Conservation nonprofit lands $700,000 equity grant
Almadelia Cervantes isn’t sure she and her family would have kayaked the Russian River or learned about mushroom species in Sonoma County if it weren’t for LandPaths, an environmental education and conservation nonprofit in Sonoma County.
Before participating in the organization’s Vamos Afuera program, Cervantes had only visited local parks in Santa Rosa despite living in the county for 12 years, she said.
On Thursday, LandPaths announced they were selected to receive a $700,000 grant from the California State Parks’ Outdoor Equity Grants Program to expand its Vamos Afuera project and others like it over the next three years.
Spanish for “Let’s go outside,” the program hosts guided tours through Sonoma County’s open spaces in Spanish every month. The free tours, which started 13 years ago, are meant to make the area’s natural spaces more accessible to families who have little familiarity with them.
“I knew being with people who spoke our language, that we could ask questions and chat with others,” said Cervantes, who began attending the outings eight years ago with her son and husband. “If it was in English we would go, but perhaps be more reserved.”
The grant award will help a youth stewardship program and a bilingual outdoor reading series for young children in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, said Omar Gallardo, LandPaths’ new audiences manager.
The state’s grant program, which awarded $57 million to more than 100 organizations throughout California, focuses on projects that help low-income families in both urban and rural areas access state parks and other open spaces.
While the Vamos Afuera project is open to anyone in the county, it primarily served families from southwest Santa Rosa when it first started, and still operates out of the community’s Bayer Farm, Gallardo said.
The community is one of the state’s most densely populated areas with the least access to open spaces north of San Francisco, he said. The 2021 Portrait of Sonoma, a community wellness report, also shows that the area is also home to some of the county’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“I want to minimize or eliminate the experience of not feeling included, unwelcomed,” Gallardo said of the program. “This (grant) opens up the possibility to a lot of things.”
In addition to providing funding to continue the Vamos Afuera program ―and possibly expand it so that local families can travel to open spaces outside of Sonoma County ― Gallardo said the grant program will also go toward two paid stewardship internship positions to youth in southwest Santa Rosa.
The nonprofit’s Young Stewards program gives Sonoma County high school and college students the opportunity to participate in environmental stewardship internships at nearby natural preserves.
LandPaths’ Let’s Read Outside project, which is geared toward young children younger than 5, also stands to benefit from the grant. The bilingual reading series is held Friday mornings during the summer at Bayer Farm, though Gallardo said the funding could help LandPaths staff bring the program to other parts of Sonoma County.
Volunteer Elizabeth Tlatilpa said she got involved with the program because of the impact it had on her daughter, who is 16 and has Down syndrome.
The two began attending the series about 6 years ago, and Tlatilpa saw how the weekly gatherings helped her daughter break out of her shell.
“She feels like she’s a leader, she can sit at the front of the group and ask questions,” said Tlatilpa. “She isn’t going to be judged, she’s family here.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @nashellytweets.