How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard about the Leadership Academy program through volunteering with Bike San Gabriel Valley and Day One. At that time, I was still learning about the environmental movement here in SoCal and wondered, how could I be a part of it? Moving back home to El Monte after attending school in the Bay Area, I was eager to find like-minded people who care about environmental justice and empowering communities of color. So I joined the academy to connect with such folks.
What was your project?
My project was “Youth Spark,” a four-day youth empowerment program focused on environmental justice, local ecology, and arts as advocacy. I reached out to my old elementary school, Cortada, and worked with students in the ASPIRE after-school program. I made a 12-page hand-drawn workbook, which included a brief history of El Monte and a map of our city’s parks. After our in-class workshops, we all took a field trip to Eaton Canyon, where docents led small group tours and kids played in the river. It was incredibly fun, especially because it was most of the kids’ first time in the mountains.
What’s the best thing you learned?
Kids love nature! There is an instant connection when kids are in the outdoors—a visceral multi-sensory experience. Their expressions of excitement were genuine and priceless. It showed me how transformative open space can be to our youth; how we need to preserve these spaces so their children’s children can enjoy them as well.
What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
One thing that surprised me was that the students weren’t aware of their own community. Many of them didn’t know their local parks, including Lashbrook Park near their school, on the Rio Hondo River. When I asked them about their favorite places to visit, they listed many places outside of El Monte. So it was important for me to introduce them to their own backyard, the Emerald Necklace and the San Gabriel Mountains.
Describe being in the great outdoors.
Being in the great outdoors allows you to free your mind and be reminded that you are a part of something bigger in the universe.
What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
I enjoy any hike that allows me to see a majestic view from above. In general, I like going on new trails with friends and family. There’s still a lot left of the mountains for me to explore!
Added: Read Amy’s award-winning essay on the San Gabriel Mountains.