As members of the Woodbury High School Environmental Club filed into a lecture hall the morning of April 5, they could tell something was up.
Gathered were some of their parents, District 833 Superintendent Keith Jacobus, Washington County Commissioner Lisa Weik and other county staff. They were there to surprise the group of nearly 20 students with a Public Health Achievement Award.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners and the Department of Public Health and Environment gives out the award annually in three categories - youth, individual and group - during National Public Health Week, April 1-7.
"It means everything," said Marta Struve, a junior and one of the club's two captains. "I'm just really proud of how our club started from nothing ... and just to see that we've come this far is really cool to me."
The students were honored for their work to "promote environmental stewardship and advocacy," including putting together a series of activities, such as a succulent sale, for Earth Week to raise money for environmental organizations. In 2018, the club raised more than $300 for the National Forest Foundation to plant trees.
The club recently advocated for a district-wide system of recycling for cans, bottles and milk cartons, then created a video to teach students and staff how to properly use the new system. It also adopted a park through the city and is planning a garden and composting system on top of regular upkeep.
"I think it will give the kids a lot of motivation to do even more in the future," said Nour Sinada, the club's advisor and science teacher. "It's always good to be appreciated, but they always do it just from the goodness of their hearts."
Paul Ryberg won in the individual category for organizing and leading free Tai Ji Quan classes in Stillwater and Lake Elmo to promote "strength, balance, mobility and daily functioning." Stillwater Area ACT on Alzheimer's Action Team won in the group category for its efforts to make the community more dementia friendly.