Wellness Walks 2016: Para el Bienestar de Nuestra Comunidad

This coming weekend, Saturday Nov 12,  marks the end of the Wellness Walks in Marin County for the year. It is another year of a successful round of monthly outings connecting families with the open spaces in their communities in the San Francisco Bay Area–and a feat worth celebrating!

20160312_125051

In the words of coordinator Alicia Cruz, who started the Wellness Walks in 2015, “during a difficult time, these walks saved me” and it was created “out of a sense of service to promote well-being, build community, and to create access for families that otherwise would not be connecting with their nearby parks and open spaces.” They simply started with Alicia wanting to explore the natural spaces in Marin, and sharing that interest, passion, and curiosity with her community.

20160514_121535

CA State Parks noticed and the Wellness Walks institutionalized under a partnership that provided monthly transportation support for a year with funding from the CA State Parks Foundation. Alicia worked with CA State Parks staff to provided guided hikes, nature walks, and other outdoor experiences for families that not only provided physical wellness but a space for cognitive and spiritual wellness, as well as learning about outdoors.

20160409_121515

Since then over 22 outings have taken place with many families visiting their state parks for the first time. For many, the walks provide an opportunity for family bonding, for a space to breathe from the daily stress, and to convene with others. For CA State Parks, it provides an opportunity to deliver on its mission to provide more access for more Californians–and for Alicia, it provides an opportunity to expand on the definition of an outdoor experience while establishing a clear personal connection of what holistic wellness can look like with nature.

20161008_112855

The success of the Wellness Walks in Marin is self-evident. But it is important to note that it is realized out of an intent and purpose of service. They started with the power of welcome and invitation, and have been sustained with the relationships of community, family, and volunteer support. While funding is essential to support the logistical work, it is the people behind it that actualize it all.

20160813_114703

As we close out the year, and as many of us face physical, mental, and spiritual stress, we invite you to take the time for healing and wellness with nature and go outdoors. It is also the time of the year many of us begin to reflect on gratitude and appreciation–and reconnect with our families and loved ones for the holidays. May a nearby trail and parkland provide the space for all of that, for yourself, with your family, and your community.

20160312_134727

 

If you’re in the SF Bay Area on Saturday, Nov 12, join us!

José G. González is the Founder of Latino Outdoors, a volunteer-run organization focused on celebrating Latino culture in nature and connecting families with the outdoors. 


Latino Outdoors Interview: A Conversation with Jessica Gonzalez

 

We always love profiling our leaders in the movement and in the field. Here is another interview in our series to showcase the individuals that embody the Latino Outdoors story, ambicultural leadership in action. Here is Jessica Gonzalez, a National Park Service program director in New York. 

Tell us your story, what is your connection to the land and conservation?

I grew up in Brooklyn, not exactly a spot known for its purple mountains majesty.  Growing up, my connection to nature was emphasized by my parents. My parents took messages to heart like “Recycle today for a better tomorrow”, and made sure to tell all guests at our house and even family and friends when we weren’t at home.  Although NYC is thought of as a concrete jungle, that’s not the reality. South Brooklyn is very green and I have been lucky enough to live on land that was previously farmland until the 1920s.  I’ve explored the waterways of Brooklyn in my kayak and used my bike to explore on land.  The dichotomy of living in a city with intense pollution in some locations and dirt so clean you can grow vegetables in it makes one aware of the value of clean land and the impact of humans.

We also had a house in the woods in Pennsylvania where we would just wander through the woods, see wildlife up close, and stargaze with a telescope off our deck. We explored nature because we could, and because we saw the value of interacting with a natural environment.

How is this connection celebrated in your community and culture—in the broader conservation community?

Gateway is lucky to have so many partner groups engage the park in an effort to connect their community members to nature.  Casual exploration is one of the best ways people encounter nature, especially in a big city. Nature doesn’t always have to meet a 6 hour trip to mountains, followed by camping without electricity and hot water.  So often people don’t enter a green area or walk up to an activity because they assume it’s not for them.  Through the Your Park! Your Health! program we invite new visitors, we seek out communities that may know know of our park programs or how they can participate. Your Park! Your Health teaches these new visitors skills they can take with them to other outdoor adventures and connect underserved communities to other wonderful park programs such as kayaking or camping.

We see huge numbers of youth volunteering to help protect, preserve and clean up natural areas. The desire for conservation is there, and people should understand that even little steps like recycling matter.

Latino/a identities are connected to the outdoors, the environment, and conservation—how are those words reflective of YOU, how is it expressed, what does it look like? 

Growing up, we explored, simply because we could.

Latino Identities are connected to the outdoors because they are surrounded by la naturaleza. I spent time in El Salvador and saw how integrated the villagers were with their natural surroundings, and it was the same interactions you see with all kids who live near open fields and hills and streams.

Connections to the outdoors to me look like families and individuals safely exploring, learning, appreciating the outdoors, but more importantly coming back, and maybe one day either working in their public lands, or working to protect them.

These words reflect my life because I remember all my life in my visits to my family in Puerto Rico hiking through the jungle, walking out of the house to pick fruit right off the tree, and how we were just surrounded by nature. Nature wasn’t something we had to travel to see, it wasn’t separated from every-day life.

While some us us (me included) may not have grown up camping in a tent, because as my parents said “ why should I sleep in a tent when I could sleep in a bed” it is becoming easier to learn outdoor skills. There is the assumption at times that we wouldn’t be interested in outdoor activities. Luckily I find that this is not a majority opinion and that Latinos are learning about outdoor opportunities through friends, family and the power of social media to de-stigmatize the perceived difficulty of outdoor activities.

What needs to change and how do we grow, celebrate, and have the broader conservation movement connect with the role and values Latinos bring to the field?

Latinos have had a connection to conservation since the beginning of the National Park Service. George Melendez Wright was a Latino of El Salvadorian descent and conducted the first survey of fauna for the National Park Service  In order to grow,  Latinos need to be allowed to leave the boxes they’ve been put in, which is to only work on “Latino” issues and to have a seat at the table for discussions over engagement, conservation, recruitment and retention. These are issues that affect all populations.

To truly move conservation, both natural and historical, into the 21st century we need to modernize. There is a great benefit from having access to institutional knowledge, but we need to continue modernizing our processes and reaching out to new audiences. Local communities should be involved in the conservation movement, and in those instances where agencies, communities and other interested parties have come together for discussions have resulted in more success due to the collaborative nature of the process.

Why does this issue and work matter to you?

As a Latina who had exposure to nature early on, I feel the need to help connect new and existing communities to the nature that surrounds them. I work in an urban park and I’m still surprised when kids or even adults are experiencing nature for the first time, without being behind glass.  A special joy is experienced when a visitor is taught about the world they live in and can bring those lessons home when they leave the park.

The Your Park! Your Health! team, based out of New York City leads a kayaking every other Tuesday night in the park. The audiences we serve are very diverse.  They are from different cultural backgrounds and with different life experiences. We are still amazed that we have to invite passers-by to kayaking. There is still the assumption that a recreational activity is not for them and possibly only available to people with money. There are countless studies that laud the benefits of exposure to natural environments. By increasing stewardship we ensure that new generations who support their public lands.

What does success in all this look like to you?

Support for our public lands is essential for everyone. Existing communities benefit from community involvement because many voices are more powerful than one. Good ideas come from many places and the conservation movement benefits from more people of all backgrounds participating.

How is your work with NPS reflective of all this?

My park, Gateway National Recreation Area,  has connected to the diverse communities surrounding New York City through the program Your Park! Your Health! (formerly Tu Parque! Tu Salud!). Every summer we bring a team of interns from the surrounding communities into the park to learn about the programs and activities that are available to the public and then host these same programs like Kayaking and camping for friends, family and the public and introduce them to the activities right in their backyard.

Last year we joined the movement to #optoutside the day after Thanksgiving and we’re happy to be hosting Latino Outdoors outside on a cool hike.  The year 2016 marks the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and we hope to continue helping all communities to #findtheirpark or #encuentratuparque.

One phrase we heard constantly is that people didn’t know these activities and spaces were open and available to them. It takes more than just showing up, sometimes it means holding out that hand and becoming a trusted ambassador for the park.

Jessica Gonzalez

 

Jessica Gonzalez is the Program Director of the “Your Park! Your Health!” program at Gateway National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service.


New Years Resolutions: Outdoors Edition by Cynthia

Happy New Years! It is 2016 and many people are ready to start the new year with resolutions to either be healthy, share time with the loves ones, or go onto a new adventure. I am very excited to share that I made not one resolution, but six resolutions that are all focused in the outdoors in some way or the other. Here I share my resolutions with descriptions and fun images!

  1. Growing food!
    IMG_20151104_155639225

    Image taken at my former job in New Hampshire as we put the garden beds to ‘bed’ for the winter. I will be doing the same this year at my new job with Growing Places in Leominster, Massachusetts.

    Growing up in the warm, tropical island of Puerto Rico, I had the privilege to learn how to grow vegetables, herbs, fruits, and other delicious food. Gardening has been part of a family tradition for many generations and I find gardening to be my zen! I get to plant a seed, tend for it and later on harvest the fruits of my labor. I hope to garden this year, spend time with family and friends at the garden, and enjoy delicious meals we create with the garden products! My favorite and family tradition dish we make is Sofrito, a delicious sauce that is pretty much the secret ingredient to a lot (if not all) Puerto Rican food dishes. My family and I also save seeds of cilantro and peppers as we LOVE those crops!

  2. Volunteer at a farm!
IMG_20151010_154505045

Image taken: September 2015 at my friends, Kohei Ishihara’s farm: Movement Ground Farm in Berkley, Massachusetts.

I love farms! My past experience with putting my hands in the dirt, weeding, and of course, meeting new people have been at farms. I have friends who are farmers and I love them for taking on, what I consider, the most important job in the world! Being nurtures, growers, and feeders of their communities, farmers are superheroes on my book. Therefore, I love supporting farms by visiting, volunteering as much as I can during the season, and purchasing their goods!

 

3. Keep on researching Latino/a/x Outdoor and Environmental work!

IMG_20151016_124853931

LO loves being part of America Latino Eco-Festival! L-R: Jose Gonzalez, LO Founder, me being silly, and Asnoldo, LO Colorado Ambassador. Image taken: October 2015

I love reading, writing, and learning more about my cultural roots and the environment. My resolution is part of my ongoing career as an Environmental Educator. I want to keep learning from Latino Leaders, community members, and other in the Environmental movement their steps, questions, answers, solutions, and much more in regards to Latinos and the Environment. I hope to attend conferences, connect with other human beings that are interested in the work of making the environment an inclusion to all. I want to also learn more and part-take in the conversation about the Afro-Latino(a/x) identity in the Environment in the United States. I can’t wait for what I will discover!

 

4. Keep on walking in the woods…

IMG_20160106_081221091_HDR

Did a morning walk in the small trail next to my work office! Image taken: January 2016

I want to keep on taking walks and hikes in many trails as possible. I enjoy being in the woods, using my learned skills of plant identification, take some time for me in the woods! There is something about being able to walk in the woods, maybe it is the sounds of the wind embracing the trees, the sound of my boots against the snow/ice as I make my way to the magical land called the woods. I am looking forward to many walks and hikes with loved ones, by myself, and new people!

 

5. Discovering more spiritual practices related to the outdoors!

IMG_20151016_092354810

Altar created during the America Latino Eco-Festival. Image taken: October 2015

As a spiritual being, I enjoy anything related to madre tierra. This year, I want to learn about more spiritual practices which include rituals, writings, and much much more that bring me to the outdoors. I am in the journey of discovering more the spiritual practices of my cultural roots. My family has a mixed ancestral spiritual practices coming from both Africa and the Tainos. I am in the self-discovery phase of these spiritual practices and I am hoping that year I will be  able to tie in the new information with my current spiritual believes. I am very honored, thankful, and excited for this resolution!

 

6. More time with my familia outdoors!

IMG_20151127_120619202

My family and I got to see the Springfield Christmas Parade and enjoy arts, music, and quality time together! Image taken: December 2015

There is nothing more precious than spending time with your loved ones outdoors. It is fascinating, fun, full of laughs, jokes, and love. I am looking forward to spending time with my family and friends in outdoors activities. Many outdoors activities I have done with my family have been attending outdoors events such as parades, go to the park for a walk, attend the pool during the summer, and create funny looking snow mans during the winter! These are all full of memories for me and have been ideal to get us outdoors, enjoy one another, and experience nature!

 

These are my six new years resolutions which I am extremely proud to put into place for me. They all include the outdoors in many ways! I would love to read/hear your new years resolution and how they include the outdoors by sharing on the comments section!

Happy New Year!