Leadership Academy Graduate Spotlight: Irvin Barragan Ponce

After Irvin Barragan Ponce gradated from Cohort 8 of our Leadership Academy, he landed an internship with the forest service as a field ranger. He has worked as a wildland firefighter in Northern CA, and on the Fox helicopter fire crew in Lancaster.

How did you first hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?

I heard about it when I was working for the San Gabriel Valley conservation corps on multiple environmental projects. 

What’s the best thing you learned and/or what surprised you about the program?

The global warming training was very insightful for me.

Did the Academy experience help you on your path?

Yes, it helped network me with different environmental professionals. So when it came time to get interviewed by the forest service for my internship, I already knew the person interviewing me. 

What is one of your current goals?

Currently I am focused on getting more young people of color interested in careers in wildland fire. There is a big need to make the forest service more diverse and I have created a workshop to share my personal fire story and pathways into fire.    

What’s your favorite way to spend time in the San Gabriel Mountains?

My favorite thing to do in the San Gabriels is take my daughter exploring. We love hiking, swimming in the river, birdwatching, and eating the famous grilled cheese sandwiches at the Crystal Lake Cafe.  

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Leyda Alvarado Ramirez

Leyda was a graduate of our 4th Leadership Academy cohort.

How did you first hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?

I heard about it online. I was inspired to apply because they were asking for Los Angeles residents to learn about local issues, run by individuals involved locally.

What’s the best thing you learned and/or what surprised you about the program or your work on the project?

I was surprised to be part of an organization and network that was involved in making the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument! I learned so much about the creation of national parks and politics. I was a high school senior and I was not aware about these things before. I was also surprised to actually bond with my cohort and still keep some type of communication over the years.

Did the Academy experience help you on your path? If so, how?

Yes, it did! I was already interested in environmental issues before I started, but joining the Academy made me aware of so much more. I was set to major in Environmental Studies in College. I loved being politically and socially involved. I would like to reconnect to continue my journey as an activist and pioneer of open spaces. 

What’s your favorite way to spend time in the San Gabriel Mountains?

Hike.

What followed your graduation?

I moved back to Los Angeles after finishing my undergraduate career at UC Santa Barbara. I am currently volunteering for the National Parks Conservation Association, part of the  LA Young Leaders Council. I am focusing on National Parks with the NPCA. Individually, I am also interested in environmental health issues. I am currently looking for a job in the environmental field (open to anything!).

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Joel Glen

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How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard about the Leadership Academy through a Facebook link. What inspired my mission to clean up the East Fork was after my good friend passed away. I feel he would have wanted me to do something like this.

What was your project?
East Fork’s Golden Preservation was my project. I wanted to eliminate as much trash on the East Fork as possible and create awareness of what’s going on before it gets any worse.

What’s the best thing you learned?
I learned that people can come from a good cause. People really want to make a difference. Sometimes, all we need is a leader. I was just one of the leaders. I wasn’t able to do this by myself. Group effort was involved. Thanks to Daisy from Trash Free Earth, as well as everybody who came out. You all are the true heroes.

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
What surprised me were a few things, including the amount of trash we picked up within two hours (713 pounds!) and the people who woke up early to help out. I’m still thankful for them. Other surprises were the obstacles I had to hurdle over to make my project go off… Those being people dropping out.

Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.
Being in the great outdoors means more to me than you’ll ever know. I met some of the greatest people in the mountains. I feel people who love the mountains know themselves and have good energy. They are happy go-lucky people, and I like that.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
Prospecting, camping, hiking, truck camping, All the above. Need I say more?

What has post-Academy life been like?
Post-Academy life has been great. We are planning more cleanups this year and will be teaming up with Convert-A-Can to create double the awareness. To sum it all up, I’ll put it in a song lyric: “We’ve only just begun.”

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Alejandra Sandoval

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How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?

I heard about the Leadership Academy from a friend who had met Roberto Morales (Nature For All Coalition Chair) at a social event. I was inspired to apply for the program because of the opportunity to carry out a project in my own community.

What was your project?

My project was called Lions Leadership Academy. We engaged 25 fourth graders from Don Julian Elementary School. We held weekly workshops with topics that highlighted the importance of nature for mental health and wellbeing.

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  • Week 1: The kids planted a garden and took a planted seed home. They learned how to care for their seed at home.
  • Week 2: Mindfulness – yoga and art with nature in nature
  • Week 3: Equine Assisted Learning session – they learned about their responsibility to protect their world and discussed leave no trace concepts.
  • Week 4: Environmental Advocacy – visit to 4th Avenue Park to learn about our Nature For All campaign and protecting the San Gabriel Mountains, learning about native plants and animals, and enjoying a local park.
  • Week 5: Cooking from the garden – a healthy cooking class in which they created a salad inspired from their garden, as well as learning about the importance of advocating for the protection and access to public lands.
  • Week 6: Graduation! The kids used their iPads to create iMovies and spark videos to showcase all that they had learned and presented it to friends, family, and school district board members. We had s’mores, build your own trail mix, and a camping demo site and reinforced the leave no trace concepts. Each student received a certificate, every kid in a park pass and a copy of “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Sean Covey.  

What’s the best thing you learned?

Nature truly makes an impact in our lives and has so much to teach us. For example, I thought we would magically have a full garden in 5 weeks. Well, Mother Nature is on her own schedule, and the life lesson here is to be patient.  

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?

Kids today have little exposure to nature, and they actually enjoy it when they are given the opportunity and guidance to explore and learn from nature.  

Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.

Being able to ride my horse out to the river and open trails.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?

I have yet to explore the San Gabriel Mountains, but I would like to camp and be able to take my horse on a trail ride.

What has post-academy life been like?

Planning my next LLA! And looking to get out to the mountains.

Volunteer Report: Liliana Camacho on Our Annual DC Trip 2018

Liliana Camacho in DC

Liliana Camacho Guzman is an alumni of the Nature for All Leadership Academy and now works for the Council of Mexican Federations. As a field organizer, she advocates for environmental justice particularly in southeast Los Angeles communities, to reduce environmental health inequalities. She participated in Nature For All’s annual DC trip to speak with our representatives in Congress about the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and to advocate for its protection.

What Surprised Me

As a first-timer visiting Washington D.C, I was shocked to experience a different culture. I was exposed to the lifestyle and work operations that occur in Congress. As I walked through the hallways of the Capitol Building, I sensed tension and seriousness because of my DACA status. However, when I spoke to a Congress member and/or legislative staffer, I felt welcomed and the ability to demonstrate my concerns and love for the San Gabriel Mountains. Each meeting had its uniqueness.

During some meetings, we had the opportunity to have a great dialogue with legislation staffers or the Congress member him/herself. However, in a certain occasion, we found ourselves speaking to a legislative staffer in the hallway, accompanied by puppies. In addition, I was surprised to learn how many different committees are in Congress and their role of introducing legislations. As a minority party, it has been difficult for Democrats to obtain a hearing to introduce any environmental-related legislation. Though we have not had much success compared to previous years, we continue to fight back for environmental equality.

What We Talked About

On average, meetings were 30 minutes long. Therefore, it was tremendously important to state the importance of protecting and expanding the San Gabriel Mountains through a clear storyline. As a representative of The Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), I stated how important the San Gabriel Mountains are to our immigrant communities. Our communities are starving for green space. Therefore, the Leadership Academy alumni, including myself, shared our community projects. Consequently, we requested that Congress members and staffers support Representative Judy Chu’s bills.

What I’m Still Thinking About

After learning more of how Congress works, I continue to think of how long and difficult the process of passing a bill is. The Congress members and staffers greatly appreciated our advocacy and activism we’re leading in our communities. This effort is through teamwork; we, Nature for All, work with communities at the local level, while Congress members operate at the federal level. Our public lands are under attack; therefore, we must continue to advocate about the importance of protecting our public lands, including the San Gabriel Mountains.