“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand,
we will understand only what we are taught.”
-Baba Dioum, Senegalese Environmentalist
Despite progress made in the past several years, park visitation continues to be disproportionately white. Groundwork USA has worked with youth of color from urban communities to foster life-long connections to nature for nearly two decades to address this disparity and cultivate a more diverse generation of environmental champions. In 2018, we partnered with the National Park Foundation and Gateway National Recreation Area to demonstrate the effectiveness of our program model, which draws on relationships in local communities to engage diverse youth in service corps work in national parks.
The report highlights best practices for engaging youth of color in conservation work and provides a case study for applying these core principles:
- Leveraging relationships with locally-rooted community organizations.
- Reflecting and acting on community priorities.
- Creating rewarding paid experiences.
- Treating young people with respect as valued professionals.
If we want to cultivate a future generation of park visitors and stewards that is truly reflective of America’s diversity, we have to be willing to rethink our current approach and center community in our efforts. As the Gateway Volunteer Network pilot project demonstrates, service projects present opportunities not just for learning about oneself and one’s potential but for bonding with the people and place where we had that experience.