Latino Youth Conservation Leaders, Forest Service Leaders Share Blissful Experience of Transformational Conservation Successes

Luis Angel Cruz
Senior, Furr High School, GreenSchools! Co-op Green Ambassador Captain and Curriculum Lead, Houston, Texas
April 6th, 2015 at 5:15PM

A photo of Green Ambassadors from Austin High School and The University of Houston interact with Woodsy Owl to spread the message of conservation education at the Austin and Chavez High School 9th Annual Future Farmers of America Livestock Show and Sale. (Editor’s note: Luis Cruz is a youth conservation leader with Latino Legacy and PLT GreenSchools!, part of the Houston East End Greenbelt project. These projects are part of an eight-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands of Texas-Latino Legacy program, which promotes conservation education to diverse audiences in urban schools and communities surrounding national forests. Cruz was part of a group that came to Washington, D.C. to participate in a week-long program designed to connect youth to nature and establish a conservation ethic. The program also develops educational and career pathways in natural resources.)

Meeting with the Chief and the executive leadership team of the U.S. Forest Service in March was like meeting your all-time favorite super heroes!

We are high school, middle school and college students and educators who are energized and alive with ideas to continue making a difference as part of our working partnership with U.S. Forest Service leaders to promote conservation education to Latino and diverse audiences.

Two of our programs involve Project Learning Tree GreenSchools! and Houston’s East End Greenbelt Movement.   These efforts are transforming our grey schools to green schools through conservation education. We are turning our food desert into a food forest through the leadership of Green Ambassadors who are creating a green corridor linking our schools through a canopy and understory of edibles and pollinator gardens.

Green Ambassadors and Woodsy Owl facilitate tours of the sustainable initiatives of The Green Institute at Furr High School. (Photo Courtesy of the Houston East End Greenbelt) We accepted the opportunity to present during the 2015 National Environmental Justice Conference in Washington D.C. to share our Green Ambassador model and the impact of our work in our community, but it didn’t just stop there …

On March 17, we also presented our program to top Forest Service executives and managers and explained our involvement in the Forest Service Latino Legacy program.

It was powerful! It brought tears and smiles when we expressed how our partnership has changed our lives and community by helping us educate our communities through the message of conservation education.

The opportunity to present at the 2015 National Environmental Justice Conference through the sponsorship of the U.S. Forest Service brought us all together, to continue this grassroots green movement.

I had the opportunity to talk directly to executive-level leaders about the conservation education projects and curriculum I was developing. Mary Wagner, Associate Chief, told me she couldn’t believe what I was doing at my age and encouraged me to keep creating curriculum that teach people and youth about conserving our natural resources.

Her encouragement had a massive impact on me! I will always remember what she said. It has encouraged me to continue advocating conservation through direct action and education and to keep spreading the message of conservation education through our national agencies.

The Sustainable Agriculture Class at The Green Institute at Furr High School practices alternative methods of agriculture by using straw bales to grow organic vegetables. (Photo Courtesy of the Houston East End Greenbelt)

The executive leaders mentioned it is energizing to see and hear the great work that happens through their partnerships and investments. Because we spoke and presented before the Executive Leadership Team in the Chief’s office, I am confident the dedication and commitment to the youth is a high priority among our leaders of the U.S. Forest Service.

I learned it takes a team effort to conserve our planet for future generations, from the youngest of youth to the oldest of elders.

To sum up the efforts of all our partners, in the words of Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the Forest Service, we are all in collaboration, working towards the mission “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.”

Thank you so much, U.S. Forest Service, for all the support!

(Catch the magic and read more of students’ first-hand accounts about their trip to D.C., their project experiences, accomplishments and plans for the future.)