Thankful, rejuvenated, and inspired—this is how I feel after my experience at the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp.
Juan Martinez, all of the trainers, Children & Nature Network members and the NCTC family made us feel like we were appreciated and that the work that we do is valuable. We (the participants) were thanked time and time again for offering our time, as time is the most precious gift you can give.
Through morning runs, delicious meals, team-building games, long talks, and lots of laughter, I was amazed at how quickly we formed such a close-knit community.
It was exciting to meet 50 other people who were all doing such interesting and amazing things in their lives. The Legacy camp encouraged me to reflect on my story and understand how I can lead in relation to my story, as well as create several plans of action for the legacy I will leave in this world.
I grew up in an underserved community in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California. My parents are from Mexico and my Mamasita raised my two siblings and I on her own. The four of us lived with my Tia and Tio and their four kids. This means that we were 10 people living in a three bedroom house from the time I was 3 years old until my high school years. This also means that my childhood was full of fun memories.
There was always someone to play with, to talk to, to study, laugh and dance with. We couldn’t afford a TV so we were always playing soccer, riding our bikes, dancing, creating our own games in the backyard and reading about adventures.
Our family never owned a reliable car. In Los Angeles, this meant that my experience of nature was in my backyard, local parks and the few times our car made it to the beach (with us sometimes getting towed home).
My Mamasita offered me a very strong foundation to embrace life’s struggles and find the opportunities they might bring, and to dream BIG. Her, along with my abuelitos (grandparents) made me believe I could do anything I set my mind to, and my whole family supported all of our dreams. Any dream I came up with they would we respond with, “You can do it mija.”
It was this mentality that got me to college. Originally a math major, I was required to take an Intro to Environmental Studies course in which we had many field trips. My first one was to the Sierras. I was18 years old and saw actual blue sky, deer and stars for the first time in my life. It was like the calendars and images in books I had read about were coming to life. I was blown away and wanted more. I changed my degree to Environmental Studies with a focus on sustainable development in Latin America.
After graduating in 2009, I was eager to work with youth from a similar background as mine and connect them to nature. This passion took me to wilderness areas in Utah, upstate New York, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Washington, Israel, Alaska and Arizona.
In each of these places I’ve worked for amazing organizations in the environmental education field, leading wilderness trips for youth from underserved communities, and challenged at-risk youth in wilderness therapy.
Throughout this journey I’ve been amazed by the connections made in nature and inspired by the growth that came from these experiences.
Also in this field, I often find myself being underpaid and overworked and sometime lose track of why I’m in it. I currently build native gardens with an outdoor science classroom on elementary school campuses, bringing nature to youth from underserved areas of Arizona. This experience is what led me to the Legacy Camp.
The Legacy camp rejuvenated me to see the value in the work and the need for me to continue. I am thankful for the friendships I’ve made, especially with my home team, the Candy Corn Crush Diggers! I am excited to continue collaborating with my fellow Natural Leader and even more excited to be part of the changes we will create together.
Additional Reading and Resources