- Author: Eliot Freutel
Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps receive the Corps Network's Project of the Year Award.
Our California Naturalist partners at Southern California Mountains Foundation Urban Conservation Corps were recently honored for their work making the national parks and public lands of the Inland Empire more accessible to the communities that frequent these areas. In 2018, UCC members surveyed Spanish-speaking community members and the results showed that these community members were left out of learning and recreation opportunities due to a lack of representation and a lack of language support. With funding from the National Forest Foundation and support from bilingual instructor Claudia P. Diaz Carrasco (UC ANR Cooperative Extension Riverside Co.) and the UCC's own Gaby Nunez, the first bi-lingual California Naturalist program, Los Naturalistas, was born.
Meeting every Saturday for 4 months, the original cohort of 12 corps-members learned to interpret their parks and open spaces: Translated materials, various teaching methods, a diverse and multi-lingual expert speaker pool, and culturally relevant content were all deployed to ensure that the cohort was ready to address their audience. All 12 emerged as Los Naturalistas with their California Naturalist certifications, ready to make positive changes in environmental justice and access to public spaces for their community through nature and language interpretation.
The Corps-Network's 2020 Project of the Year award highlights Corps-member's work across the nation. This year, Los Naturalistas share the honor with one program that focuses on pollinators and 2 others working to break down barriers for differently abled & LGBTQ+ Corps-members. The takeaway is that empowering young people to represent and advocate for their communities yields incredible and innovative results. As more and more CalNat courses look towards bilingual delivery, we envision a network that represents the true demographic make-up of our diverse state.