mary Ellis Stevens is a leader in North Carolina’s student climate strike movement. Since February 2019 Mary Ellis has demonstrated outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to call for climate action, education, and justice every Friday. She is the Executive Director of Earth Uprising Charlotte, Vice President of NC Climate Strike, and a certified Climate Reality Leader with former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps. Mary Ellis is an avid climber, whitewater kayaker, and a so-called “wild child” who is passionate about protecting the natural world.
2019 AirKeepers Award: Steve O’Neil
Naturalist Steve O’Neil founded Earthshine Nature Programs in 2010 to foster a lasting interest and respect for wildlife, wild places, and the environment. He has conducted hundreds of nature presentations to thousands of children and adults over the years, leading groups into forests, mountains, caves, swamps, and dunes in search of all things wild and wonderful. Steve is also a dedicated ambassador for citizen science and renewable energy, installing air quality monitors and helping connect Clean Air Carolina with AirKeeper partners all over western North Carolina.
2019 Clean Air for Kids Award: Katherine Pair
As a teacher of agriculture and horticulture at John T. Williams Secondary Montessori School, Katherine Pair is enthusiastic about project-based learning and encourages her students to be advocates for clean air. Katherine and her students first worked with Clean Air Carolina in 2017 as part of a Citizen Science Air Monitoring Project in Charlotte’s Northwest corridor. This past year she and her students helped build an ozone garden by the school pick-up circle to engage the school community in air quality education.
2019 Public Policy Award: Dimple Ajmera
Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera is a passionate advocate for equity and Charlotte’s environmental health. As Chair of the City Council’s Environment Committee, she successfully spearheaded policies that will mitigate climate change impacts and transition Charlotte towards a low-carbon future, including the Sustainable and Resilient Charlotte Resolution and the Strategic Energy Action Plan. Councilwoman Ajmera has received numerous awards and recognitions for her exemplary public service, including: Charlotte Business Journal’s 40 Under 40; Longleaf Politics’ 54 Top Young Political Stars in North Carolina; Mecklenburg Times’ 50 Most Influential Women in Mecklenburg County; and Rotary International’s 2018 Global Service Award.
2019 Medical Advocates for Healthy Air Award: Dr. Sandy Zeskind
For the past several years Dr. Phillip (Sandy) Zeskind has been an indispensable partner in MAHA’s environmental health training for pediatric residents at Levine Children’s Hospital. This training prepares pediatricians to advise their patients on the health impacts of air pollution and climate change. The pediatricians who receive it are encouraged to use their trusted voice as health providers to improve the health of their community through advocacy and civic engagement. This monthly training is now a cornerstone of the MAHA program, and would not have been possible without Dr. Zeskind’s encouragement, partnership, and engagement.
2019 Volunteer of the Year: Ericka Ellis-Stewart
Having served as executive director for several nonprofit organizations, Ericka Ellis-Stewart brings a wealth of leadership experience to Clean Air Carolina’s Board of Directors. Ericka first joined the Board in 2011 and has served two terms as Board Chair. She was instrumental in steering Clean Air Carolina’s organizational strategic plan and paved the way for our statewide expansion. Ericka is currently the Director of Education and Advocacy for Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.
2019 Corporate Partner of the Year: Renewable Energy Design Group
Renewable Energy Design Group (RED) is dedicated to promoting clean energy in the Carolinas through the expansion of solar power. For the past several years RED has been partnering with Clean Air Carolina to reduce climate emissions and air pollution by offering discounts on solar panel installations for Clean Air Carolina members. In October of 2019, RED and Clean Air Carolina co-hosted the Solar Homes Cycling Tour to demonstrate the benefits of residential and commercial solar systems in central Charlotte.
2019 Nonprofit Partner of the Year: Dogwood Alliance
The staff of Dogwood Alliance have worked tirelessly to hold the wood pellet industry accountable for their dangerous air emissions and impact on climate change. They have brought significant attention to the wood pellet issue in North Carolina by uncovering evidence of Enviva clear-cutting forests in our state and by working with communities to organize resistance to this destructive industry. Thanks to their efforts wood pellets were rejected as a source of clean energy in North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan.