, California Outdoor Engagement Coalition
Paola Flores is a twenty-two year old recent college graduate of UC Berkeley. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, where it was difficult to create ties or relationships to outdoor spaces such as national parks or forests. Recreating these places was not a reality for her family as they did not have the knowledge, the funds, or the time to visit these spaces. It was not until later in life that she had the opportunity to camp with her family, during which they were able to reconnect with the land that her ancestors once sowed and lived off of in her home country.
Low income neighborhoods of color are often excluded from outdoor experiences, due to their socioeconomic status. Marginalized communities must have the same opportunities to enjoy and build genuine connections to the land around them because it is crucial these lands be protected and enjoyed by all. Outdoor spaces need to evolve into more diverse, equitable, and inclusive areas for populations who are currently not taken into account. It is Paola's belief that the best way to make these spaces culturally relevant is through the cultural teachings of people’s true origins and relations to the land, in hopes of invigorating a sense of reclamation for these spaces, and ultimately promoting enjoyment out of the land they originated from.
As a teacher intern in KIDS for the BAY and an intern at Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historical Park, Paola's goal was to treat each student with respect and the individuality they deserved. She attempted to learn each participants narrative in order to create lasting personalized connections to the land, alongside the environmental lessons taught inside and outside a classroom. As youth committee lead for the “Youth, Equity, & Inclusion: The Next Generation of the National Parks Service Convening” she helped plan a youth lead and driven conference that allowed youth voices to be heard by local environmental nonprofits and Bay Area park managers. In my current fellowship with the National Park Service over the next year, Paola hopes to continue helping conduct programs whose aim is to diversify the outdoors.