First Moments in Nature, Lasting Impressions
By: Toya Jervay, Director of Training & External Affairs, Community Nature Connection
Everyone should have a chance to realize that they love the outdoors. Unfortunately, not every community has the same access to the outdoors, and as a result these communities miss out on the opportunity to develop a love for nature. That’s where #NatureForAll partner, Community Nature Connection (CNC), does impactful work. They combat the various factors that inhibit underrepresented communities from accessing the great outdoors and addressing the gap in cultural representation in the parks across California, USA.
According to CNC, factors include, but are not limited to: lack of transportation, lack of training and resources, lack of diversity in programs, lack of effort to increase inclusion in leadership programs, or sometimes, just a general lack of awareness. With these barriers in place, some communities are deprived of positive experiences with the great outdoors, and furthermore, jobs in the outdoors (you can read more about how they’re addressing these here).
Their team recently shared the Naturalist Explorers program with us. Specifically four youth who graduated from that program, and through the years grew to now lead their own naturalist groups. We were inspired by Jose, Militza, Vianey, and Juan, and wanted to share their stories. Here are their first moments in nature.
“Growing up I had the same experience most kids in low income communities had. Since the area we lived in was dangerous I would have to go from school straight home. Going out wasn't much of an option and going anywhere far was not possible for us, since we didn't have any transportation. I always dreamed of seeing some of the beautiful places I would see on TV, such as Yosemite and Joshua Tree. I didn't think I was ever going to get a chance to enjoy nature but when I got to my senior year I found this incredible program called the Naturalist Explorers. This program introduced me to the natural world. I went on my first hike and I went camping for the first time. The best part of the program was having one of my dreams come true, visiting Yosemite. That was such a surreal moment, I was able to be one with nature and I got to see my first black bear. After the program I was offered my first internship, my first real job. This opened so many doors for me. I got an internship with National Park Service and I got to explore many of the beautiful National Parks in California. Now I'm leading my own group of Naturalist Explorers. I'm excited to witness these new generation of adventurers. Giving the opportunity to other low income kids and the chance to experience nature for the first time will be amazing.” - Jose
“I did the Naturalist Explorer program in 2015 and the program taught me many important life skills such as leadership, taking on new challenges, communicating, and making connections. I was hired as an outdoor leader after graduating, which allowed me to further build upon my skills and knowledge through programs such as Transit to Trails, campfires, and hiking programs. As an outdoor leader, I also had the opportunity to fly out to Sacramento to advocate for more public access to the outdoors. This growing experience with CNC has opened up horizons for my career in ecology and environmental protection. Now, leading my own Naturalist Explorers program, I am honored to teach back what I’ve learned through my journey of becoming a steward of nature.” - Militza
“I started out with the Naturalist Explorers program and partnership with Becoming Beautiful in 2015. And that was really the first time I was really able to be exposed to parks within my own community and parks that I was never exposed to outside of my community. This was really the first time where I grew a love for the outdoors, considering also the fact that growing up, there was never really the tradition to go outdoors and to go camping or go hiking. As I grew with CNC I was able to take on the role of being an outdoor leader, this meant that now I was able to help with Transits to Trails, help assist with campfires and hikes, and this also gave me the opportunity to be a mentor to new incoming Naturalist Explorers. Because of the full on roles that I had with CNC, I was able to be hired with the Forest Service in 2017 being a crew leader, doing very similar work, and now as a leader in CNC.” - Vianey
“I got started with the Naturalist Explorers program in 2015 through CNC’s partnership with Compton Jr. Posse. In this program I got to be in the outdoors every week and to visit parks I had never been to. I also got the chance to identify plants and animals and to experience my first camping trip at Red Rock. Also during this program, we led our own community campfire at Compton Creek Natural Park, where we sang campfire songs, roasted marshmallows and did an interpretation program on animals. At the end of the program I got to visit my first National Park, which was Yosemite. When I graduated I got the chance to be an Outdoor Leader and take low-income communities to different parks and trips they had never been to. CNC also gave me the opportunity to get my first internship, which was in Urban Archaeology.” - Juan