There is something remarkable about your first experience in a National Park–being surrounded by trees, rivers, stars, and wildlife provides a new vantage point to view the world and the importance of caring for our planet. But here’s the reality: Not everyone has an equal shot at experiencing national parks, and not everyone feels equally welcomed in these spaces. From a shortage of accessible close-to-home parks to the high cost of travel and recreation gear, and the lack of representation in outdoor recreation and exploration, youth from low-income communities and youth of color face barriers, both tangible and intangible, that limit their ability to meaningfully connect with public lands.
At Groundwork USA, we’re all about ensuring youth from diverse urban neighborhoods get a fair chance to explore the outdoors by breaking down barriers and creating opportunities to get outside. Each year, through our National Youth Programs, young people from the Groundwork Network’s Green Team and GroundCorps programs have a unique opportunity to meet up in National Parks and Nature Reserves across the country to connect with fellow environmental leaders, participate in conservation projects, and learn skills that expand their capacity to lead environmental justice work in their communities.
In this feature, we dive into the stories of two National Youth Program all-stars: Melissa Guevara and Roger Osorio. Melissa and Roger shared their personal journeys, valuable insights, and words of wisdom that revolve around common themes: embrace opportunities, step out of your comfort zone, and be open to the unexpected. It is during these courageous moments that we often discover something profound – a sense of belonging, connection, and a place in a larger, more meaningful story.