Nancy Raia (left), the Eastern Shore Art Center’s community outreach director and chairwoman of the Academy’s art committee, helped lead the award-winning Squeaky Sneakers environmental arts program with Angela Underwood (right), Weeks Bay NERR biologist and education specialist.

Nancy Raia, chairwoman of the United States Sports Academy’s art committee  and community outreach director at Eastern Shore Art Center in Alabama, helped lead the Squeaky Sneakers environmental arts program that recently received a Gulf Guardian award.

Raia and Angela Underwood, Weeks Bay NERR biologist and education specialist, worked together to promote the conservation of estuaries and other coastal resources through immersion in experiential environmental education and innovative forms of artistic expression.

“Angela and I taught alongside each other in the estuaries, on the boat, in the field, behind the seine nets and eventually in the classroom where we created art to remember what the children had just experienced,” said Raia of the program in Alabama. “Being in the surroundings and then reacting to nature at its finest, is the only way to teach about dolphins, eagles, baby shrimp and crabs, and why we call estuaries the preschool to the ocean.”

The Gulf of Mexico Program awarded Weeks Bay NERR and Eastern Shore Art Center a Third Place 2013 Gulf Guardian Award in the Partnership Category for their Squeaky Sneakers Program. Raia attended the awards ceremony held June 26 in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Since 2008, Squeaky Sneakers has delivered experiential environmental education and art to more than 500 participants ranging in age from preschool to senior citizens with a variety of abilities and backgrounds. 

Raia (left) worked with Underwood (right) to promote the conservation of estuaries and other coastal resources through environmental education and artistic expression.

Squeaky Sneakers strives to enhance ecological awareness and protection among culturally diverse and underserved communities and has worked with groups including Fairhope Rotary Youth Club, Foley Snook Youth Club, The Arc of Baldwin County, Fairhope UMC’s Shepherd’s Place, Camp Horizon Girls Wilderness Program, Baldwin County Public Schools Summer Programs, and Southwest Alabama Regional School for the Deaf and Blind. 

Additionally, Squeaky Sneakers trains other educators to extend the program’s reach.

“We are training future stewards of the estuaries and helping many children find out they love making art,” Raia said.

The Gulf of Mexico Program initiated the Gulf Guardian awards in 2000 as a way to recognize and honor the businesses, community groups, individuals and agencies that are taking positive steps to keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful and productive. First, second and third place awards are given in seven categories: individual, business/industry, youth environmental education, civic/nonprofit organizations, cultural diversity/environmental justice, partnership and bi-national efforts.