At the end of last summer’s Children & Nature Network Natural Leaders Legacy Camp, I wasn’t sure how I was going to continue to be connected to the network. Unlike other participants who were from major cities home to multiple Natural Leaders – some days half the people there seemed to be from the Washington, D.C. area – I live in eastern Washington state, a four-hour drive from Portland, Seattle, or Boise, but close to nowhere in particular. However, on October 28, I had the honor of attending the inaugural Natural Leaders Legacy Award presentation in Kennewick, Washington, where I got to meet up with Natural Leaders Network Program Director Juan Martinez and hear U.S. Senator Patty Murray honor three young Latina women working to connect their communities to the environment.
The Tri-Cities area of Washington has a large Hispanic population and abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation, but the two don’t always connect.
The three inspiring women recognized at the event have all overcome obstacles in their lives and are all working in different ways to promote outdoor activities in their communities.
As student body president at Columbia Basin College, Denise Lazaro replaced the plastic water bottles sold on campus with aluminum water bottles and refilling stations, organized tree planting for Arbor Day and more. Elizabeth Hernandez-Osorio, currently an Outreach/Retention Specialist with Columbia Basin College, hikes in her free time while serving with numerous community organizations, such as Soroptomist and Rotary Foundation. And Kimberly Contreras took her human-powered vehicle to NASA’s nationwide Great Moonbuggy Race in Alabama in 2013.
Besides these empowering stories, what I really took away from the event in the Tri-Cities was the wide variety of community organizations that came out to show their support – Senator Murray was just the beginning. The Natural Leaders Network, REI, Columbia Basin College, the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Islandwood all worked together to put on a great event. At the refreshments table, someone from the local Audubon Society chatted with someone from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The Rattlesnake Ridge Riders, a backcountry horseman organization, had set up a diorama illustrating good and bad examples of backcountry campsites. And I myself had driven an hour to get from my home in Walla Walla to a park on the Columbia River to reconnect with the Natural Leaders Network.
We were all there because of one shared value: the importance of connecting communities with nature.
The three award winners will all be attending next summer’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp. For me, that experience was an energizing reminder of my own ability to work for change in my community. I’m currently in the planning stages for a series of nature-based activities for a local afterschool program as well a book discussion group to engage other AmeriCorps members in my county in reading Last Child in the Woods. I hope the Legacy Camp experience is equally valuable for Denise, Elizabeth, and Kimberly. I hope they’re inspired by all the amazing work going on around the country to reconnect children with the natural world and by all the people they’re going to meet in that beautiful setting at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia. Most of all, I hope they find the same opportunities I have to remain connected with that feeling of empowerment and inspiration, long after their week at Legacy Camp is over.
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