Roughly a decade ago, Tamberly Conway impulsively agreed to leave Key West, Fla., with a friend to serve as crew members on a 47-foot sailboat with a captain they barely knew. But somewhere between Key West and Guatemala, she began reevaluating her decision.
They got off the boat in Guatemala and spent the next year absorbing the Latino culture and Spanish language. She turned that unexpected experience into helping the U.S. Forest Service reach out to the Latino community. Along with her multiple degrees in natural resources, Conway connects Latinos to the natural world around them through such programs as Latino Legacy.
“These programs provide avenues for students who gradually gain a sense of empowerment,” Conway said. “They understand that it’s okay to be a leader in this arena and help their community understand the need to take care of the land and conserve what they have. I tell them, ‘You can be leaders in this area so you can improve your nation’s food sources and make sure we have enough wood, water and wildlife in the future.’”
Stationed in Texas, Conway’s first project after joining the Forest Service five years ago centered on development of the Latino Legacy program, created in large part through a More Kids in the Woods cost-share initiative and partnership funds. Latino Legacy program goals are to develop, implement and evaluate culturally appropriate conservation education programs designed for urban and rural Latino communities. It has since evolved into a hub for a number of programs focusing on diversity outreach and conservation education.
The two primary outreach tools are the “Bosque Movil,” or forest mobile, a mobile information and activity station, and the “Amigos de Bosque,” or the Friends of the Forest, a semi-bilingual conservation education and community outreach team, managed by the Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas.
The Friends organization was formed to help the Forest Service make the 600,000 acres of forests and grasslands in that state more accessible to diverse audiences. Together with strong partners like the Texas A&M Forest and Stephen F. Austin State University, the program has reached at least 250,000 people, although some supporters believe the number to be more than double that amount.
“We are able to go into schools that have high populations of Latinos and engage not only the students but also educators, administrators, parents and community partners,” she said. “Our work helps create a pathway to something more. Whether these youth choose to work in natural resources or not, they have a new excitement about the outdoors, and they share that excitement with others in their communities. They are becoming our current and future conservation leaders.”
Conway’s next project, in a USFS partnership with a Project Learning Tree grass-roots program called Green Schools!, will result in a national model that will target early childhood through high school in an educational feeder pattern or “grapevine,” with a strong focus upon higher education and possible futures in natural resource careers. The Green Schools! initiative helps students improve communication, civic and leadership skills, while increasing environmental awareness. The pilot project will focus on the East End community in Houston and the Houston Independent School District, which are predominantly Latino.