Each year, Friends of the Everglades recognizes a person whose commitment to our mission to preserve, protect and restore the only Everglades in the world stands out among the rest. Not only is this award meant to acknowledge their significant contribution to the world of Everglades restoration, but it also highlights someone who embodies the spirit of our founder, Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

This year’s choice is no exception. Connie Washburn has served as a member of the Board of Directors and a tireless advocate for Friends of the Everglades since 1994. Since then, she has fulfilled every supporting role possible within our organization and is always the first to volunteer for any committee or project.

We have Connie to thank for the co-founding of our youth education program, Young Friends of the Everglades. As a long-time school teacher in Miami-Dade County, she spearheaded the program in 1994, offering an immersive educational platform about the Everglades and Marjory Stoneman Douglas. With Connie at the helm, it continued for more than 20 years and inspired more than 100,000 students. Connie describes the continued communication between herself and former students – many of whom have reached out to tell her how inspired they were by Young Friends of the Everglades in their early lives — as her greatest Everglades reward.

“Because of Marjory, we were able to plant seeds, and it’s so wonderful to hear that some grew into environmentalists, young and old,” Connie told us.

With her guidance, it has been Friends of the Everglades’ great honor to revive the program this year — an effort that would not have been possible without Connie’s counsel. Because of her, we have re-linked our work to the youth of today and intend to continue a legacy of inspiring the next generation of Everglades advocates, just as our founder Marjory knew was so important.

Connie tells a story that is one of our favorites to share: On Marjory’s 105th birthday, Connie took several Young Friends of the Everglades to meet Marjory and present her with a card of well wishes from more than 400 Howard Drive Elementary students where she was a teacher. As Connie tells it, one of the little girls leaned into Marjory’s ear upon meeting her and said, “Thank you for saving the Everglades, Mrs. Douglas.” But Marjory turned and shook her head as she replied, “Oh no my dear, the Everglades are not saved yet. That’s up to you children.”

Connie has always shared Marjory’s passion for getting children involved in the fight to save the Everglades. As we celebrate the revitalization of Young Friends of the Everglades, we can’t think of a more deserving person or a more appropriate time to recognize Connie for her innumerable contributions.

Please join us in honoring Connie Washburn as our 2021 “Defender of the Everglades” award recipient.

Pictured here: Friends of the Everglades Board President Philip Kushlan presents Connie Washburn with the 2021 “Defender of the Everglades” award on November 3 at the first-ever Marjory Stoneman Douglas Legacy Luncheon at The Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida.