For those whose first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to access nature-based programming. Defensores de la Cuenca (DDLC) is working to change that, by organizing fun, family-friendly events that make it easier to for everyone to connect with the outdoors.
“We’re thinking about the perspective of the immigrant Latino family or individual who has limited time away from priorities—work, family, and church—and really wants to make the most of [an experience in nature],” DDLC executive director Abel Olivo states. “Battling through language, or access because of cost, or going into unknown spaces and not really feeling safe—it really is taxing all around from that point of view.”
With funding from VOF’s Get Outdoors Fund, DDLC is hosting Spanish-language experiences in local, regional, state, and national parks that aim to build community around the outdoors. “Our number one goal is for people to have fun,” says Olivo. “While people spend time with us, we share information about the watershed, how everything is connected, and how we impact the environment and the environment impacts us.”
One of the best ways to have that conversation is through the sport of fishing, Olivo states. “We use it as an entry point to water quality issues.” A recent fishing event at Mott’s Run in the Rappahannock River watershed was a great success, he says, with multiple generations of families trying their hand at the sport. “There was a mother who said that her son had repeatedly asked her to take him fishing, but they had never had the opportunity to do it before. And there was another family whose grandmother caught the most fish of the day. She was rocking it.”
These events are also designed to point community leaders to DDLC’s more formal programming, La Academia de Defensores—a paid adult training program that holds workshops, hands-on activities, and participant-led capstone projects. A stipend makes participation possible for those who wouldn’t normally be able to take hours away from work. “We know that asking people to spend time with us means food, gas, the mortgage payment. It’s a real impact in their lives,” Olivo says.
By providing these training opportunities, DDLC hope to scale up its impact and grow its reach, one watershed at a time. So far one cohort of Defensores has completed training in the Anacostia watershed, with another starting in January. The Patapsco watershed’s first cohort is in training, and events like the family fishing day at Motts Run are laying the groundwork for a cohort in the Rappahannock.
“When we talk to people, they say ‘We had a lovely day, I’ve never been here, we felt so welcome, we want to be involved, we want to stay connected with you,’” says Olivo. And staying connected is the goal. DDLC believes that repeat customers will build a network of Defensores whose training on watershed issues can lead to jobs in the environmental sector.
“The more we can work to bring people outdoors,” Olivo explains, “the more we can show them there are possibilities to make a livelihood in this space.”