Catherine Carlton's Posts (24)

  • Calling Emerging Leaders to Join our Team!

    It’s that time of year again – the Institute is hiring our next cohort of Emerging Leader Fellows!

    Are you starting out in your career and interested in exploring how parks can help solve some of society’s biggest challenges? Are you looking for an opportunity to gain critical experience and skills, take ownership of your own project, and make an impact? If so, the Institute’s Fellowship for Emerging Leaders may be for you!

    Our Fellowship seeks to empower early career professionals by offering paid opportunities that support their development as future environmental and community leaders. Participants receive individualized mentorship and career coaching, participate in learning opportunities designed to increase their project management skills, and take ownership of specific projects, ultimately adding tangible products to their professional portfolio and supporting their career growth. Examples of previous fellowship projects include our Post to Park Transformations report and the Park Prescription webinar series.

    Maria Romero, 2016 climate fellow, presenting on her work

    The Institute intentionally seeks fellows with diverse perspectives and backgrounds to help explore new ways for parks to provide value to all communities. We strive to broaden and support the next generation of park leaders and advocates as well as to give to our fellows the opportunity to apply their creativity to the complex challenges that parks and communities face.

    But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what Lea Kassa, our 2016 health fellow, had to say about her experience with the Institute:

    My fellowship with the Institute was beneficial in so many ways. For me, it was the perfect segue into the working world after graduating from Cornell. It allowed me to develop essential professional skills like project management, business etiquette, public speaking, and facilitation to a degree I had never before experienced. What stands out most is how much responsibility and trust was instilled in me from day one. I felt truly valued and listened to as a part of the Institute’s Health program, which gave me the confidence to speak my mind and actively participate in and contribute to meetings.

    My experience with the Institute was also, without a doubt, a large part of the reason I ended my fellowship with two full-time job offers from other organizations. My manager was incredibly supportive throughout my job application and interview process and I had a wealth of experience from my fellowship to discuss during interviews. I have so much to thank the Institute for, and I know anyone who pursues this fellowship will feel the same way!

    If this sounds like an opportunity for you or someone you know, visit our website for more information and apply via our online application form following the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Climate Change Education or Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Urban links. We look forward to hearing from you!

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  • Reflections on 2016

    2016 was a year of both introspection and action here at the Institute. As an organization, we have continued to grow and evolve. The ongoing change allows us to be flexible and dynamic. It has also meant that we need to constantly assess our organizational identity and brand in the context of this evolution.

    Last year, we began a strategic communications process that has allowed us to take time out to evaluate our growth, what we’ve accomplished, and who we are as an organization. We have thought deeply about the language we use, pushing ourselves to match our message to the passion and potential of our work.

    We see a critical opportunity for parks to be catalysts for social change, reaching outside of their traditional boundaries to embrace a role that moves beyond conservation and recreation. By reframing parks in this way, they become more vibrant, relevant, and valuable to everyone.

    Over the past year, we have reaffirmed this mission and will continue to refine both our language and our program approach in 2017. At the program level, we reached a number of milestones in working towards this vision in 2016:

    • Climate: Publicly launched the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative, a coalition of environmental educators dedicated to increasing climate literacy and action throughout the region. We also collaborated with the National Park Service and NASA to host a climate change education training for interpreters and educators in the Pacific West Region.
    • Health: Created two new websites, hphpbayarea.org and parkrx.org, to connect park and health professionals to resources and to others interested in the nexus of parks and health. We also organized the first Bay Area Health Outdoors! Forum which brought together parks, health, and community organizations to explore new partnership opportunities, such as Park Prescription programs, that can help overcome complex health equity challenges.
    • Urban: Supported the National Park Service Urban Agenda. This included building a community of practice in the Pacific West and Intermountain Regions and supporting the one-year gathering of national stakeholders. We also began working with Golden Gate National Recreation Area leadership to identify opportunities to strengthen community outreach and support efforts to ensure that park management and planning processes are inclusive of all community voices.

    As we look forward to 2017, it is hard to know what the new year will hold. But I feel confident that, with our amazing team and the inspiring work we have ahead of us, we can take on any of the challenges that we face.

    Photo credit: Scott Sawyer

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  • Parks For All

    Photo credit: Kirke Wrench, National Park Service

    Call me sentimental, but I love the holiday season. I love the lights, the flavors, and the smells. I love that we make time in our busy schedules for friends, for family, for loved ones, and for our community. I also love the sense of perspective it gives me – the opportunity to reflect on what is important in my life and how my decisions reflect those values, both personally and professionally.

    I won’t sugar coat it, the past month or two has been a challenging time for many of us. Whatever your political stripes, most people can agree that the rhetoric in 2016 was more divisive than ever, and that we are entering a time of uncertainty and transition. How the things we value may be impacted in the years to come is not yet clear. Now, more than ever, I seek solace and inspiration from those around me, the values that we all share, and the work we are doing to amplify those values.

    Over the past year, the Institute team has dug deep into who we are as an organization, the key beliefs and values that motivate our work, and how those show up in what we do every day. One core value that has come through loud and clear is our belief in the role of parks as safe and healing spaces. We believe that parks must be welcoming and be available to all, no matter their background, ethnicity, religion, orientation, age, ability… the list goes on and on.

    Parks have so much to give to society – they are places to build community, to engage in open and respectful dialogue, to deeply connect with people who are different from us, and to explore and overcome our common challenges. This belief is core to who we are as an organization.

    In this time of change and season of giving, we’d like to share just a few examples of park-based programs that are building community and offering healing, growing spaces. We hope that you find them as inspiring as we do.

    Please use the comment box to add your favorite to this short list, we know there are so many inspiring programs out there!

    From Donna:

    As the Institute continuously champions our beliefs that parks are for everyone, we know that our park partners are working tirelessly to make this belief a reality in the different communities around the Bay and country. Through our work in Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area, we know that parks have been providing warm welcomes to new users for years through multicultural programming and First Saturday programming.

    East Bay Regional Park District creates large, intentional walks that bring together many different ethnicities to share wellness, culture, and enjoyment through its Healthy Parks Healthy People Multicultural Wellness Walks. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department offers gorgeous scenery while leading participants through Tai Chi and Qigong exercises.

    East Bay Regional Park District Multicultural Wellness Walk at Coyote Hills

    With park leaders playing a crucial role in carving out space for meditation, interaction, and reflection, we hope that you follow their lead to ensure that parks continue to be a democratic space for health, both physically and mentally. If you see prejudice or hate happening in parks, or your neighborhood, speak up and protect your neighbors. Parks are for all, forever. 

    From Oksana:

    This past year has brought to the fore a number of challenges this country still faces around racial, economic, and social justice. Tied in with all of these is climate justice. Parks provide invaluable ecosystem services like carbon sequestration and are also uniquely threatened by climate change. Through the Institute’s Climate Education program we work with park interpreters and other informal educators to provide them with the necessary tools for them to be the best climate communicators they can be. This includes not only telling the story of how our parklands are threatened by climate change but also how it will affect neighboring communities, particularly groups that are most vulnerable.

    There are a number of organizations working at the intersection of environmental challenges, public lands, and social justice, with one of the most prominent being Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ). LEJ is based out of Southeast San Francisco and provides local residents opportunities in urban greening, eco-literacy, community stewardship, and workforce development. The Institute looks forward to continuing to celebrate how parks and their partners can not only help heal the environment but also how maintaining these democratic spaces is central to building an inclusive community.

    From Elyse:

    Lake Merritt, at the heart of Oakland, CA, is an obvious setting for a picnic, or a walk. As a proud resident of Oakland, Lake Merritt holds a special place in my heart. This park holds many fun memories for me.

    This year, Lake Merritt has also been a site for healing. When Oaklanders were reeling from the loss of friends and artists from the devastating Ghost Ship fire, it was Lake Merritt where we grieved together. After an election filled with dangerous rhetoric, Oaklanders stood up against hatred at #handsaroundlakemerritt, a show of solidarity and appreciation for the diversity of Oakland. These beautiful moments of Oaklanders coming together proved that Lake Merritt is where the best of Oakland can be seen.

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  • Reflecting on a Difficult Time

    As we looked to our usual Tuesday blog post, it didn’t feel right to ignore or breeze past the tragic events that have taken place over the past weeks. At the same time, I personally am at a loss for how to begin to process the heart breaking news for myself. How can I possibly put something meaningful out into the world for others?

    So I looked outside for inspiration or perspectives to share. In doing so, I stumbled across this San Francisco Chronicle article published just a few weeks ago in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando: National parks offer healing in times of fear and pain.

    It is a quick read and I encourage you all to spend a few minutes with it.

    For me, it is stories like this, where parks engage with the community, facilitating healing dialogue and becoming “places of peace, understanding, learning and reconciliation,” that give my heart a small break from its recent pain. So I thought I’d send this back out into the world, hoping that our park community finds their own bit of hope and inspiration, giving us the energy and love to provide for all communities in their time of need.

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  • Celebrating our Junior Rangers

    On May 7, hundreds of community members braved the elements to participate in the Junior Ranger Jamboree on Crissy Field. The Jamboree was coordinated by the organizations that serve youth in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area along with the San Francisco Public Library system to celebrate the National Park Service Centennial.

    We sat down with Raenelle Tauro, the Project Manager for the Park Youth Collaborative and one of the organizers for the event, to learn more about the Jamboree.

    Overall, how did the Jamboree go?

    Initially we were worried about the weather and if families would still come in the rain, but fortunately close to 700 participants and over 150 volunteers and staff all showed up ready to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.

    The rain ended up adding a sense of distinctive character to the event, making it even more memorable. Visitors came armed with umbrellas and raincoats, but the weather didn’t stop them from tackling the climbing wall, analyzing plankton, and making their s’mores. It was wonderful to see how families took full advantage of the many hands-on, place-based activities, learning about the diverse cultural and natural resources of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

    We are especially thankful to the many communities who showed their support by attending the event. Visitors represented over 50 zip codes throughout the Bay Area. We hope that this experience helped to affirm that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is their park.

    What were the highlights of the day?

    While this day was primarily aimed at 4th graders in support of the National Park Service’s Every Kid in a Park initiative, one of the elements that I found most inspiring was the intergenerational spirit of the event. The activities and entertainment, which were made possible by the generosity of over 15 partner organizations, provided an opportunity for the whole family to engage with the park and with each other. There were countless smiles, laughter, and curiosities piqued in children and adults alike.

    It was also really amazing to see the range of partners supporting the event. By partnering with youth-serving organizations in the park and community and the SF Public Library System to provide activities and entertainment, the event was able to highlight and celebrate the variety of opportunities and programming within Golden Gate National Recreation Area and in the local community. This event was a success due to their donation of time and resources, and each played a very special part in engaging visitors and welcoming them to the park.

    The culminating event of the day was the group pledge where the youth received their Junior Ranger badges; can you tell us a little about that?

    For the Jamboree, Chris Lehnertz, the NPS Superintendent for Golden Gate National Recreation Area led a special ceremony where all youth attending and their families made the Junior Ranger pledge together. At the end of the ceremony, each child received a 100th birthday edition Junior Ranger badge and booklet.

    During the pledge to become a Junior Ranger, youth take an oath to explore, learn, and protect their National Parks. In celebration of the Centennial, a special pledge was created, which called young people to promise they will “help preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them for the next 100 years and beyond.”

    There is something remarkable to be said about saying that pledge together and feeling ownership as a community. We were privileged to witness an incredible moment of visitors of all ages taking action to care and advocate for their environment. We deeply appreciate the kind contribution from the Lisa and Doug Goldman Fund, which made Junior Ranger Jamboree and amazing instances like this achievable.

    If people didn’t make it to the event, can they still get involved?

    Yes! The Jamboree was the official kickoff event for the Summer Stride Reading Program partnership between the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the San Francisco Public Library System. Throughout the summer, there will be library trailheads, park book nooks, community ranger talks at SF library branches, and more. For more information on this program, visit the Summer Stride webpage.

    Additionally, all 4th graders are encouraged to download their Every Kid in a Park pass and visit the National Parks for free in celebration of the National Park Service Centennial.

    Youth can also complete the Junior Ranger Centennial Booklet.

    For a list of other NPS Centennial Events visit Parks Conservancy NPS Centennial webpage.

    For a list of partner organizations and other event details, view the official event press release here.

    For a slideshow of photos from the event, click here.

    Photo credit: Barbara Bartlett and Alison Taggart-Barone

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  • Reminiscing about our Fellows

    As we enter into our final week of recruiting for our next class of Emerging Leaders Fellows, I’ve been reflecting on the impact that the program has had on the Institute and the amazing influence that the individual fellows have had on our team.

    Hector Zaragoza and Ruth Pimentel were the intrepid members of our first Fellowship cohort. They joined the team knowing that they were part of our guinea pig year, willing to grow and learn with us as we went along. They helped us hone our fellowship curriculum, gave us critical feedback on designing fellowship projects, but most importantly showed us the life and energy that new team members can bring to our work. We had a great time with Hector and Ruth – helping them develop and implement their projects, taking park prescriptions around Fort Baker, making the occasional Friday after work trip to the yacht club, and even getting our hands dirty during a volunteer day that Ruth planned for us at Mountain Lake!

    Rhianna Mendez and Sophia Choi joined the Institute in our second year hosting the Fellowship. We like to think that we’d learned a bit about managing a fellowship by the second year, but as we tell the fellows, there’s always opportunity for growth and improvement. Rhianna and Sophia’s flexibility and positive attitude in the face of any challenge was truly inspirational for us. From a willingness to try new things (You’d like me to design and run a workshop on storytelling? Present my findings to a room full of partners? Sure! Why not?), to rolling with the punches as we sorted out the details of our office move, Rhianna and Sophia brought a curiosity and humor that was infectious. And of course we can’t forget the fashion sense and restaurant advice we gleaned from these two East-Coasters.

    We value our Fellowship program highly for the passion and energy that these emerging leaders bring to our team. And we make every effort to ensure that they get as much out of the experience as we do. Here are a few nuggets in their own words:

    The Institute is a hub of innovation and this instilled a sense of urgency in me to innovate through brainstorming sessions with colleagues or conversations by the “water cooler.” Whatever the challenge may be, the Institute provides the knowledge, resourcefulness, and confidence to go into uncharted territory and make your mark. 
    -Hector

    Working in a program that is centered around core values of partnership and collaboration gave me many opportunities to network with the amazing professionals of both the National Parks Service and the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. Those people that I’ve met through this program have been career mentors and invaluable resources for support and advice as well.
    -Sophia

    If you’re an emerging leader, we urge you to submit your application before the deadline this Friday, April 8!

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  • The Institute is excited to announce that we are now recruiting for our third class of Emerging Leaders Fellows!

    Our Fellowship for Emerging Leaders is one of the Institute’s newest initiatives, which seeks to empower people who are just starting out in their careers by offering paid professional opportunities that shape their development as future environmental and community leaders. Through this program, the Institute intentionally seeks Fellows with diverse perspectives and backgrounds to help explore new ways for parks to provide value to all communities. In this, we strive to support the development of the next generation of park leaders and advocates as well as to give to our Fellows the tools to apply their creativity to the complex challenges that parks and communities face.

    Through the Fellowship, participants receive individualized mentorship and career coaching, participate in learning opportunities designed to increase their project management toolkit, and take ownership of specific projects, ultimately adding tangible products to their professional portfolio and supporting their career growth. The Fellows in our first two cohorts conducted research, evaluated programs, created roadmaps and case studies, and built partnerships that have all had a lasting impact on the Institute and our work.

    While we like to think that the benefits to the Fellows are very enticing, we also know that the Institute gets a lot of value out of welcoming these news perspectives and passions to the team. Since the start of the program, our Fellows have brought energy, ideas, and inspiration to our work and we are excited to continue that tradition with our 2016 class.This year, we are recruiting two Fellows to integrate into our programmatic work. One Fellow will support the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area initiative, helping create resources to scale up lessons learned across the region and beyond. The other Fellow will be supporting our work with the Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative, researching and creating resources focused on successful public engagement campaigns and locally relevant scientific data.

    If you or someone in your network is interested in this opportunity, please visit our website to learn more or apply via our online application form (Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Health, Fellowship for Emerging Leaders: Climate).

    We can't wait for our 2016 Fellows!

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  • Cheers to 2015 – On to 2016!

    As I am still struggling to remember to end all of my dates with a “6” rather than a “5”, it feels like it is not yet too late to reflect on the past year and ponder what the next year may bring.

    2015 saw a lot of change at the Institute. We welcomed three new fulltime staff members and were excited by the opportunity to continue to support the growth and development of our existing staff members. We moved out of our Fort Baker offices and are grateful to our NPS partners who have offered us temporary office space at Fort Mason. Our climate, health, and urban programs continue to grow, evolve, and have a greater and greater impact. We welcomed our second class of Emerging Leaders Fellows and I am confident that we learned as much from their new perspectives as they learned from our team of mentors and friends.

    Here is a brief synopsis of some of the Institute’s key programmatic milestones and our hopes for 2016:

    Climate: In 2015, the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, for which the Institute plays the backbone support role, saw its first full year of activity. Over the course of the year, the Collaborative grew to include over 30 different environmental education organizations and worked through a strategic planning process, articulating a clear vision, mission, and priority initiatives. In 2016, we are looking forward to getting our boots of the ground and beginning to develop and implement a range of activities based on identified priorities. We are also excited to partner with the NPS Pacific West Region and NASA to host an “Earth-to-Sky” climate communications training at Golden Gate this coming spring.

    Health: The Institute continued to support the development of the HPHP: Bay Area regional collaborative and strengthened the network through a growing partnership with Kaiser Permanente. As the collaborative moves into its fourth year, the Institute is looking forward to building the capacity of the region by creating trainings, toolkits, and further resources for the collaborative members. On the national level, the Institute is working closely with the National Park Service, the National Recreation and Park Association, and Dr. Robert Zarr, the NPS Park Prescriptions Advisor, to strengthen the network of and resources available for Park Rx practitioners. Stay tuned in early 2016 when we will be launching a National Park Rx web portal and a HPHP: Bay Area website!

    Urban: Last April, the National Park Service launched its Urban Agenda. This report was the culmination of a long engagement process spearheaded by NPS’s Stewardship Institute, in close partnership with the Institute at the Golden Gate, the NPS Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec Labrador Foundation. As a part of the initiative, the Institute has been actively supporting a team of Urban Fellows who have been charged with activating the Urban Agenda in 10 model cities. In the coming year, the Institute is looking forward to continuing to build on this partnership work. We are particularly excited to leverage our network to dive deeper into the issues of authentic community engagement and to look at how we can support parks in their efforts to increase their relevance for urban communities.

    Thanks so much to all of our partners, supporters, and colleagues who made 2015 such a success – we’re looking forward to continuing this exciting work in 2016!

    Our new view for 2016 - life on the other side of the bridge. Photos courtesy of Paul Meyers.

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  • Last week Oksana and I headed downtown to join the throngs of scientists, researchers, students, and educators flocking to the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting at the Moscone Center. AGU is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world, attracting over 24,000 attendees. While Al Gore and a sneak preview of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stole the AGU headlines, there was also a strong contingent of people exploring how to improve and strengthen climate literacy at a national scale.

    The opening afternoon of the conference, Oksana kicked off a union session titled Enabling Effective Climate Literacy through Collective Impact. In her presentation, Oksana discussed the formation of the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative, the strategic planning process, and lessons learned for others interested in similar collaborative initiatives. The other presenters represented a range of unique collaboratives and engaged in a lively panel discussion where they shared diverse insights into common challenges such as funding, member engagement, and scalability.

    The Institute also helped to convene a poster session looking at the impacts of place-based education on climate literacy. The posters included place-based initiatives from across the country and included a unique partnership project between our partners at the Exploratorium and NOAA. In speaking with the various presenters it was interesting to note the different ways in which organizations define “place-based,” which ranged from a strong focus on nature, to a broader geographic definition, to an individual’s connection to community. As the Institute continues to explore this space, it is interesting to note the use of place and what it means to different people.

    In between the myriad sessions, we had the opportunity to engage in stimulating discussions with folks from government, academia, and the private sector trying to tackle some of the most intractable challenges to climate education. The buzz and energy coming out of Paris was tangible throughout the conference and the critical importance and timeliness of this work wove a sense of urgency into every conversation. We explored the importance of site-specific efforts and the potential impact of regional collaboration. We came out of our days there feeling simultaneously drained and energized; the scale of the problem often felt overwhelming but seeing the passion and diversity of those working with us to tackle this issue was inspiring.

    Photo credit: AGU Blog

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  • Finding Urban Inspiration in the Rockies

    Last Thursday, I hopped on an early morning flight and made my way to Estes Park, Colorado. You may not think of the little mountain town that serves as an entry to the Rocky Mountains as a hub of urban thought and innovation, but last week that is exactly what it was.

    Over 100 Groundwork USA youth leaders, staff, and federal land management partners descended upon the YMCA of the Rockies to share their initiatives and efforts to better connect with and serve urban areas as a part of the Groundwork USA National Conference and Youth Summit.

    Throughout the day, partners from the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Groundwork Trusts from across the country shared their stories of urban connection and the multiple benefits of building stronger relationships between communities and natural areas. Along with our NPS partners, Urban Fellows, and their Groundwork counterparts, we held a panel discussion exploring the NPS Urban Agenda and how it seeks to align and partner with communities in new and innovative ways.

    The importance of collaboration was a main theme throughout the conference. Many speakers touched on the challenges and resources necessary for authentic, successful collaboration. However, all highlighted it as critical to the future sustainability and health of national parks, open spaces, wildlife refuges, and the communities themselves.

    While it was a great opportunity to learn about complimentary efforts across federal agencies, the highlight of the day was hearing the youth leaders of Groundwork talk about their work and the profound impact that it is having on their communities and their lives. Groundwork’s youth development programs provide extensive training in community and conservation skills and hands-on experiences on public lands through paid, neighborhood-based opportunities. The work of the Groundwork youth leaders connected the discussion around reaching new audiences and collaborating with new communities with on-the-ground examples of how these principles can be applied in practice with profound impact.

    Seeing these youth leaders in action and hearing their personal stories reminded me of why I was in the room, grappling with this challenging but impactful work.

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  • Here at the Institute, we are BIG believers in collaboration. As a small but mighty team, we realize that to have the biggest possible impact and to create the change we want to see, we need to seek out, engage, and support other organizations to achieve our collective goals.

    As such, a number of our programs focus on supporting collaborative efforts. Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area and the Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative are two such projects. In both, the Institute plays the “backbone” role; supporting the collaborative through coordination, holding the vision, and ensuring that the group is functioning effectively in the pursuit of its goals.

    Through both of these initiatives, we at the Institute have learned a lot about supporting multi-group collaborations (HPHP: Bay Area has over 40 members while our younger Climate Collaborative has over 20). By keeping an open mind and constantly striving to learn from those around us and our mistakes, we’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks along the way. This week, we thought we’d combine our collective knowledge and share our top pieces of advice for building effective collaboratives.

    Kristin: The first step is always the hardest. Stop thinking about it and just do it.

    Easier said than done right? Bringing together a group of individuals or organizations for the first time can strike fear in even the most seasoned collaborator. After ten years of community organizing and coalition building I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, stumbled over a few hurdles, and certainly learned some valuable lessons. Some of the biggest, and translatable, lessons I’ve learned for getting an effective collaborative off the ground are:

    • Define a vision that all partners see themselves in. It’s essential that each partner recognizes the value of being part of the collaborative. To ensure this feeling sticks, take the time to establish a vision that sets out a clear path to a future that all partners wish to be a part of. Make it inspiring, big, hairy, and a little audacious and you’re on the right path. The vision sets the stage and provides an anchor point for the collaborative to grow from, swing from, and come back to.
    • Accomplish something tangible in the first six months. We all know how good it feels to check an item off your to do list. This is the same feeling you want the collaborative to have early on in its formation. Grab onto a piece of low hanging fruit that gets everyone to participate and results in something tangible. It could be as simple as writing external messaging about your collaborative or doing a stock taking of partner organizations capacity and resources. Pick something strategic and with a clear end date. And don’t forget to pause and celebrate your early successes along the way.

    If you go in knowing the collaborative is a process not a project you’re already ahead of the game. Just don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Have you had enough metaphors? Great. Get out there and do it and don’t forget to report back on your lessons learned.

    Oksana: Manage structure without managing content.

    Supporting collaborative initiatives is exciting work but requires unique skills, separate from those of collaborative members. One such skill that I have found to be incredibly helpful is the ability to manage structure without taking over managing the content coming out of the collaborative. For example, I may present on some best practices for drafting mission statements but will follow it with an opportunity for the collaborative members to use these tools to craft their own mission statement. Collaborative members must have the opportunity to share their thoughts, have their questions taken seriously, and make the ultimate decisions on the direction of the work, as they are the driving force behind the collaborative’s success. As the facilitator, I am best able to provide coordination and backbone support—setting the agenda, providing logistical support, keeping meetings on track, and jumping in if meetings are diverging dramatically from the agenda. However, the vision, goals, and activities of the group are decided by its members. Providing space for their input is crucial to creating a successful group where all members feel like they have buy-in.

    Donna: Humility is crucial.

    Humility is a crucial mindset to have when in a backbone position because it is the main bridge between a theory of change and its practice. As a backbone, it is often the case that you are not a practitioner in your topic of interest; for example, as a backbone to the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative, the Institute neither leads park programs nor prescribes time in parks. While being a backbone organization allows you to dive deep into the needs and future goals of your collaborative, this theory of change is colored by your role as a non-practitioner with a different set of agency constraints. When a collaborative’s practitioners implement these goals, they will necessarily adapt them to fit their own agency constraints. Humility and keeping an open mind is important when drafting these goals, but it is especially important considering that implementing these goals may look very different from the theory of change. Understanding the crucial role that humility plays in collaborative efforts ensures that there is flexibility and feedback when charting the course forward.

    Catherine: Have patience!

    Kristin’s sage advice that collaboration is a process, not a project, is something that has stuck with me since we first started thinking about forming a regional climate literacy collaborative. If I have learned one thing since then, it’s that processes take time! This is especially true when you want to ensure that all of your partners feel ownership of the process and are inspired by the results. In today’s grant-driven, output-oriented world, it can be scary and challenging to dedicate the time that it takes to make sure you have the right people at the table, that they’re all on the same page, and that they all feel connected to you, to each other, and to the work. While walking through the process can seem slow, creating a strong foundation is critical to the overall success and sustainability of the collaborative.

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  • Introducing our New Fellows

    The Institute is happy to announce the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders Class of 2015! Rhianna and Sophia have traveled across the United States to be a part of our team here at the Institute at the Golden Gate and we are delighted to have them. We'll turn this post over to them to tell you a bit about themselves, their motivation, and their fellowship projects...


    Introducing Rhianna Mendez

    Hi, my name is Rhianna and I have traveled across the country to be a part of the Institute at the Golden Gate team. I recently graduated from American University with a degree in Public Health. Serving as the Health Fellow, I will be detailing the story of Healthy Parks, Healthy People: Bay Area. Over the next 6 months I will be developing a report that documents where the collaborative started, what it has accomplished so far, and where it is going in the future. I am excited to sit down with change makers in the Bay Area and begin to better understand the impact that parks have on our community.

    The recent buzz surrounding public health has started to show people that health exists far beyond exposure to a bacterial or chemical agent. This emerging holistic view of health, encompassing both social and environmental factors, requires holistic solutions. I hope that my work will further highlight parks as a holistic and upstream solution to many of the problems our society faces today. Personally, parks have provided me with both a place to exercise and the space to ease my mind. Parks bring balance to my ever-changing life. I look forward to being able to give back to both parks and people through my work here at the Institute.

    Introducing Sophia Choi

    Hello, my name is Sophia Choi and I am the new Urban Fellow at the Institute. Just about two weeks ago I drove across the country from New York City in only six days! I am very new to the West Coast and am so lucky to have this opportunity to work for the Institute, so I can learn more about and explore the beautiful parks of the Bay Area.

    I just recently graduated from New York University with a degree in Architecture & Urban Planning. Through my academics, I grew passionate about rising urban challenges in major cities of the world as well as environmentalism and sustainability. I am beginning to discover that metropolitan cities and their public spaces and parks play a greater role than just improving lives of its residents – they are models for a sustainable future for both people and the environment.

    Here at the Institute, I will be working on a few projects. The first is a case study of post-to-park transformations, where I will be researching former military sites that have turned into successful parks. I will be assessing park planning, development, and engagement and identifying best practices to create a “how-to” guide for future park visionaries. The second part of my fellowship is storytelling research. Community engagement is extremely important for any urban discipline and effective storytelling will have an impact on education, awareness, and growth in any city. With my editorial experience and creativity, I will be researching methods in storytelling and using those methods to create a multimedia project on the story of Fort Baker.

    I am extremely excited to be in San Francisco, a beautiful city full of culture but also surrounded by the most wonderful parks and open spaces. And I am doubly excited for my upcoming projects at the Institute!

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  • The Institute at the Golden Gate seeks to support park leaders in effectively stewarding the natural and cultural resources under their care, creating long-term methods for ensuring the sustainability of these important systems. With our increased dependence on technology and the growing distance between youth and our natural areas, parks must examine all of the tools at their disposal—both new and existing—to ensure that they are building authentic, valuable connections with the communities that they seek to serve.

    Looking at this challenge, we have begun to ask: Which tools can parks best utilize in order to create future generations of stewards from an increasingly urban population? Might internships be one such useful tool in achieving this aim?

    Our Emerging Leaders Urban Fellow, Ruth Pimentel, saw that both the Golden Gate National Parks and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore had established internship programs that appeared to be successfully instilling a spirit of stewardship in many of their participants. Wanting to put these observations to the test, Ruth conducted research and collected data on the programs. She found that interns at these parks often go on to be engaged, informed, and active park users – showing that successful internship programs can cultivate future stewardship.

    Firmly supported by the Institute’s belief in the value of studying and promoting such programs, Ruth collected her findings into the Institute’s newest report.

    Building Stewardship through Internships uses these case studies to identify strategies for building a successful internship program and offers a roadmap for other park leaders seeking to strengthen their internships. We are excited to share these findings and encourage you to check out the report!

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  • Last week, during the opening plenary of the City Parks Alliance Greater and Greener Conference in San Francisco, National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis announced the launch of NPS’s Urban Agenda. The Urban Agenda lays out the Park Service’s strategy for increasing their presence and impact in urban areas. Three principles form the heart of the agenda and lay out a new, more sustainable and intentional approach to working in urban areas.

    These three principles are:

    • Be Relevant to All Americans: with the increasingly diverse, urban population of the US, NPS must ensure that it is serving the needs and interests of all communities, irrespective of age, culture, gender, or ethnicity, and with a particular eye to groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in park visitorship
    • Activate “ONE NPS”: NPS has over 400 park units and more than 40 programs; it should work to leverage this full suite of parks and programs to function as a complete, integrated system
    • Nurture a Culture of Collaboration: NPS needs to embrace authentic collaboration and foster strong, sustainable partnerships

    Truly embracing these principles will fundamentally shift the way that NPS approaches and functions in new communities. It will force NPS to break down internal silos and to shift the paradigm from “How can communities serve our parks?” to “How can parks serve our communities?”

    The announcement of the Urban Agenda spurred intense and thoughtful dialogue on the role of NPS in urban areas. It also began the critical discussion on how we activate and implement these principles.

    One key component of this will be the roll out of NPS’s Urban Fellows program. The Fellows are ten mid-career professionals that will be placed into ten model cities across the country. Their mandate will be to demonstrate the principles of the Urban Agenda, capturing best practices and lessons learned and acting as a model and inspiration for NPS parks and programs in other urban centers.

    We at the Institute find this announcement particularly exciting as we have been collaborating closely with NPS’s Stewardship Institute, the Center for Park Management, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation to help roll out this initiative. After months of behind-the-scenes work, the launch of the Agenda and the announcement of the Fellows represent a key milestone in our work to promote parks and public lands as a key player in building sustainable, healthy, equitable urban communities.

    We look forward to continuing to model the “Culture of Collaboration” with our partners within and outside the NPS as we continue to build and support this critical movement!

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  • Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs

    Recent research shows that national park visitors do not accurately reflect the changing face of the American people. While the general population is growing ever more urban and diverse, the range of visitors to the national park has not kept pace. A 2008-2009 survey showed that 13% of the US population identify as Latino and 12% as African American. However those same groups made up only 9% and 7% (respectively) of park visitors.

    In looking to the next generation of park stewards and advocates, this represents a serious concern for the health and future of our national park system. The Institute’s newest report examines one potential solution to this challenge: targeting diverse, urban youth through programming designed by and for the youth themselves.

    Engaging Diverse Youth in Park Programs highlights two such programs that have successfully engaged new audiences in urban areas. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Crissy Field Center is an effective model for reaching more diverse audiences. A youth environmental education and leadership development center, it focuses on “engaging people who traditionally have had little—if any—access to national parks.”

    The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near Los Angeles also has been implementing innovative programming to reach new audiences, including a downtown LA outreach office, targeted transportation support, and a suite of youth programs aimed at diverse students.

    Based on methods and approaches used in these two locations, the Institute at the Golden Gate has identified best practices, devised a roadmap, and created a “how-to” guide for engaging with new audiences and communities. While recognizing that there is no “one size fits all” model, we hope other parks will find these tools useful in their own diversity efforts.

    We would love to hear about your efforts to reach new communities through park programs. If you would like to connect with us about this report or our Urban Program generally, please leave a comment or contact us directly.

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  • The issue of climate change presents unique and oftentimes difficult challenges to those of us working to combat it. Given the controversy and scale of climate change, it’s easy to see that effectively teaching about the topic would present its own set of barriers and challenges. But what exactly are those challenges and barriers in our region? And what are the greatest needs facing environmental educators grappling with climate change in the Bay Area?

    Over the past six months, the Institute has conducted over 75 interviews with environmental educators representing 44 different organizations within the Bay Area to try and answer these questions. The purpose of these interviews was to paint a picture of the current landscape of climate change education in the region, identify common needs and challenges, and explore opportunities to support informal educators in tackling this topic.

    In this effort, we are excited to announce the release of our newest report: Bay Area Climate Change Education Needs Assessment Report.

    This report shows that environmental educators in the region are deeply committed to climate education. Seventy-eight percent of assessment participants reported that they are either currently implementing or are in the process of developing some form of climate programming. However it is interesting to note that these programs ranged from entire outreach initiatives based on climate change to one docent-led hike per year or lecture on the topic.

    At the same time, environmental educators are facing a number of similar challenges to implementing effective, high-impact climate literacy programs. This assessment found that the primary needs and challenges could be broken into the following categories:

    While these challenges may seem daunting, Bay Area educators are also committed to working as a group to address and overcome these barriers. We plan for this report to spark conversation, analysis, and action around how we can work as a community to support each other in addressing this crucial topic. We ask that you read this report with an eye to identifying opportunities and solution, and that you share it with your network of educators, engaging your colleagues in the discussion.

    In this, the Institute is helping to lead this charge and playing a support and coordinator role in the formation of a Bay Area Climate Literacy Collaborative. To join or learn more about this collaborative, please contact us or sign up for our mailing list.

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  • Building Climate Literacy in the Bay Area

    Nearly one year ago, the Institute hosted a multidisciplinary conference that explored cutting edge research and best practice around climate change education and communication. Parks: The New Climate Classroom provided a wide-ranging, high-level discussion on how practitioners can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change.

    Since then, the Institute has been exploring how we can take these lessons and use them to support and elevate place-based, informal climate change education in the Bay Area.

    Our first stop on this journey was assessing the current landscape of informal climate change education in the Bay Area. What climate education programs currently exist? What are the challenges? What are the needs? And is there a role for us to support environmental educators in developing and delivering these programs?

    To find the answer to these questions, we embarked on a formal needs assessment. From June to September, the Institute interviewed over 70 Bay Area environmental educators from over 40 different organizations. These included park and other government agencies, museums, aquariums, place-based and sustainability-focused education organizations, and more.

    While we are still analyzing the results, one outcome was clear: Bay Area environmental educators are passionate about increasing the quantity, quality, and impact of their climate change programs. There is a strong sense of urgency and broad agreement on the importance of addressing this issue. At the same time, many educators are struggling with challenges unique to climate change. How do we discuss climate change in a way that empowers rather than overwhelms our audience? How do we talk about climate change in a way that is age appropriate? How do we inspire our learners to take action and how do we measure those impacts?

    To help environmental educators tackle these and other challenges, the Institute is facilitating the formation of a Bay Area collaborative whose ultimate vision is to build climate literacy and action throughout the Bay Area.

    Bay Area environmental educators meeting at the EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park to discuss their work on climate change

    While we are in the very early stages of our collaborative formation, the Institute has found the level of interest and passion for this initiative to be inspiring. Over the coming months, we will be working with these environmental education organizations to develop a common agenda, collaborative structure, working groups, and shared outcomes.

    It is a very exciting time for this group and we can’t wait to see how it all develops. Watch this space for the results of our needs assessment, due to be completed next month, as well as regular updates on the progress of the Bay Area climate literacy collaborative!

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  • Parks: A Crucial Urban Resource

    Driving through the Presidio, crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, and dropping into Fort Baker every day for work, it’s easy to forget that not all city-dwellers have such easy, regular access to beautiful natural landscapes and open spaces. In the Bay Area, we are fortunate to have a number of strong park agencies collaborating to improve our quality of life and the health of the environment.

    Here at the Institute, we believe that urban parks must play a leading role in ensuring the relevance of open space to an increasingly urban population. Parks face a number of challenges and opportunities in contributing to healthy, sustainable urban communities. How do they effectively serve and attract a diversity of user groups that reflect the communities in which they are based? How do they build life-long stewardship among a generation that is increasingly disconnected from the natural environment?

    The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is considered a leader in terms of establishing a strong connection with the local communities. Ruth Pimentel, our urban fellow, is addressing these issues by examining the success at Golden Gate, comparing it to other similarly effective park programs, and pulling out the key stories, best practices, and themes. Through this research, we hope to build a roadmap that is replicable and scalable in other urban parks.

    This is just the first step in our emerging Urban program and we’re looking forward to continuing to build on our partnership with the National Park Service on this issue locally, regionally, and nationally. We plan to continue asking these questions and pushing urban parks to become leaders in building resilient, healthy, and sustainable cities.

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  • Last November, over 140 professionals representing parks and public lands, education, communication, academia, and advocacy came together  to explore ways that we can engage new audiences and move people to take action on climate change at our Parks: The New Climate Classroom conference.

    With a broad range of experience in the room, the conversation touched on a variety of best practices, case studies, and current research around designing education programs that empower, rather than overwhelm, audiences. Following the conference we heard from many of the participants that while the breadth and depth of the content was thought provoking and inspiring, at times it was also challenging to see the direct link between such a broad range of concepts and the on the ground work of educators and communicators.

    To address this challenge and to make the main concepts from the conference available to all, the Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our latest report Insights for Climate Change Communication & Education. This report captures the main themes, lessons, and resources that emerged from Parks: The New Climate Classroom. We hope that this newest report will be a useful tool for our partners and beyond as they continue to innovate and design effective, impactful climate change communication and education programs.

    We would love to hear your thoughts on this report and encourage you to share your experiences in designing and implementing climate change programs. Have you experimented with any of the practices from the conference? Do you have your own strategies that you would recommend? Feel free to share your thoughts below or contact with us via email, Facebook, or Twitter – use #teachclimate to connect!

    Additionally a big thank you goes from the Institute team to all who participated in Parks: The New Climate Classroom. In particular, we want to recognize Julia Townsend, who not only shared her own experiences with those of us at the conference but who also joined our team to author this report.

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  • Last Thursday, Institute team members joined over 400 participants in attending the 15th  Annual Open Space Conference put on by the Bay Area Space Council at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. This year’s conference theme focused on Welcoming, Interacting, Participating, and looked at how the open space community can expand their reach to include new audiences and open up the conversation about land conservation.

    The day was filled with a variety of speakers, many of which touched on issues that are near and dear to us at the Institute. Elizabeth Babcock from California Academy of Science spoke about exciting new educational collaborations in the Bay Area that are based on the collective impact model. As the Institute has seen the benefits of collective impact first-hand through the Healthy Parks, Healthy People collaborative, we were particularly excited to see it discussed in this venue.

    Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro, stressed that in order to engage new, diverse audiences in conservation, you must take the time to understand the values and barriers to access and engagement of that specific community. To inspire deep connection, conservation professionals need to go to their target communities and take the time to understand to their needs and values. At the Institute, we have seen the importance of meeting people where they are at and try to integrate this ethos throughout our programs. To hear Rue Mapp speak so eloquently about this issue was truly motivating and inspiring.

    And that is just a couple of the phenomenal speakers that filled the day! For a full list of speakers, visit the Open Space Conference Speakers page.

    Additionally, the organizers built in time for participants to interact with each other as well as the surrounding environment through group sessions and a build your own art with nature station. At lunch Institute Senior Fellow Nooshin Razani mingled with the crowd, giving out park prescriptions and making the important connection between human health and time in nature.

    The Institute team would like to give a huge shout out to the Bay Area Open Space Council for organizing such an inspiring, engaging, and thought provoking conference!

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