On April 20, Chair-elect JR Ramirez of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce awarded SCCF Chief Executive Officer James Evans with the Citizen of the Year award. “This year’s Citizen of the Year is someone who has dedicated his professional life to protecting our islands from unfettered development, to keeping our nature intact — making sure that our islands stayed the course and didn’t become like so many others in our state,” Ramirez said of Evans.
Ramirez presented the award during the Chamber’s annual meeting at the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa on Sanibel, celebrating the chamber’s 60th anniversary. In accepting the award, SCCF’s deeply devoted leader credited Chamber members and others for their spirit of advocacy.
“It’s an honor to work for this community,” Evans said. “You’ve absolutely done an amazing job and have moved the needle where water quality is concerned. You deserve the credit.”
Evans has more than 22 years of experience working in South Florida ecosystems and expertise in water quality, environmental policy, marine biology, estuarine ecology, and environmental restoration.
He earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and M.S. in Environmental Science from Florida Gulf Coast University. Prior to joining SCCF, Evans was the City of Sanibel Director of Natural Resources from 2012–2020.
Also at the Chamber's annual meeting, Board of Director Members and President-Chief Executive Officer John Lai presented a Year in Review summary that highlighted noteworthy events, accomplishments, and growth statistics. Welcome center numbers showed a 17 percent increase over 2020, while the Chamber's website saw nearly 837,000 new visitors in 2021. Social media reach surpassed 3 million overall, with more than 72,400 Facebook and 15,500 Instagram followers.
“As we celebrate our 60-year anniversary, I am honored to say that we have stayed true to our mission and done our job well,” Lai said. “Perhaps the area that sets us apart from most organizations like ours has really been made a priority by our board and our membership over the past five years, and that is our willingness to and ability to collaborate with strategic partners to better champion the causes that we deem top priorities to our business community.”
Outgoing Board Chair Mark Blust highlighted the Government Affairs Committee's actions.
“Our legislative priorities were almost all based on water quality,” he said. “We collaborated on both local and state levels to be relevant.”
Before the awards presentation, Blust highlighted some of the Chamber’s 60 years of history, then welcomed Calli Johnson as the 2022-23 chair of the Chamber board of directors. She builds on a family tradition of Chamber support that began with her grandfather, Francis Bailey Jr., and was continued with her father, Richard Johnson, who served as board chair 2010-11.
“They are the people I think about when I think how I want our islands to stay for future generations,” Johnson said. “What can I offer you? A fresh perspective. I want to make 2022 the best year yet. Support each other, appreciate one another … Let’s connect. Involve yourself in greater Southwest Florida.”
She then introduced other members of the upcoming executive board and recognized new, outgoing and other board members. JR Ramirez will serve as chair-elect and Ron Clayton as secretary-treasurer. Johnson welcomed new Board Members David Lowden, Robert Monk, Patience Rodriguez and Samantha Wilson. They join Michele Berger, Clayton, Katy Forret, Joel Goodman, Ramirez, Melissa Rice, and Jeremy Walsh.