Park Access for All
Building bridges. Ensuring access. Filling the gap. Changing lives. That is what the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) strives toward every day. This month, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the National Park Foundation (NPF) connected with Jessica Godinez, Conservation Program Associate at HAF. She is one of two dedicated staff members who work in HAF's Conservation and Public Lands Program and the work these two women accomplish, as well as the organization, is remarkable.
“Our ancestors have historically lived off of the land; that has always been a part of us,” Jessica shared. “HAF’s public lands work is primarily around increasing access to public lands and ensuring it is equitable and attainable.” Working at a national organization, Jessica understands the importance of relationships and partnerships to achieve a common goal of creating access to nature for Latino communities throughout the country. Together, the National Park Service (NPS), the National Park Foundation, HAF, and the Park Partner community work to increase access for all to our national parks.
10 Years of Changing Lives
Hispanic Access Foundation celebrates their tenth anniversary in 2020. Maite Arce founded HAF in 2010 after reflecting on her family’s experience of coming to the United States and their access to resources while working to define and build their own economic success. As a result, she wanted to offer help to other Latinos. In the decade since, HAF has evolved and shifted directions based on the needs of the Latino community. Once an organization that primarily provided financial literacy assistance and a help line connecting the Latino community to resources, HAF now has expanded in response to research findings around additional gaps in resources. In addition to conservation, their current thirteen staff members also take on roles in leadership, internship, and fellowship programs. Working together, the HAF staff establishes bridges of access in these areas to provide a path for the development and rise of Latino leaders, amplifying their voices in areas where they are currently underrepresented.
HAF’s internship and fellowship program, also known as the My Access to Network Opportunities Project (MANO), provides leadership opportunities for Latino college students and graduates. These are paid opportunities and provide extensive training, mentoring, and professional development support that is invaluable experience to students and recent graduates. HAF partners with federal agencies such as NPS, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and more to place interns and fellows at these agencies while still also maintaining links to the HAF network throughout their time with the program. HAF also established a Hispanic Leadership Network, a mentoring and leadership program supporting Latino pastors serving high-need rural and urban congregations across the U.S. by providing them with tools to teach their community about conservation and how to advocate for their community as local leaders.
Conservation and Public Lands
Conservation, advocacy, education, research, and access are just a few of the recurring themes in HAF’s scope of work. Conservation is a recently developed focus of HAF due to research findings that demonstrated the number of ways conservation is an important issue in Latino communities. “The data shows that Latino communities are not in areas that are accessible to public lands, yet their communities and jobs are on the front lines of climate change and are being affected in a harsher way,” explained Jessica.
According to the organization, “HAF wants to elevate diverse Latino voices and leaders to support Latino communities to advocate for the environmental issues that directly affect their daily lives.” HAF has a variety of ways it emphasizes the importance of conserving public lands and helps provide resources for education, advocacy, and access. They have developed a series of short films elevating Latino voices in this area, created toolkits for engaging congressional representatives on the topic, helped to permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund, assisted in the creation of seven national monuments across the country (including Castle Mountains National Monument), hosted and promoted outdoor events like Latino Conservation Week to help Latino communities connect to their local public lands, published a report on the “Nature Gap,” addressing the disparities in the destruction and protection of nature in America, and much more.
One Step Closer
The Hispanic Access Foundation, like many of NPF’s partners, recognizes it can make a greater impact by partnering with local leaders, parks, and other organizations. HAF has strong relationships with Nuestra Tierra and Latino Outdoors that help expand its reach to environmental causes throughout the nation. Latino Conservation Week (LCW) also heavily relies on partners, such as NPS, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Mojave Desert Land Trust, and individual park sites to host events across the country. NPF and NPS collaborated with HAF for LCW 2020 to help raise awareness and David Vela, former Deputy Director of NPS, invited all to celebrate.
You can get involved with HAF today by sharing their "I Am Cheo" video screenings presented during Hispanic Heritage Month, connecting with them on social media, and hosting an event for LCW 2021, as well as additional opportunities throughout the year.
Lastly, Hispanic Access Foundation has three tips for the park community to help park sites be more accessible to all:
Have signs and brochures available in different languages to help break down the language barrier.
Build workforce diversity so more populations are represented and can feel more connected and safer in that space.
Engage the community and build relationships with local leaders to get a better understanding of what the community needs are for the park.