Vote Now For the Eagle Rare Life Award Winner
Meet the finalists in the tenth annual contest and cast your vote before December 6, 2019
Garden & Gun is proud to present the 2020 Eagle Rare Life Award, the tenth-annual honor given to one remarkable individual living a “rare life” in service of others. The winner of the award will receive a $50,000 grand prize to be donated to the charitable organization of their choosing, as well as a profile on gardenandgun.com telling their story.
Incredible nominations were submitted from all over the country, and after careful consideration, the G&G and Eagle Rare teams have narrowed the pool to six deserving causes making an impact in areas of education, ecology, disaster relief, veteran care, and community support. This year’s finalists are:
– Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman of Captains for Clean Water
– Andy Chopra of Khelo
– Ronald DeFreitas of Reel American Heroes
– Gary LeBlanc of Mercy Chefs
– Amanda Storey of Jones Valley Teaching Farm
– Jennifer Winston of Communities In Schools of the Charleston Area
Now it’s up to you to choose the winner—read on to meet this year’s finalists and cast your vote before December 6, then stay tuned for the announcement of the winner in early 2020. You can vote once per day until December 6, 2019.
Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman
Executive Director and Program Director, Captains for Clean Water
Fort Myers, Florida
Everyone who lives in or visits the state of Florida owes Daniel Andrews and Chris Wittman a debt of gratitude. As charter captains and fishing guides, the two observed firsthand the widespread water quality issues in their local fisheries, as well as major problems with the state’s water management practices. Knowing they couldn’t stand idly by, the duo quit their jobs and founded Captains for Clean Water (CFCW), a homegrown nonprofit advocating for clean water and healthy estuaries across the state of Florida. Andrews, Wittman, and their team have since devoted their lives to solving these complicated large-scale issues, becoming involved in every aspect of the solution at every level. They work tirelessly with residents, visitors, politicians, and businesses to advance education, raise awareness, and ensure that science-based solutions to water quality issues are implemented by state policymakers. CFCW played an instrumental role in the passing of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 2018, and as a direct result of the organization’s efforts, Florida’s water crisis has de-escalated significantly over the last three years.
As CFCW often asserts, “We have a solution”; however, it takes increased and continued support to deliver relief as urgently and efficiently as the statewide crisis demands. For a small grassroots group, this prize could significantly expand CFCW’s reach. The money would help fund programs and projects across the state, encouraging awareness about the fragility of Florida’s ecosystem and setting permanent change in motion.
Cofounder, Khelo; Principal, Banyan Investment Group
Growing up the son of immigrant entrepreneurs in Paducah, Kentucky, Andy Chopra spent his formative years working alongside hourly wage earners in the economy hotels his family owned. As Chopra grew up, he observed many of these employees encouraging their own children to leave high school before graduating to join the workforce, thereby creating a multigenerational cycle of low income and poverty. After bootstrapping the launch of a hotel investment company in 2010, Andy was determined to break this cycle. He soon launched Khelo, a nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds at disadvantaged schools throughout the world. Khelo’s underlying mission is to break the cycle of poverty by providing a consistent incentive (play) to encourage children to remain in school and gain a meaningful education, thereby creating more opportunity for students to obtain increased economic security in the future.
Currently, 95 percent of donations to Khelo are used to source and construct playgrounds at disadvantaged schools across the globe. Working in conjunction with the NGO All Hands and Hearts, Khelo has funded the construction of playgrounds in Peru, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. If awarded this prize, Khelo could fully fund eight or more playgrounds in underserved communities across the globe. These new spaces would deliver a sense of hope and opportunity to children who strive to earn their education to break cycles of poverty.
Ronald R. DeFreitas
Founder and chief financial officer, Reel American Heroes Foundation
Dale City, Virginia
Ronald R. DeFreitas founded the Reel American Heroes Foundation (RAHF) after seeing the positive impact that a day of recreational therapy could provide for wounded and disabled veterans. In 2010, he and a group of volunteer boaters collected donations to host an inaugural bass fishing tournament for a group of combat veterans, an event that quickly became the cornerstone of the foundation. In 2015, DeFreitas was diagnosed with an aggressive stage IV prostate cancer, but this has not stopped him; he stayed on as RAHF’s CFO during treatment, and now in remission, remains a fierce advocate for veterans while working an additional full-time job. Over the years, the foundation has involved several hundred participants in its annual tournaments, as well as countless additional fishing trips and gatherings throughout the year. For veterans battling anxiety, PTSD, or physical disabilities, this outlet for community and camaraderie can be genuinely life changing.
If awarded this prize, the RAHF would be able to purchase equipment and prizes for its annual bass fishing tournament in August. This event gathers participants and volunteers from across the eastern United States to provide veterans with a welcome distraction from the mental and physical ailments following combat, and a donation of this size would play a major role in making this experience possible.
Founder and president, Mercy Chefs
Gary LeBlanc’s family hails from Louisiana, and after Hurricane Katrina, he knew he had to return home to pitch in. As a relief effort volunteer, Gary, a 40-year veteran of the hospitality industry, became inspired to do even more In 2006, he founded Mercy Chefs, a group that provides professionally prepared, restaurant-quality meals for victims, volunteers, and first responders in the wake of natural disasters and national emergencies. Since its inception, Mercy Chefs has served more than two million meals, with recent responses including Hurricanes Maria, Florence, Michael, Harvey, and Irma, the Carr fires, the Houston floods, and tornadoes in Alabama and Ohio. For victims and first responders, these meals have provided immeasurable comfort and relief in times of dire need.
In addition to its ongoing disaster response services, Mercy Chefs has recently formed community gardens at its kitchen facilities in Virginia and Florida The need for fresh produce and nutrition education for children and families in these underserved communities had long remained unmet, and this prize would allow the organization to expand its efforts in this territory even further. A $50,000 donation could also serve more than 20,000 meals to people in need, allowing the organization to continue making a considerable difference by providing comfort and care moments of tragedy or uncertainty.
Executive Director, Jones Valley Teaching Farm
When 2008’s economic downturn shuttered her division at Birmingham-based Cooking Light magazine, Amanda Story faced a professional crossroads. Instead of finding another media job, she chose to build her life around her true passion: inspiring and educating children about healthy food. After stints with the United Way and a food bank, she joined Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) in 2015 as its executive director, refining the nonprofit’s mission to serve students in Birmingham City Schools by showing them the power of fresh food. Like many urban school systems, Birmingham’s often struggles to provide resources to its students, especially those from low-income backgrounds. In response, JVTF now provides hands-on opportunities for more than 4,500 students each year via in-school and after-school programs at JVTF’s central teaching farm and six satellite locations.
This award would make a significant difference at JVTF, ensuring the firm foundation needed for making a powerful impact on the lives of thousands of students each year. Since JVTF’s creation in 2002, it has never owned any of the land it farmed, and in order to grow and expand its services, the organization needed to own its own property. In August of 2019, JVTF closed on its very own downtown teaching farm. While funds are raised for this expansion, this prize would provide invaluable support for the daily programs continuing in local Birmingham schools.
Site Coordinator at North Charleston Elementary School, Communities in Schools of the Charleston Area Inc.
North Charleston, South Carolina
Jennifer Winston was born in Mississippi, where her mother dropped out of school in the eighth grade to work in the cotton fields. Observing the challenges and abuse her mother suffered and how hard she worked to make ends meet for her own family, Winston vowed to find a way to break the pattern. Seeing education as a way out, she completed her college degree and began a career in the field in 2001. In the classroom, she sees much of her own history reflected in her students’ stories of abuse, trauma, and poverty, and she is committed to being a passionate agent for change. Winston uses her experiences as a platform to go above and beyond for her students, recognizing potential in even the darkest places.
Communities in Schools (CIS) of the Charleston Area was founded in 1989, and currently serves between eight and ten thousand students at fifteen Title One schools every year. Each family under its care would benefit greatly from this prize—a donation of this size could fully fund the site coordinator position at North Charleston Elementary School for an entire school year. With this program in place, fifty students would receive guaranteed case management services, including a needs assessment, a formalized case plan, and family support (the provision of basic needs, academic support, and social-emotional learning). Last year alone, Winston scheduled, managed, and tracked more than forty partners and two-hundred volunteers, and this prize could be leveraged to ease her burden and provide program security at a school where its impact is undeniable.
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