During every holiday season, we honor our partners, members, volunteers, or friends who’ve stood out and have made a positive difference for our River through our annual Volunteer of the Year Awards, which are broken up into three categories: Advocate of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, and Educator of the Year. Our work to defend the River and advocate for its protection would not be possible without the dedication and support of our volunteers. Watch our award presentation online or read the background of each awardee below.

Captain Rami Ashouri believes Old Florida’s tradition of living in harmony with one’s ecosystem is going by the wayside. A Jacksonville native, Captain Rami became concerned as he watched Florida’s population boom, marshes filled in and replaced with strip malls, rivers dredged and straightened, and the once cherished lands of Old Florida being sacrificed for so-called “progress.” Now, he is on a mission to “preserve Old Florida’s outdoor heritage.” Captain Rami began guiding to invite people to establish, or re-establish a connection to their natural world.

In 2020, Captain Rami Ashouri organized the first annual Cowford Redfish Tournament to benefit St. Johns Riverkeeper. The sold-out tournament raised much-needed funds for our organization and awareness about the importance of protecting our river and fisheries while connecting us to anglers across the state that value the health of the St. Johns River Estuary. He also invited us to participate in Hunter Leavine’s Captain’s Collective Podcast, set the wheels in motion for The Great Florida Riverway to be featured in renowned Captain Benny Blanco’s Guiding Flow fishing series, and introduced us to Corporate Sponsors that are now assisting our coalition’s effort to Free the Ocklawaha River. We are grateful for his advocacy and outreach efforts for the River and for us all. 

When we think about Eric, consistency, first pops into our mind. Also, dedication, loyalty, and reliability. All notable attributes that you can’t always find in a every volunteer, or rather, the entire package. It’s always hard to choose just one Volunteer of the Year as there are so many incredible stories each year. A good problem for us to have. But in thinking about this year’s – Eric stood out. It’s funny that we choose these words because “standing out” is not something Eric wishes to do. The limelight or attention and praise are not why he’s here, nor why he continues to give us so much of his time. He chooses to volunteer consistently and reliably for YEARS because he loves our River. What more could you ask for?

At our cleanups, Eric always stands out as the helper. His commitment to cleaning up our River is noteworthy. He’s dedicated one weekend out of every month to help lead Groundwork Jax Hogan’s Creek cleanups on Saturdays and turns around the next day to co-lead Rising Tides McCoys Creek cleanups on Sundays. And when we needed him to help lead a large kayak cleanup separate from our Rising Tides efforts for the West JAX Rotary, he was there. One of our River Patrol Volunteers and Members, Yanella, told us, “Eric saved the day. I couldn’t have done it without him.” For these reasons and many more, We are honored to give our 2020 Volunteer of the Year Award to Eric. Thank you so much for making a difference for our River and our community.

Susan is an Instructional Trainer and was instrumental in the success of the annual 2nd annual Bartram’s Frolic. For the past few years, Susan has participated in event meetings as a representative for the School District and as a coordinator for their field trips. In addition, she worked to receive school board approval of the boat trips as part of the Frolic event. The success of the event was presented by Susan to the school board and she reached out to local newspapers to publicize the event. When COVID19 hit and field trips were put on hold, Susan challenged the Frolic on the St. Johns committee to continue the learning through a virtual platform. With her guidance and assistance, this year’s Virtual Frolic on the St. Johns was a great success and a massive accomplishment.

So many events and programs have been cancelled because of COVID, but Putnam County School persevered in  providing their 2nd grade students with an unforgettable experience of learning about their local history and ecology through the eyes of William Bartram, much due to Susan’s involvement. All 800 2nd graders received virtual programs with every Living Historian and Environmental group. Each day, schools would log into a virtual meeting and interact with the presenters for 35 minutes. Susan was there every day, all day behind the scenes running the technological component of each program and instructing the presenters and teachers. Even with her busy schedule, she sat in on almost every virtual committee meeting, she helped direct the filming of the educational videos, she made herself available to any partner that had questions, she introduced a new learning style platform that was utilize to have students actively involved in the lessons, she trained all the 2nd grade teachers and Partners on the virtual learning platform, and she did it all with a big smile.

Because of this event, other virtual programs have been developed and implemented in other grade levels to engage students in learning about the rich culture and history that Putnam County has to offer. St. Johns Riverkeeper was able to provide hands-on learning to half of the 5th graders through our Salinity Testing Kits utilizing the same platforms from the Frolic. Susan again helped guide us to make this successful. We now have interest from other school districts because of this great school district partnership and program success. 

Thank you Susan for being a dedicated trainer and educator for Putnam County teachers and students and we look forward to partnering with you in the future to continue providing quality programming to the students of Putnam County School Distric.