Home Outdoor education Going out is not the refuge it seems for some marginalized young people

Going out is not the refuge it seems for some marginalized young people

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Going out can mean different things to different people. Raised in a family of nature lovers, Selena Lopez-Ortiz found this to be true within her own home. His parents grew up farming the farmlands of their ranching community in Mexico, descending from families that Lopez-Ortiz describes as being “rooted in nature” for generations. Her father took care to pass that legacy on to Lopez-Ortiz and her sisters.

“He was always the one who exposed us to nature — going fishing, riding horses and all that,” she says. “He was a big fan of being outdoors, and that’s part of what made me fall in love with nature.”

Now in Gustine, Calif., the family is forging different paths outdoors. In high school, the sisters began considering summer programs with Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC), a nonprofit organization that makes outdoor education accessible to students by offering affordable, fully equipped in the Sierra Nevada. Their parents supported this interest but had little time for outdoor recreation. Lopez-Ortiz says it was because her parents spent their time working outdoors. “My father worked every day, without breaks except twice a month.”

Lopez-Ortiz’s mother worked in a nearby sweet potato field and her father irrigated surrounding farms. Combined with the sisters’ evolving interests in the natural world, this meant that the family tradition of engaging with the outdoors continued in multiple forms under the same roof.

Gustine may seem externally connected in a simple way. The city is surrounded by fields and orchards and is less than an hour’s drive from five state parks. An additional two hours’ drive can take you to Big Sur, Yosemite, or the beaches of the Pacific Coast Highway. Based solely on map images, Gustine would seem centered on a constellation of iconic outdoor destinations, all of which live in our cultural imagination as places to go when we want to relax, explore, and #getoutthere. However, many of its neighboring fields and orchards are privately owned and maintained by farm laborers living nearby. This means that Gustine’s closest access points outdoors are often workplaces.

Alexis Angulo, a former Gustine CRA who now sits on the organization’s Young Professionals Council, says the economic realities of the region may outweigh the apparent simplicity of the map. Like Lopez-Ortiz, Angulo and her family lived next to parks and coastlines while rarely interacting with them.

“Before coming to the ARC…I had never hiked, I had never climbed. These experiences were alien to me, says Angulo. “Part of the reason why these experiences [were] so foreign is that they are so expensive to continue. You need a lot of expensive equipment, and it’s not affordable. Even going to a park and paying a $30 entry fee – for someone on a low income, that was not feasible.

Jesus Alejandre leads ARC’s youth programs in the Central Valley and believes there are a few key elements that can shape a community’s relationship to its landscape. As a local leader in Gustine who graduated from the ARC high school program, he has personal knowledge of the context of his work.