2013 Prize Winner
"She is gifted at helping youth believe they can achieve more than they may actually believe they can, and once a child understands that, there is nothing that can deter their drive to succeed." Brigitte Griswold, the Nature Conservancy
Gladys Ruiz, 33, grew up in New York City public housing in the 1980s. In 2005, Ruiz moved to Portland where she now serves as the Audubon Society of Portland's eastside conservation education coordinator. But for the first 21 years of her life she was afraid of birds. When she was 19, she worked as a coastal steward for a nature conservancy, helping count endangered bird species. "I hated the fact that I was looking through binoculars, trying to find these tiny birds that looked like cotton balls and toothpicks," Ruiz says. Two years later, she joined AmeriCorps, where she began work with an ornithologist. "It wasn't until the last project in AmeriCorps that I kicked the fear of birds," she says. Ruize worked on Great Gull Island, off the coast of New York, with the common tern, a shore bird. Her job was to band chicks and trap the adults. The adults were aggressive, often pecking at her. But she bonded with the chicks. "You're looking down at these tiny nests with these tiny birds there's that moment like, "This is real," Ruiz says. "That scary thing is a little tiny thing."
Her prize was generously sponsored by Grady Britton.