Norman Bird Sanctuary

The Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown is one of just three organizations statewide to be honored with Best Practice Awards by the Rhode Island Foundation. The awards spotlight programs that the Foundation believes can be models for other nonprofits to follow.

“The Coalition emerged from a highly competitive process and an impressive group of nominees. There is something valuable in its remarkable example that can help every nonprofit achieve more,” said Jill Pfitzenmayer, the Foundation’s vice president of capacity building.

Norman is being honored for its “Good Gardens Program,” which focuses on growing produce for the food pantry at Newport’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.  In 2021, over a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables were donated.

“We are very proud to donate the produce grown in our gardens to the MLK Center. In doing so, we are helping to address the food insecurity of Aquidneck Island residents,” said Kaity Ryan, Norman Bird Sanctuary’s executive director.

The initiative is a collaboration with the MLK Center and the URI Master Gardeners. It includes a summer program that introduces kids to gardening.

“The gardens are a powerful teaching tool for children to learn about plants, pollinators, decomposers, nutrient cycling, food webs and much more. In 2021, 429 summer campers took part in educational programming in the gardens,” said Ryan.

“This collaboration benefits Newport County residents beyond those who visit our property. The knowledge that children gain while working in our gardens is taken back to their homes and shared with their families. The food grown and donated helps to address the food insecurities of residents all over the island,” she said.

The Woonsocket Afterschool Coalition and the Rhode Island Israel Collaborative in Providence were also honored. The three recipients will each receive $5,000 grants in recognition of their achievements. The awards are sponsored by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

“Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island proudly supports the best practice awards honoring the critical work of community organizations statewide,” said BCBSRI Managing Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Carolyn Belisle. “We applaud this year’s award recipients for all they do to improve the lives of Rhode Islanders and create more equity in our state. We continue to learn from their example.”

The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $98 million and awarded $76 million in grants last year. Through leadership, fundraising and grant-making activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit