2024 Child Health Advocate & NOW Youth Leadership Awards

This celebration honors advocates for their leadership on behalf of children's environmental health, equity, and climate action and justice. Save the date for our annual awards event on Children's Environmental Health Day (October 10, 2024) in Washington DC!

This year's Awardees:

Vinav Shah- NOW Youth Leadership Award

Student; Founder, AirAwareSchools; Creator, Climate Crisis Game

Valencia Bednar- NOW Youth Leadership Award

Student; Volunteer, Moms Clean Air Force

Ruth Santiago, JD, LLM- Community Award

Environmental Health Advocate and lawyer





Don Hoppert- Policy Award

Director of Government Relations, American Public Health Association

Don Hoppert leads APHA’s federal government relations and grassroots advocacy activities. He previously served as Director of Federal and Congressional Affairs at APHA from 1998 through 2004. Don is a long-time former member of the board of directors of the Coalition for Health Funding, the oldest and largest nonprofit alliance working to preserve and strengthen federal public health funding. He served as president of the coalition in 2015 and 2016. From 2004 through 2006, Don was a public policy and public affairs consultant in San Francisco, California where he worked for both corporate and nonprofit clients on a variety of public policy issues, including prescription drug access, tobacco control and emergency health services. Don served as a congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown from 1994 through 1998. He advised Brown on several legislative issues including the environment, financial services, education and crime and judiciary matters. He is active in several environmental health coalitions, including the Healthy Air Partners and the Friends of CDC. Don has served on CEHN’s Policy Committee for a long time. He is a key partner who has assisted with CEHN’s requests concerning government relations, and shared his expertise by presenting at APHA’s 2023 Climate & Health Bootcamp about how to engage policymakers.


Mary Annaïse Heglar- Media/Arts Award

Writer, editor, teacher, and podcast host

Mary Annaïse Heglar is the author of Troubled Waters (Harper Muse) and The World is Ours to Cherish (Random House Kids). She is also known for her essays that dissect and interrogate the climate crisis, drawing heavily on her personal experience as a Black woman with deep roots in the South. Her work has appeared in New York MagazineThe NationThe Boston GlobeVoxRolling Stone, and other outlets. Her work has also been featured in collections like All We Can SaveThe World As We Knew ItThe Black Agenda, and Not Too Late. With investigative journalist Amy Westervelt, she is also the co-creator of the podcast, Spill, and previously of the Hot Take podcast and newsletter. She has taught at Columbia University in New York and Tulane University in New Orleans. In 2020, she received a SEAL Environmental Journalism award. She is originally from Birmingham, Alabama and Mississippi and is now based in New Orleans.


Barry A. Cik, PE, CP, BCEE, QEP, CHMM, REM- Business Award

Founder and Technical Director, Naturepedic

Naturepedic is a manufacturer of award-winning certified organic mattresses. Barry’s devotion to the organic industry is the natural result of his lifelong interest in preserving the environment, for us and future generations. Barry is a board-certified environmental engineer and advocate for legislative reform, and was invited to testify in Washington, D.C. as part of a congressional subcommittee exploring chemical reform. Barry is also a frequent speaker and thought leader, speaking before scientific, consumer, political and business audiences on the benefits of sustainable product design.

Barry established Naturepedic in 2003, after shopping for his first grandchild's crib mattress and feeling troubled to discover the state of the baby mattress industry. From that moment, Barry was inspired and determined to create mattress products that were safer and healthier for every child. He believes in a healthier world without harmful chemicals, environmental toxins, or destructive business practices, and has been a partner and donor to CEHN for years. He is also a member of the Cancer Free Economy Network.

Sacoby Wilson, PhD- Science Award

Director, Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health;
Professor, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health
University of Maryland School of Public Health; Co-Director, US EPA Region III Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (TCTAC); Director, Mid-Atlantic Environmental Justice Fund 

Dr. Sacoby Wilson is a professor with the Department of Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOH)(formerly known as the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health), School of Public Health, University of Maryland-College Park. He has 25 years of experience as an environmental health scientist in the areas of exposure science, environmental justice, environmental health disparities, community-engaged research including community-based participatory research (CBPR), community science, and community-owned and managed research (COMR), and air quality studies including building hyperlocal air quality monitoring networks, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) including developing environmental justice screening and mapping (EJSM) tools, built environment, climate change, industrial animal production, climate change, community resiliency, and sustainability.  He works primarily in partnership with community-based organizations to study and address environmental justice and health issues and translate research into action.

Dr. Wilson is the Director of the Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health (CEEJH). He also directs the Mid-Atlantic Climate Action Hub (MATCH) funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Waverly Street Foundation; co-directs the US EPA Region III Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (TCTAC), and directs the Mid-Atlantic Environmental Justice Fund, the region’s first large scale participatory fund for providing assistance to frontline and fenceline communities experiencing environmental and climate justice issues.  CEEJH is focused on providing technical assistance and research support to communities fighting against environmental injustice and environmental health disparities in the DMV region and across the nation through inpowerment and liberation science.  Through CEEJH, Dr. Wilson is engaging communities in the Washington, DC region and beyond on environmental health issues including exposure and health risks for individuals who fish and recreate on the Anacostia River; use of best management practices to reduce stormwater inputs in the Chesapeake Bay; air pollution and health impacts due to industrial and commuter traffic in Bladensburg, MD; built environment, environmental injustice, and vectors in West Baltimore; cumulative impacts of environmental hazards on air quality in Brandywine, MD; goods movement, industrial pollution, and environmental injustice in South Baltimore, MD; environmental justice and health issues in Buzzard Point area of Washington, DC; industrial chicken farming on Maryland's Eastern Shore; health impact of assessment in the Sheriff Road community; and other topics.  In addition, he is working with schools in the region on pipeline development efforts in the STEM+H disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health).

He has worked on environmental justice issues including environmental racism with community-based organizations through community-university environmental health and justice partnerships in South Carolina and North Carolina including the Low-Country Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC), in North Charleston, South Carolina; the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) in Mebane, NC; and the Graniteville Community Coalition (GCC) in Graniteville, SC. He has provided technical assistance to REACH in Duplin County, NC; RENA in Orange County, NC; and the NC Environmental Justice Network. He also has worked on environmental justice and air pollution issues with community-based groups in Houston, Texas, Savannah, GA, Uniontown, AL, Newark, NJ, and Wilmington, DE.

Dr. Wilson has been very active professionally to advance environmental justice science, advocacy, and policy.  He is currently on the US EPA’s Science Advisory Board, the Fifth National Climate Assessment (Air Quality Team), a member of the National Academy of Science's Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology (BEST), and is Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Justice.  He is a member of the Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities for the state of Maryland,  and a former member of the Climate and Environment subcommittee for Governor Wes Moore’s Transition Team. In addition, he is a former member of the US EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) including founding co-chair of its Justice40 and Finances workgroup, a SAB liaison member of NEJAC’s cumulative impacts workgroup, a member of the Kresge Foundation’s Climate Change and Health Equity (CCHE) program advisory board, a former board member of the Citizen Science Association and Community Campus Partnerships for Health, a past Chair of the APHA Environment Section, a former member of Board of Scientific Counselors for the CDC NCEH/ATSDR, and former Chair of the Alpha Goes Green Initiative, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.  He is also a senior fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program.

Dr. Wilson has done a lot of work to build environmental justice organizations and coalitions.  He is Co-Founder of the Mid-Atlantic Justice Coalition (MAJC), the DMV Environmental Justice Coalition, and Founder of 17 for Peace and Justice, an environmental justice advocacy organization.  He currently is faculty advisor for a student chapter of 17 for Peace and Justice on the campus of the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is on the steering committee for the recently relaunched National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN).  Additionally, he hosts an annual environmental justice symposium that brings together community members, advocates, policymakers, researchers, students, and practitioners to discuss ways to address environmental justice issues in the DMV region and around the country.

Dr. Wilson has received many awards for his contributions and achievements as an environmental justice researcher and advocate. He recently won the 2022 Sierra Club Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award.  He has also received the 2021 Maryland LCV Changemakers Award, and the 2018 Taking Nature Black Environmental Champion Award. He also received the APHA Environment Section Damu Smith Environmental Justice Award in 2015.  From the University of Maryland School of Public Health, he received the George F. Kramer Practitioner of the Year Award (2014-2015) and the Muriel R. Sloan Communitarian Award (2019-2020, 2012-2013). He also received the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Award from the University of South Carolina in 2011.  He received a US EPA Environmental Justice Achievement Award given to Low Country Alliance for Model Communities, North Charleston, SC and Mitigation Agreement Committee. Additionally, Dr. Wilson received the Steve Wing International Environmental Justice Award in 2008.

Dr. Wilson, a two-time EPA STAR fellow, EPA MAI fellow, Udall Scholar, NASA Space Scholar, and Thurgood Marshall Scholar, received his BS degree in Biology/Ecotoxicology with a minor in Environmental Science from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1998. He received training in environmental health in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Wilson received his MS degree in 2000 from UNC-Chapel Hill and his PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2005.


About the Awards:

The Child Health Advocate Awards honor outstanding children's environmental health leaders (age 22 and up) in Policy, Science, Community, Business, and Arts/Media. These child health champions have gone above and beyond to create systemic change, protecting children from environmental hazards.

The NOW  Youth Leadership Award was created as part of the Children’s Environmental Health Network’s 20th-anniversary celebration in 2012, in honor of Executive Director Nsedu Obot Witherspoon. This award honors a young person who has demonstrated exceptional environmental health leadership--protecting human health, especially of our most vulnerable populations.

 View previous award recipients here.

About Children's Environmental Health Day (CEH Day):

Focused on equity and action, CEH Day is celebrated the second Thursday of each October with the goals of raising the visibility of children’s health issues, celebrating successes in the field, sharing exciting new initiatives, and discussing new challenges and the road ahead. Visit the CEH Day site here.