Support Needed For Programs That Connect Young People To Nature: Guest Commentary

Support Needed For Programs That Connect Young People To Nature: Guest Commentary

Monday, January 5, 2015 - 2:15pm

CONTENT: Article

By Sarah Miggins

Visionary leaders, it has been said, see possibility where others do not. They make connections between seemingly disparate worlds. And they inspire and empower others to turn their vision into a reality.

On the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s establishment of the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protected more than 109 million acres of American wild lands, I am reminded of how Bobby Vega, cofounder and director of the Urban Conservation Corps, saw possibility for San Bernardino County.

Like many of us, Vega knew that our county has more wilderness areas protected under the National Wilderness Preservation System than any other county in the nation. He also knew that it is home to thousands of inner city and at-risk youth without viable opportunities for jobs and economic self-sufficiency.

But unlike most of us, Vega saw how to put those pieces together and create something better. He recognized that the official wilderness areas and our entire public lands could be used to help our community’s youth secure a better future through a workforce development program that taught important skills while also connecting young people to their natural environment.

Vega and his wife, Sandy Bonilla, have helped hundreds of San Bernardino youth, such as Malcolm Cade, become Urban Conservation Corpsmembers. Malcolm joined the Corps in 2010 as a volunteer and was recently promoted to crew supervisor and project manager. He has led crews to clear trails, plant trees, and restore habitats.

Malcolm knew he wanted to work outside but lacked support and direction. After meeting Bobby Vega through the “Kids in Conflict” program, Malcolm’s future became crystal clear. Vega was Malcolm’s lightning rod and answer for a passion he could not define. Malcolm pays it forward every day with the new youth coming into the program searching for purpose and a positive future.

The Urban Conservation Corps is a program of the Southern California Mountains Foundation. We’ve found that Conservation Corps projects are helping young people in our community find positive alternatives to gangs and drugs. They are helping them discover pathways to a better life.

It’s vital to our region’s economic and environmental health that the vision of Bobby Vega, who passed away in February, be kept alive, and that people like Malcolm carry on his legacy for generations to come. But this legacy is not yet at all assured.

During the past three decades, the use of public lands has increased while funding has been dramatically reduced. The Southern California Mountains Foundation works to bridge that gap with conservation and education programs that support youth development, protect our natural resources and provide interpretive services that focus on environmental citizenship.

For the past 22 years, the Foundation has also made a critical difference by organizing volunteers who have donated 1.5 million hours of service — and by securing private funding to benefit our community.

The best example of our public-private partnerships is with Nestlé Waters North America, which has provided vital funding to the Southern California Mountains Foundation since its inception. During this time, the Conservation Corps has undertaken hundreds of restoration projects in the San Bernardino and Angeles National Forests. In addition to creating opportunities for Malcolm and hundreds of at-risk youth, Nestlé Waters provides our team with on-the-ground water conservation and management expertise.

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CATEGORY: Environment