Monday, April 6, 2015

Luis Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Luis Angel Cruz, Senior, GreenSchools! Co-op Green Ambassador Captain and Curriculum Lead - The Green Institute- Furr High School; (Serves 5 schools and a community center) 

The Spark:
This movement started as a prescribed fire, now it has spread as a wildfire throughout all over Houston, TX… we all share a goal…. a mission that keeps us united… a fight that keeps us motivated and ready…to unify, conserve and restore.

We are now in Washington D.C., to speak up and present at the 2015 National Environmental Justice Conference and to share our passion and love for the movement…

::::FLASH BACK:::::

Love, Passion, and Heart!
Before all of this happened…we were in Houston, TX… working with elementary, middle and high school students, implementing Project Learning Tree curriculum. None of us…absolutely none of us had the idea of teaching younger students and even students of our age. From being shy to talking to hundreds of people…from not appreciating education…to creating our own curriculum…from close to dropping out of high school…to teaching conservation education to all ages…this is only part of my story. Every single member of our team has a story to share, but like this movement impacted us we wish to leave an impact in the lives of the younger generations to come, the next conservation leaders. It’s our sole mission, we hold each other responsible and accountable to do so. We wish to continue empowering the next generation of Green Ambassadors that will go back to their elementary and middle schools by the time they become seniors in high school and while attending college. A program that is self-sustained by youth.

The mission is to continue spreading the conservation message and keep passing down the knowledge and legacy through the community. The program has been able to provide a small stipend to all Green Ambassadors, this has allowed for us to invest in personal tools and kits in which we may need for fruit tree pruning, purchase of books, certifications in permaculture and organic specialist training. Many families in the East End sustain under $12,000 a year, and with the small stipend provided, it has allowed for us to invest into our education and prepare for our careers.

These contributions have allowed for many of our parents and administrators to see that it is a program to invest your passion and energy. It has given us access to many fields, empowered and prepared us for the green industry in natural resource careers. Just look! We made it to D.C.! J

Transcending the Odds:
Some cultural issues many of us face being first generation Latinos in the United States is that most of our families are unaware of the resources readily available to us. Internships, volunteering and fields in natural resources are seen as fields which may not provide us to a stable career. The backgrounds
of our parents come from a very strong work ethic, are mothers and fathers began providing income for their families under the age of ten. Some jobs include agricultural harvest work in the fields, shining shoes, cleaning houses and offices, construction and other rigorous physical work. Don’t get our parents wrong, they love and support us, but when they see us working physical and rigorously through the movement, they fear for us, they fear will might not be focused and many wish for us to aspire to the “medical doctor” and “lawyer” status.

We have been winning our parents and families hearts through the support of our administrators and partners. U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas –Latino Legacy, Project Learning Tree, GreenSchools! and Universities such as Stephen F. Austin State University, have provided access and mentorship to our community and with their commitment the odds have been transcended.

This Green Ambassador program only started three years ago, over nine years of grassroots efforts and dedication and we are now in Washington D.C. I can’t imagine what the next years would look like… and I’m super excited for the next generation of conservation leaders of the future.  Thank you for all your support! The movement lives! Latino Legacy lives! Food Forest for all! Share in the bounty!             

Victoria Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Victoria Owens, Freshmen, Houston East End Greenbelt GreenSchools! Green Ambassador and STEAM Lab Proctor, The Green Institute- Furr High School

Hello, my name is Victoria Owens and I am a freshman and Green Ambassador at E. L. Furr High School in Houston, Texas. Our Project Learning Tree Greenschools! Team works as interns with Friends of the Forest and Grasslands in Texas –Latino Legacy. Together with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation we have been able to gain support and are empowered as students to transform our community from a food desert into a food forest.

I remember starting this year at Furr High school, trying to figure out what I was going to do, because I couldn't just drop out, I needed to be active and involved. But the regular class setting of four walls, artificial lighting and tight rooms were causing anxiety. I had Mr. Elizondo's class for seventh period and he was always telling us about projects, plus he was so passionate and excited about what he was doing. I was looking for something to be involved in, and Mr. Elizondo invited me and many other students into GreenSchools! At the time, I didn't know what the program was, I just knew that my teacher was running it. It keeps me afloat, busy, and active, and I have confidence knowing that I am helping to keep the next generations sustained. The fact that I am a youth educator comes as a surprise to many, and it is only because the program gives us an opportunity to be heard and reach our dreams.

At the 2015 National Environmental Justice Conference, we spoke about the work we do in Houston, Texas and our roles in environmental justice. We were ecstatic to have the ability to share our voices, inspire others, and learn about the way professionals fight for the health of every single organism on our planet. It was very exciting to network with intrigued professionals in our nation’s capital. It’s very normal not to “believe” in change, therefore, it was hard for us to believe all of the kind and supportive words from the U.S. Forest Service Executive Leadership Team and from others who came from all parts of the nation and the world to D.C.

These warriors have been fueling a proactive environmental movement for many years, which is why we were elated that they really enjoyed our visits and even joked of not having their “heads on this straight” when they were our age, and therefore looked forward to seeing our work continue. I am thankful to all of the amazing professionals who have listened and care about our battles to win this war together, because when you're part of a team this big, anything's possible.

Emerson Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Emerson Hernandez, Sophomore, Houston East End Greenbelt GreenSchools! Green Ambassador - The Green Institute- Furr High School; Environmental Communications, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Systems Pathways

 My name is Emerson Hernandez, I am a 10 grader at The Green Institute at Furr High School.  I love to plant trees and help others. GreenSchools! allows for me to give back to my community by giving me the tools, support and connections to organizations such as the  U.S. Forest Service and United States Department of Agriculture and Project Learning Tree.  I am Project Learning Tree Certified, I received the training through the assistance of Project Learning Tree GreenSchools!, and Friends of the Forest and Grasslands in Teaxs – Latino Legacy.

I facilitate Project Learning Tree activities with youth in elementary, middle school, and high school. With a focus of conservation education and gaining observation of what's around you. Through Latino Legacy, I have been able to participate in the Youth in Nature Leadership Challenge summer program. Where we visit universities and camp nearby.  We learn about possible careers that we as youth may proceed after high school. Through the camping trips I have participated, I have opened my eyes to jobs such as Civil Engineering and Agricultural Engineering that I want to study in college. I wish to become a conservation education leader, restore deserts to feed healthy food to all that we can.  Seeing the community I live…malnourish, poor soil, lack of fresh foods, and polluted air, I take action threw GreenSchools!. Working and establishing community gardens and planting trees with the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation throughout our community, so we may conserve the land that is there and restore what has been depleted. We have planted pollinator gardens with partners such as the U.S Fish and Wild Life Service.

There are always more solutions then problems, this is why I am always fighting to help others in any way that I can.  We are family in the Houston East End Greenbelt, and were we live, we all want to see changes. We as youth, are making changes little by little...voicing solutions, and planting one tree at a time.

Cinthia Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Cinthia Cantu, Sophomore, Houston East End Greenbelt GreenSchools! Green Ambassador and STEAM Lab Proctor - The Green Institute- Furr High School; Renewable Energy Pathway, Energy Efficient Pathway

Something that inspired me to be part of the Houston East End Greenbelt movement was the passion of the members to work outside with the land. That inspired me because I come from a family where they worked the agricultural fields harvesting cotton, beans and corn. To me the work was really impressive, the intense physical rigor of the occupation and the numerous hours experienced on the fields.
I was really happy to witness that many students and people were inspired to grow their own food, plant fruit trees and to work outside with fresh air. When I saw people working outside with love, I knew at that moment I was going to take part of the movement. What keeps me active is knowing the benefits that will come such as better air, better health, better eating habits and better knowledge to share with other people.

Most important is that you get to work outside and engage with people and students with different ideas that could become the next big project. One thing that I really like about GreenSchools! is that all of the people you get to know become like family, we think the same way so we create productive choices. Another thing I really like, is that you get to work with little kids that still have the chance to make a habit of enjoying their day outside instead of inside with an electronic device.

I have seen people from planting trees to picking up trash on the beaches of Galveston. Some reasons I keep moving forward with the East End Greenbelt movement is the willing of people wanting to learn more about nature.  In all of the trainings I have been able to participate, I have seen with my own eyes how enthusiastic parents, teachers and principals get when they witness the students interact with nature. Sometimes you just have to step outside and you will observe how easy it is to entertain students with nature, while at the same time connecting their experiences to STEAM and their school academics.

It is important to unify for this cause more than ever because it is good for the earth, our health, ourselves and are family. We know many who suffer with diabetes, high or low blood pressure and other illnesses.The food is the problem and the solution. Planting fruit trees and creating a food forest for both humans and nature is our prime mission. It’s on us to do something about it. The overall message I want to give is that….we the young ones need to take action because it is our future and we should fight for it and without working together, it will not be possible. We have been blessed to have strong supporters such as the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our school administration and the backing of our school district. 

Through this movement, I was able to gain insight of the career I plan to study, which is Hydrology at Stephen F. Austin State University. I choose this career because I want to help with the water problems we have at Houston and other places in the nation and around the world. I was able to explore Hydrology while I visited Stephen F. Austin State University during our annual summer Youth in Nature Leadership Challenge with the Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas –Latino Legacy.  The summer program took us on a week journey to explore careers in natural resources and network with professors and professionals from the industry. At the time, I wasn’t documented. I don’t have full citizenship as of yet, just permission to work in the U.S. I nor my family have access to such programs and I am the first in my family to finish high school and graduate from university. This is one of the main reasons why I enjoy the program, it allows for students like me and others to seek out their passion regardless of their background, it embraces all. Instead of looking at the negativity of my status, it pushed me to keep moving forward. If the movement ends, I would make sure to start a new one because this is a program that should never run out of passion. If the program was able to be sustained by partnerships, it would be great because we really need support from the industry and partners to make this movement happen. If the program expanded, I would be overwhelmed with happiness and you can count on me to help create the leaders of tomorrow.

Jesse Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Jesse Torres, Sophomore, Houston East End GreenbeltGreenSchools! Green Ambassador and STEAM Lab Proctor - The Green Institute- Furr High School; Renewable Energy Pathway

I am thankful for all the opportunities, I have received through the Green Ambassador program. It has really changed my life for the better. I was going through a period, in which school was not interesting or capturing my attention. My energy was not being channeled. I would have probably been a high school dropout or in jail, and I am not being dramatic with the statement. Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas –Latino Legacy has given me experiences that I thought I would have never gotten before in my life. When they partnered with The Green Institute at Furr High School, it was a program I didn’t know much about at first, but wanted to engage due to the animals in the STEAM Lab. Now, I am a proctor in the lab and steward of the animals.

I had the luxury to be born in the United States. I remember when I was little, I would love to be around nature. I enjoyed to hear all the birds chirping, to see the blue skies, sit in the rain, and observe the awe of massive tall trees. My mother was the person who influenced me to engage and care for nature. To look at the beauty in life, and all the great things all the plants and animals do for us. I remember I would spend hours on end with her taking care of the garden at our house. I remember the pride I took seeing the things I grew come to life. It made me feel joy.

I started to lose my bond with nature, I started to fall into depression and my life fell apart. I started to get into a lot of pointless violence and needed an outlet to escape. Thanks to this program, I started to gain a connection to nature and heal again. I have to thank this program so much for getting me more involved, for giving me hope and a reason to smile and for giving me a vision and focus. If this program never existed, I would have been in a horrible place. If it were to leave, I would try to follow it to continue to grow with my second family.

What I do, is share all the things I have learned from this program. I pass it down to others, if people were to ask me why they should care for this program… I would tell them because it will help them grow. It will help them learn responsibility and evolve their critical thinking. It will give them light to shine and empower them with important skills for life. What keeps me in this program is the fact that I can be around people with the same goal. I'm around people who want to help the environment, who actually care. People who will give it their all to get their goal and visions to make it into reality.

I wish to major in zoology or fire ecology so I can make a difference with people, the land and animals. I want to help and see this world continue, but in better shape. My university of choice is going to be Stephen. F. Austin State University. I am not going to lie, recently in the past few years, I didn't care at all for my future, not even once, but thanks to this program, I actually do care a lot. It helped me, by allowing me to take personal action and see results. I needed to push myself and this movement has allowed me to grow, so much that now I am a leader. It has given me wisdom to pass down to others. I plan to be proactive and share solutions through the work we do and teach others ways to engage. To make my community more environmentally aware. I will take full advantages of opportunities given to me, I love being a part of this movement, it means so much to me it has become my life.

Gabriela Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Gabriela Bravo, Senior, Houston East End Greenbelt GreenSchools! Green Ambassador and Cheerleader – Austin High School; (Serves Jackson Middle School)

My name is Gabriela Bravo. I’m 17 years old, I currently attend Stephen F. Austin High School as a senior. I am a Cheerleader, a tennis player, and I’m also a GreenSchools! Ambassador. I joined the movement when I was a sophomore, I was inspired by my teachers Mr. Juan Elizondo, Mr. David Salazar and especially Dr. Tamberly Conway from the U.S. Forest Service. I witnessed and felt all the energy they had! They believed in us, they believed that we could take charge and restore our community and to set an example for the youth looking up to us! So I got interested in the program and joined. I kept active in this movement because I think about the future, and how we want our new generation to understand the importance of taking care of our land and the importance of us, as the new generation to stand up and have our voices heard and to help better our environment!

In this movement I have seen numerous teenagers get involved, and give back to our community. The most important thing to me is that we as Green Ambassadors inspire youth and pass on the conservation message to do the right thing which is to reduce, reuse, recycle, rot and restore. With the mission to help our planet, and to also keep this movement spread all over nation and other countries, so we can come together and think of wise decisions as a collective.

The thing I enjoy the most about being a Green Ambassador is being able to teach the youth, to see how excited the kids are of doing things in the garden or just learning how a tree functions, and how to plant a tree. The career field I’m seeking to get into is in the Science field. My plans after graduating from high school is to attend Houston Community College and then transfer to a university and continue studying. During my college years, I will work as a College Green Ambassador. I will be training and working with high school Green Ambassadors, strengthening their communication and teaching skills and getting them ready to be leaders in our community.

With this movement being able to expand throughout country, it will be amazing because we would know how to restore our lands. If we keep being active and grow our own foods, veggies and fruits, the obesity and diabetes rate would decrease. It would also give high school and middle school students opportunities to open their minds, expose them to nature and how we can make a change in our communities, and to also introduce them to career opportunities for the future.

This program helps our voices be heard on what we want and what we don’t want! We want a movement that would be a good outcome for the future where families could just walk through our neighborhood and have a fresh fruit from the trees we planted in the East End. To be proud to walk around our neighborhood and experience a beautiful outdoor environment created by the youth, the future leaders and stewards of our community.

Christofer Blog #2 Environmental Justice Conference Youth Leadership in Nature Challenge D.C.

Christofer Martinez, Senior, Houston East End Greenbelt GreenSchools! Co-op Green Ambassador - The Green Institute- Furr High School; (Serves 5 schools and a community center)

Hello, my name is Christofer Martinez and I’m a green ambassador from The Green Institute at E.L. Furr High School serving for the Friends of The National Forest and Grasslands in Texas (FNFGT) -Latino Legacy to transform Houston Urban food deserts into Food Forests. During my senior year I decided to join the Green movement at my high school, for the reason that all my teammates engaged with the purpose to empower our people and to restore back the environment. This year, was also the first year the program started at my school, and it caught my attention. It has been an inspiration to be part of this great mission in the pursuit of restoring our health and the environment.

What keeps my fire burning is being able to work with diverse groups of people, and finding ways that will benefit their education and health. I want to be able to help all types of groups in order to unify nations and work together as a big family to restore mother earth. Being able to impact the youth and to pass down knowledge that benefits mother earth in order to live the way we were meant to live is one of the reasons why I am passionate about the movement.

Regaining the knowledge that we were taught by our ancestors and to prepare for future generations.Gaining care and compassion for the earth and reconnecting with positive energies. At the same time not only are we connecting back to nature, but connecting with each other. Just like the buffalo almost went extinct our people too will come back numerous, stronger and wiser than before.

Many of us are raised with economic struggle, we are not aware of opportunities nor fortunate to have a good education or the right education needed to survive. Not being able to speak or read English fluently hindered my access to knowledge, it was difficult for me to interact and understand other students. Self-educating myself to read at the age of 15 and staying open minded enormously boosted my social skills. Two years later, I was able to speak English fluently. In fact, “learning how to read will set you free,” like Frederick Douglass said, and indeed it has set my mind free and expanded my imagination. My future career is to study for Forestry, Conservation Education and Geology. I am also have an interest in Biotechnology and Genetics. Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas –Latino Legacy and my school have granted me the advantage to get a glimpse into the field of forestry. After I graduate I will attend Houston Community College for two years to earn my Associates Degree and then I will attend Stephen F. Austin University.

During the first years studying in Houston for my career, I will have the opportunity to train, mentor and work with high school Green Ambassadors in the movement. Being able to see changes such as people working together to restore the soil, fighting climate change, ending world hunger and transforming concrete jungles into food forests really keeps pushing this movement forward.  We “humans” continue to destroy mother earth with every single action we make. Now it is the best time to unite and take action to restore the land we live in and to begin making some real changes. Now is the time to change the way we live and the way we eat because every second that passes by will never exist again. As I write this message, I think of the many lives being lost at this very moment. Now it is the time to unify and end these great issues at hand, because without your support we will not be able to fight this battle; the battle to end suffering.  Together, we can bring environmental justice to all.