By Stacey Vigallon

Los Angeles Audubon is proud to announce that our Greenhouse Alumni Team members, Joyce Realegeno, Brian Young, Bryan Payes, and Joanna Ruacho, have been honored with a Conservation Hero Award from the Disney Conservation Fund. The award recognizes local citizens for their efforts to protect wildlife and wild places and engage communities in conservation. Recipients from around the world were nominated by nonprofit environmental organizations, and each honoree will share a $1,500 award from the fund.

Stacey Vigallon, Environmental Education Director for Los Angeles Audubon said, “We view Joyce, Brian, Bryan, and Joanna as conservation leaders, demonstrated through the work they’ve done with Los Angeles Audubon and through the example they set in their everyday lives. Their achievements and diversity of interests – biology, education, art, and business – are true assets, as they allow these team members to connect with community members in a variety of ways. Not only are we extremely proud of these four alumni-turned-employees, but we count our organization as extremely fortunate to receive their time, talent, and motivation.”

We’ve known Joyce Realegeno, Brian Young, Bryan Payes, and Joanna Ruacho since their high school days in our Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program. It was their outstanding work as high school students that inspired us to establish the Greenhouse Alumni Team, a paid program that employs Greenhouse Program alumni to assist with habitat restoration, environmental education, and endangered species conservation within the highly urbanized Ballona Creek Watershed of the Los Angeles Basin. Though several alumni have gone through the program, these four individuals have been the backbone of the program over the past four years. They are the living example of what we hope to achieve in our environmental education programs for inner-city students in Los Angeles - young adults with a strong connection to nature, who are committed to conservation, and who serve as environmental leaders within their community.

Joyce Realegeno
Joyce Realegeno

Joyce has been closely involved in California Least Tern and Western Snowy Plover conservation for the past eight years – since she was a freshman in high school. For the past four years she has served as a field tech at the Venice Beach Least Tern colony, assisting with monitoring, nest counts, and banding of this endangered species. As a UC Santa Cruz student, she also concurrently became a Certified California Naturalist. Through the CA Naturalist Program she successfully secured a grant to study crow behavior at the Venice Beach Least Tern Colony, an extension of the research she had conducted as a high school student in the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program. Upon graduating high school, Joyce was part of a team of Greenhouse Program alumni who created the Kill Your Lawn Comic Book, a publication promoting the replacement of lawn with plants native to California and now used by non-profits and garden clubs throughout Los Angeles. As a follow-up project, she then convinced her family to remove their lawn and create a native plant garden in their front yard. In June 2015, she graduated from UC Santa Cruz and returned to Los Angeles to continue working with us and pursue a career in environmental education and biology.

Brian YoungBrian Young

Since graduating high school and the Greenhouse Program in 2011, Brian Young has juggled part-time employment with us as well as college work. An art major, Brian has worked hard to integrate his love of both the environment and art into his school and work life. In addition to helping manage two of our greenhouse facilities and dozens of volunteer habitat restoration events, he also assists with our after-school Science Illustration program for elementary school students, helped paint science-themed murals at one of partner schools, and has led and mentored younger students within three of our environmental education programs (including the Snowy Plover Field Trip Program). He has completed a summer internship through the Wildlinks Career Connection program at Yosemite National Park. In 2014 a poster he co-authored with teammate Bryan Payes about coastal sage scrub restoration techniques won the People’s Choice Award at the California Naturalist Conference. Closer to home, he helped plan and implement water-wise and wildlife-friendly landscaping with California native plants at his church.

Bryan PayesBryan PayesShortly after graduating from the Greenhouse Program in 2010, Bryan Payes was hired by Northeast Trees to participate in their Youth Stewardship Program, planting hundreds of native plants over the course of the 6-month program. He reconnected with Los Angeles Audubon in 2013 to join the Greenhouse Alumni Team. Since that time he has juggled academic commitments and a position on his college’s track and field team with his outstanding work in habitat restoration and environmental education. He has led volunteer groups from Yale, UCLA, and several local corporations during habitat restoration volunteer events, and has taught hundreds of students about the nature in their own city through our environmental education programs (including the Snowy Plover Field Trip Program). In October of 2014 he gave a presentation about his work at the California STEM Conference. Also in 2014, a poster he co-authored with a teammate Brian Young about coastal sage scrub restoration techniques won the People’s Choice Award at the California Naturalist Conference. Career-wise, Bryan plans to enter the business world, with the goal of combining entrepreneurship with sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Joanna RuachoJoanna Ruacho

Joanna Ruacho is one of only a handful of students to have served three consecutive years in the Baldwin Hills Greenhouse Program. Since graduating in 2012, she has been one of the most reliable docents in our Native Plant and Wildlife Garden Education Program at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area and has been an outstanding mentor for students in our middle school summer camp program. Joanna was also part of a team of Greenhouse Program alumni who created the Kill Your Lawn Comic Book, a publication promoting the replacement of lawn with plants native to California and now used by non-profits and garden clubs throughout Los Angeles. She regularly assists with our after-school Science Illustration program, helps lead eco-art activities for our high school programs, and frequently assists with Spanish translation and parent outreach during our public school events (including the Snowy Plover Field Trip Program). In the summer of 2013 she was part of an alumni team that presented their outreach work for Snowy Plover and Least Tern conservation at the national Audubon Convention. Joanna is interested in pursuing a career in art education while also maintaining a connection to nature and environmental stewardship.

The Disney Conservation Fund focuses on protecting wildlife and connecting kids and families with nature. Since 2004, Disney has honored more than 100 Conservation Heroes from around the world for their extraordinary conservation efforts.

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