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Elected Officials and Grassroots Leaders Among Awardees

PROVIDENCE, RI: A capacity crowd turned out for Clean Water Action’s 22nd Annual Breakfast of Champions on May 17th at the Edgewood Yacht Club in Cranston. Senator Alana DiMario and Representative Davd Bennett were honored alongside the esteemed University of Rhode Island professor, Dr. Sunshine Menezes, and other grassroots leaders.  

“It was wonderful to honor our 2024 class of Rhode Island environmental champions. All of our honorees exemplify the best of Rhode Island organizing - working person by person in our small state to build relationships and power that can win campaigns for clean water and climate justice. Thank you to the elected leaders who joined us to celebrate on Friday, including Senators Whitehouse and Reed and Speaker Shekarchi, as well as our sponsors and attendees,” said Jed Thorp, Clean Water Action’s State Director.

The 2024 Awardees are as follows:

The 2024 David R. Gerraughty Award goes to Dr. Sunshine Menezes. Dr. Menezes epitomizes the spirit of this award, named after the late Clean Water organizer, through her dedication to advancing environmental communication. During Dr. Menezes’ seventeen-year tenure as the Executive Director of the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island (URI), it has become an international hub for promoting science communication and literacy, empowering journalists to accurately report on complex environmental issues. Through her mentorship, research, and advocacy, she has inspired over 3,500 people to become effective agents of change, nurturing a new generation of environmental leaders.

Sen. Alana DiMario and Rep. David Bennett are the 2024 Legislative Champions.  

Sen. DiMario, an environmental leader in the General Assembly, was the lead sponsor of the solar siting reform legislation (S684) that passed in 2023, a priority of the Climate Jobs RI coalition. She was also the previous lead sponsor of legislation to ban toxic PFAS from common items in RI, and she continues to be engaged on PFAS policy and legislation.  

Rep. Bennett, another long-time environmental leader, was the lead House sponsor of the 2023 ban on polystyrene food containers (H5090) and is the lead sponsor of Extended Producer Responsibility legislation to fight waste from packaging. Additionally, he has been a leading voice in the effort to prevent and clean-up littered nips and other forms of plastic pollution.

The 2024 Climate Jobs Champion is Joe Walsh, Business Manager of IBEW Local 99. Joe and the IBEW have been strong supporters of clean energy in Rhode Island and a key member of the Climate Jobs RI coalition. He was also instrumental in the passage of 2023’s solar siting legislation, which ensures that solar power can grow while also protecting core forests.

The Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP) is the 2024 Safe Drinking Water Champion. CLAP has worked since 1992 to eliminate childhood lead poisoning. In 2023, they led successful grassroots advocacy in support of legislation to replace the remaining lead service lines in the state, and they have prioritized lead outreach in environmental justice communities to ensure that every child has safe drinking water.  

Bill McCusker, President of Friends of the Saugatucket, is being awarded for Leadership in Fighting Plastic Pollution. Bill is a leader within the Rhode Island Zero Waste Coalition fighting to reduce plastic waste and protect local waterways. His “Great Nip Pickup Challenge” resulted in the collection of tens of thousands of nips by residents across the state which he enthusiastically showed off to the public, press, and elected officials while calling attention to the need for a bottle bill in Rhode Island.  

Our 2024 Emerging Leader Award goes to Jaylyn McNeill. At only 19 years old, Jaylyn has already been part of the Providence Green Team since 2022 where she serves as a Youth Leader. Additionally, Jaylyn helps with outreach for Groundwork Rhode Island’s tree planting campaign in Providence and sits on the city’s sustainability commission.


Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking, and people power to the table.