Leadership Academy Spotlight: Maricela Rosales

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

I found out about the Leadership Academy when I first began volunteering with Latino Outdoors in Los Angeles. I went to a mixer in Pasadena and met some amazing folks from SGMF who were doing great things for the San Gabriel National Monument and furthering the expansion of the National Monument. I was inspired to apply to learn more about community engagement and seeking better recreation and access for underserved communities in Los Angeles.

What is your project?

The Abilities Project is a civic outdoor education access project though the Leadership Academy — connecting individuals with disabilities to green and open spaces and providing an interactive and educational hike in the San Gabriel Mountains. Disabled people will learn about the history, wildlife, environmental justice, and the importance of civic engagement in protecting access to the San Gabriel Mountain National Monument for their community and beyond.

The first event will take place during the month of October during Disability Awareness Month. October is also the same month that President Obama designated the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. I wanted to make this first event important and memorable. There’s still as lot of work to be done.

The Abilities Project’s long term goal is to develop and launch a website and app to help Disabled People connect to green and open spaces in the city or outdoors and to connect to programs and organizations that provide resources and services. The app will create a platform for Disabled People, families, service workers/providers, and transform the way communities come together and advocate for access and recreation through technology.

What’s the best thing you learned?

While in the Leadership Academy, I learned many things. I can’t really pin point the best thing I learned because every class was different and in my opinion very important. I highly recommend applying to the SGMF Leadership Academy. It will change your life.

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

I was surprised about how much I had to learn about community engagement, fundraising, and storytelling. It made an impact on my life in a short amount of time. It helped nurture a passion of mine that was kept in my head for such a long time. And now I am slowly but surely working on making it a reality.

Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.

Being in the great outdoors is a way to connect and heal with oneself. To breathe in fresh air. To get lost in the sounds, smells, vibrations mother nature gives. For me it’s about hitting the trail or rock climbing. It’s about protecting the wildlife that call the great outdoors their home. I find peace when I enter this space and I want others to experience it in their own way.

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

I have so much to learn about the National Monument and its different terrain. I will say my favorite is rock climbing at Horse Flats Campground. I just started trial running again and I am looking forward to running on trails in the San Gabriel Mountains.

What has post-academy life been like?

It has been exciting and exceptionally busy! Doors are opening for the right reasons. I’ve got a world to change and it’s very humbling and exciting process! My role in Latino Outdoors is changing and there’s room for opportunity if anyone in the Los Angeles area is interested. I recently was picked to be a part of the SHIFTjh Emerging Leaders Program and slowly making moves for the Abilities Project. While at the 2017 Summer Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, UT, I marched on behalf of protecting public lands. I support and help in any way I can to provide volunteer time for organizations like Access Fund, Wilderness Society, and SGMF who are doing great work to get the word out to their communities on how important our National Monuments are to all of us. I hope that more people join the movement and become lifelong constituents. Being pulled in many directions is hard, but at the same time I’m hoping that the long hours and dedication pays off.

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Dorothy Wong

sgmf dorothy Argyle DotDorothy Wong is a graduate of our Leadership Academy and was recently elected to the Altadena Town Council.

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

I found out about the Leadership Academy from BikeSGV and was eager to be a part of protecting our mountains while also having the opportunity to learn more about civic engagement and the opportunity to create projects for the betterment of the community.

What was your project?

To create an educational bike tour for young people to learn about the precious resource of water and the watershed, while also learning communication art skills to tell the story of their journey along the way and why protecting our lands and waters through the National Monument is vital. This creative content will be a tool shared broadly and especially to our civic leaders to support the need to protect open space. These young people will learn about the environment as well learn skills that may become their future life’s path.

What’s the best thing you learned?

The process in the classroom brought things together, so as a whole I would highly recommend the Leadership Academy to anyone who is looking for their next pathway.

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

It was great to see the coalition of organizations we were able to learn from, and to see how working together was bigger and better for the benefit of the movement. Supportive together, it’s strength.

Describe what being in the great outdoors means to you.

Being in nature is so calming, so fresh and is really bigger than me when I’m there. Its vastness can be an adventure. Getting away from the city noise. The great outdoors is beautiful and still so full of life. It works in harmony and balance when we let it be.

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

It’s hard to say. I love walking with my dogs in the Arroyo Seco or Eaton Canyon while I test my skills riding mountain bikes up and down the trails in my home of Altadena. Paved ways by bike with friends we love to push ourselves climbing up and over the mountain roads and river paths as far at Mt Baldy Ski Lifts and sometimes all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

What has post-academy life been like?

The timing was so right with our national political leadership challenging our national monuments it was time to stand up and protect them. I felt more confident and knowledgable and ready to make change. A big moment was attending the Transportation Equity Summit hosted by Transform and Cal Bike in Sacramento, advocating and lobbying for support Transportation Equity themed Assembly Bills and seeing how it all worked by using my advocacy skills learned though the Academy. I was so excited from the momentum to make a difference, I took the opportunity to do so in my community and ran for Altadena Town Council — and much on the grounds of protecting open space and the environment. People rallied in support and I got out there to meet and speak to my neighbors about their concerns. I worked all the way up to the last minutes of the election and as a result got the highest votes!

Working together is what it’s all about, so I’ve been taking on opportunities to outreach provided by and in support of the SGMF coalition. Driven by my love of competition, I entered the National Monument Public Comment “Postcard Challenge” and reached out at events and in my community, as well as working alongside SGMF Leadership Academy alumni at events such as the REI Garage Sale to ask the public to be a voice and sign the postcards asking our Federal leaders to protect our lands and waters via National Monument designation. We help people understand why we need to protect more of it. I also recently attended Climate Day LA leadership conference. It was amazing to be a part of the enthusiasm to work on climate change issues and become leaders in reducing our impact on the planet. It all works together and what we do affects all on our planet… the great outdoors!

MORE: Feature in the Altadena Library newsletter

Leadership Academy Spotlight: Megan Devine

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Megan Devine is a graduate of the Leadership Academy who continues to lead the Convert-a-Can program.

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

I learned about the Leadership Academy through a friend, Kevin Lynch, who was in the cohort before mine, and he said it was a great opportunity. I also connected with my degree I was studying at the time, environmental science and policy. I am a huge advocate for protecting our public lands and conservation so it only made sense to get involved in the Leadership Academy.

What was your project?

“Convert-a-Can – Using Art and Creativity as a Tool for Advocacy.” Project Convert-A-Can turns unattractive trash bins into interactive art installations to create awareness and advocacy toward the prevention of littering and graffiti. The projects focus is to improve the infrastructure, deter litter and graffiti vandalism, and enhance the outdoor experience by beautifying the specific areas of the San Gabriel Mountains.

What’s the best thing you learned?

I learned vital leadership skills that allowed me to coordinate a successful project and do public outreach. I learned so much history about the San Gabriels and the organizations that work together to protect it.

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

I was surprised at the level of achievement I felt after completing my project and the Leadership Academy program. It felt so good to successfully complete both. And the impact it has made on my life was a surprise — it keeps on giving.

Describe being in the great outdoors.

Being in the great outdoors gives me peace. It allows me to let go of reality and be in the present. My senses heighten and I’m able to take it all in for all its worth. It allows me to have a greater sense of being and know that this is what I’m fighting for. The feeling of being outdoors makes me feel free and alive.

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

I love the drive up Highway 39, visiting the West Fork trail with my sister and mom. Taking a hike down the trail along the river. Sitting down along the river by a waterfall to enjoy a great sack lunch with my family. Telling stories or just being in silence. That crisp air, and the sound of the trees in the wind makes my day.

SGMF Leadership Academy Spotlight: Norma Saldana

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Norma Saldana is a graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy who served as the coordinator of the coalition in 2016.

How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard through an email from a former professor. At the time, I was taking classes to obtain my Natural Resources and Wildlands Forestry certificate and had been active on campus, as the President of Earth Club; he thought it was a good idea for me to apply to the academy to build my skills and meet amazing individuals in my community who were doing similar work.

What was your project?
My project was a beautification project of Antonovich trail located in San Dimas. It included reaching out and working with local high schools and having students take part in three workshops. The first was a presentation on San Gabriel Mountains Forever, showcasing their work and, at the time, their efforts to push for the national monument and what it would mean to our community. The second was taking the youth out hiking to Antonovich trail and running simple tests to measure quality of water, and air, observe the wildlife (or lack thereof) and flora in the area (especially noting the presence of invasive species).The third part was to have an open event (inviting the community, city members, etc.) for a clean-up event to pick up (and record) trash, remove graffiti and install signs to alert hikers of poison oak. I ran into obstacles and various factors came into play that limited the completion of the project, including the fact that the trail was owned by three different entities, and there was little partnership at the time.

What’s the best thing you learned?
I learned about a lot of great organizations and community groups. I still keep in touch with them. I also met a lot of great individuals who have now become very close friends.

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
Having completed the program, I was surprised at the level of commitment and engagement that the organizers have put into this academy. It’s not just during the program when they work with each individual on creating a successful project — it’s also after. There is a wealth of support from various individuals who are willing to assist participants to connect them with resources in the community; anything from job opportunities to community events and actions and maintaining a positive relationship.

Describe being in the great outdoors.
For me, being in the great outdoors is what I plan my life around. Whether it is going to the park after work, taking a picture and looking up a plant that I saw on my way to work, or taking my dogs hiking on the weekend. There is not a moment when I am not in awe of nature and all that it provides. I feel privileged being able to wake up and see the San Gabriel Mountains every morning, especially living in the foothills, where I am a mere 15-minute drive away. It’s definitely something that I am aware of, especially having only recently had the opportunity to do so because of lack of transportation.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
My favorite way to spend my day in the San Gabriel Mountains is to go with a group of friends and explore the trails, learn about the history, observe the native flora and physically challenging yourself. Recently, I discovered Strawberry Peak, a physically challenging hike with inspiring and humbling views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

SGMF Leadership Academy Spotlight: Amy Wong

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Amy Wong is a San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy graduate who worked with Day One and BikeSGV before joining SGMF as our Coordinator.

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.