My job with the USFS Urban Connections team consists of providing urban, Latino, communities with opportunities to get more in touch with nature in their own neighborhood. In other words, bringing the “forest” to them. Since Milwaukee is a mostly urban city we do this through partnerships with community organizations, schools, and non-profits in the area. One of the main players in the Latino community, the United Community Center, or UCC, partnered with the USFS this summer to help reach that goal.
This summer I was able to work with UCC to run a summer program to get students to enjoy being outside. We took students hiking, canoeing, biking, and even took them rock-climbing a couple of times! For Latino Conservation Week 2018 I planned and led a historical bike tour through the Menomonee Valley, a valley that separates the south and north side of the city. The dozen Latino students who took part in it learned all about sustainability and, about their home and its transformation from an industrial hub to a city looking to be a model of sustainability. The USFS has also helped UCC begin their own vegetable garden and pollinator garden this summer. The soil mixing, weeding, planting, and building of wooden raised garden beds were all done by the UCC students, with help and guidance from their science teacher and myself.
Besides my work with UCC, the Urban Connections team has also gone out and helped spread the USFS mission to the community at large. We have had the opportunity to go to events such as the Hank Aaron Trail 5K Run/Walk, HKE MKE, and celebrated National Get Outdoors Day at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.
I have only been in my position for a few months, but I believe that the work we are doing is very important. Although my background is not in natural resources – I am an educator and historian – I believe that the environment should be a tool and means to improving the quality of life for the millions of Latinos living in the U.S. And, thanks to Hispanic Access Foundation, there is a growing community of Latinos helping to build those bridges to connect their communities with the “information and services they need for a better life.”
By: Francisco Hernandez