2022 Awards Recipients

Inspiring! Amazing! Innovating! Check out this year’s 2022 NAI Sierra Pacific Region Award Winners!

Your Sierra Pacific Region is here to help you honor outstanding achievements in interpretation. Awards will showcase the achievements of Sierra Pacific members and others working to advance the profession of interpretation. 

Need more information? For more information, contact Co-Chairs Lou Salas Sian and Ashley Adams at 2022Awards.SierraPacific@gmail.com.

Ira Bletz – Master Interpretive Manager

When thinking about what it means to excel as an interpretive manager, many of us think of Ira Bletz. His countless projects and programs, from “The Maggot, Natures Marvelous Munchers” to heading the interpretive design team for the new, state-of-the-art, bi-lingual visitor center at Del Valle Regional Park, Ira is an inspiration. Over the 35 years, he has dedicated to the East Bay Regional Park District, Ira inspired curiosity in visitors as a Naturalist, encouraged young interpreters and naturalists as a Supervisor, and continues to energize staff and move the agency forward as an Interpretive Manager for the South/East Sector.

Throughout all of this, Ira constantly gives his time and expertise to NAI. Speaking about first meeting Ira during an NAI beer tasting program, one nominator said, “I was struck by just how fantastic an interpretive experience it was, and was so captivated that I took copious notes, which I have kept to this day.” And goes on to say “it is my opinion that Ira Bletz is one of the most talented and effective interpretive managers that I’ve ever met. The impacts of his successful leadership and management style continue to resonate throughout the interpretive field, especially here within Region 9.” Ira received the Master Interpretive Manager Award on the National level back in 2015 and we are so excited to recognize all his contributions since then on the regional level as well. Congratulations Ira!

Francis Mendoza – Master Front-Line Interpreter

As a community leader, naturalist, acting supervising naturalist, and docent coordinator, Francis Mendoza worked with diverse stakeholders, community-based organizations, public and private schools, tribal organizations, and marginalized communities. He has delivered countless environmental education programs to students and the public throughout the East Bay with organizations including Kids for the Bay, Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center, East Bay Regional Park District, and Children and Nature Network.

Throughout his time in the field, Francis has dedicated his free time to share his knowledge with all of us. Francis has served on the National Conference Planning Committee and is currently serving as the JEDAI Section Director! One of his former colleagues said “ When I think of a Master Front-Line Interpreter, I don’t first think of awards, honors, or professional organizations. I think of a person who strives to make the world a better place through the stories that they tell, the hearts they touch, and the commitment that they have to inspiring the next generation of stewards of nature, culture, and art. I think that’s someone like Francis.” Congratulations, Francis, on receiving the 2022 Master Front-Line Interpreter Award.

Sharol Nelson-Embry – Outstanding Senior/Retired Interpreter

As interpreters, we are lucky to have a career in sharing our passion for the world around us. Some of us continue to share that dedication and passion with others even after we hang up our uniforms. Sharol is one of those people. After a 35-year interpretive career, Sharol continues to inspire curiosity by leading bird walks with Audubon, taking third graders out to learn about California least terns, and hosting bird-friendly chocolate tasting experiences which promote environmental advocacy through her company Cocoa Case.

One nominator mentioned, “As a retiree, Sharol continues to share her love of nature, birds, and chocolate with families, adults, and school children.” While another said, “She embodies the spirit and employs the skills of an outstanding interpreter in her approach to create meaning for others and enjoying it.” Sharol continues to be an inspiration to all of us through mentorship and involvement with NAI. Thank you Sharol and congratulations!

Debi Espinosa-Bylin – Meritorious Service Award

Since 2015, Debi Espinoza-Bylin has served the Sierra Pacific region in numerous roles such as registrar, logistics, sponsorships, media, land acknowledgment, and keynote speakers. In addition, she served two terms as Secretary on the region’s board. In 2020-21, she chaired the first all-virtual workshop and is the co-chair for the 2021-22 workshop. Debi is a history guide lead and docent training coordinator naturalist Emeritus at Borges Ranch Open Space Park for Walnut Creek.

One nominator said, “Debi is a determined and steady team member and leader, and has contributed her admirable skills, countless hours, and unflagging enthusiasm in service to the Sierra Pacific Region.” Congratulations, Debi, on receiving the 2022 Meritorious Service Award, and thank you for your dedicated involvement in NAI.

Ed Valenzuela – Outstanding Interpretive Volunteer

For more than a decade, Ed Valenzuela has been a dedicated volunteer at Big Break Visitor Center with the East Bay Regional Park District. Throughout the pandemic, Ed has been essential to a small staff by providing rich and high-quality programming for visitors and mentorship and training in park resources to other volunteers and staff.

A nominator mentioned “Ed is and continues to be a leader amongst both docents and staff. He is a wealth of knowledge, via teaching park resource information to train new docents and staff as well as providing mentorship for other volunteers and staff.” Congratulations, Ed, you are the 2022 recipient for Outstanding Interpretive Volunteer Award.

Congratulations to our 2022 Award Recipients!

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