Without further ado:
This is Amber Betances, coming at you live from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge!
This summer, the Hispanic Access Foundation has granted me the opportunity to work in Philadelphia at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. I was intrigued by the concept of community outreach, especially since I study landscape architecture, and the importance of including outreach in the design process. Over the years at Rutgers University, I learned about the disconnect between communities of color and green spaces/nature. Throughout the course of the internship, I’ve met with many community leaders and community partner organizations all working toward the same goal — to improve and advance these neighborhoods.
After getting to know the community leaders, I began to fully understand the severity of the conflicts a lot of these communities are facing. One of the major components in community outreach is building trust and being considerate and understanding of the obstacles these neighborhoods face. The refuge is currently in the process of partnering with local organizations to invest in the community and create green spaces tailored to community needs. Ultimately, the goal is to create programming that emphasizes the importance of conservation and helps community members develop a sense of ownership for green spaces.
I will be focusing on the development of program ideas that are of interest to the community. Sitting in on community meetings has helped me understand local needs, but my goal is to continue trying to reach a larger audience. Each conversation with a member of the Philadelphia community is valuable — even if it only serves to help the public understand what happens on a national wildlife refuge, like at John Heinz. Including the community in the design and implementation of programming gives us a better understanding of how people in different communities may feel about nature and the outdoors, and helps us address their needs and wants.
I never expected to end up at a national wildlife refuge as a landscape architect major, studying the social interactions between place and space. This internship ties in closely to what I want to do when I graduate. I want to be able to work for cities with consideration for people in the community. As a future landscape architect, I plan on working toward the advancement of communities of color by letting the communities lead the way and integrating their needs in my designs.