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Opening the outdoors

Posted: August 30th, 2013 | Communities, Featured, From the Cover, Golden Hill, News | No Comments

Uptown resident uses conservation fellowship to improve our way of life

By Dave Schwab | SDUN Reporter

Golden Hill resident Marisa Quiroz, manager of The San Diego Foundation’s Environment Program, was one of 19 individuals selected nationwide for the prestigious summer fellowship 2042 Today: Young Leaders Re-Imagining Conservation.

Aimed at engaging the next generation of conservation leaders, the fellowship supports their efforts to make nature accessible and relevant to every generation, a press release stated announcing the honor.

Quiroz’s fellowship will help The San Diego Foundation, a regional nonprofit promoting charitable giving that has granted more than $827 million, to achieve the goals of its Parks for Everyone initiative. The initiative ensures there is enough green space for all San Diegans.

Marisa Quiroz (Courtesy Beck Ellman Heald)

Marisa Quiroz (Courtesy Beck Ellman Heald)

A committed conservationist, Quiroz, who described herself as a “stilt-walking environmentalist and Latina philanthropist,” said the fellowship brought her a lot of knowledge and presented many future opportunities.

“The seven-day fellowship brought together 20 emerging leaders in conservation to the Center for Whole Communities’ farm in the Mad River Valley of Vermont – a beautiful lush landscape where visitors can connect with nature and be outside,” Quiroz said. “During my time there, I slept in a yurt. I zip-lined into ponds and followed fireflies into the forest during night hikes. I also worked and did a lot of strategic thinking.”

Quiroz said the fellowship selects participants through a nomination process, which is then reviewed by staff and a panel of stakeholders involved in the Center for Whole Communities. She said the Center’s Knoll Farm grows blueberries and raises Icelandic sheep in Vermont’s climate, which is perfect for both activities.

Born out of a partnership with the Center for Diversity and the Environment and Center for Whole Communities, the 2042 fellowship’s numerical name – marking the year 2042 – was not randomly chosen.

“More and more conservationists are thinking about the exciting significance of 2042, the date one generation out when demographers predict that every metropolitan statistical area will be predominantly non-white,” the Center for Whole Communities website states. “But few efforts are in place today to equip conservation leaders with the leadership skills to engage differences of all kinds.”

The Center’s website goes on to say that innovative leadership with today’s conservationists is developed in several ways: through historical context, engaging in collaborations and understanding shared successes.

Quiroz directs The San Diego Foundation’s Malin Burnham San Diego Center for Civic Engagement’s Opening the Outdoors initiative. She talked about its purpose.

“Opening the Outdoors is a new initiative of The San Diego Foundation’s Center for Civic Engagement whose focus is making sure that everyone has access to the outdoors – what we all love about living here,” she said.

In the initiative’s first year, Quiroz said participants will collaborate with partners to advance the completion of the San Diego River Park.

“We will also work to get kids out into nature,” she said. “The San Diego region has a long history of connecting and protecting the outdoors. The opening of the outdoors initiative will build upon that history and work to increase access to trails, parks and open space.”

Quiroz said there are other, smaller projects happening in the region as well, including the Border Gateway to Nature program at Border Field State Park near the United States-Mexico border.

“Together with our partners at the Tijuana Estuary and 4Walls International, we are improving the entrance to increase public access and enhance visitor experience,” Quiroz said. “Here’s the thing: we are using repurposed trash from the Tijuana River to demonstrate our shared watershed and build public awareness around the shared trash and sediment issues. It’s a fascinating space that most San Diegans don’t venture out to see.”

Quiroz said she believes having participated in the 2042 fellowship program is going to help her in both the short and long term.

“My work at The San Diego Foundation has exposed me to the incredible amount of dedicated people working on all kinds of interesting things,” she said. “It was natural for me to begin volunteering in our bi-national region. Not only is it a way to connect and learn, it’s a way to contribute. And since I can’t imagine a world where we don’t help one another I seek meaning through serving.”

Commitment to public service is something that is intuitive and transferable in everyone, she said, calling all individuals “hard wired” for caring about the environment and each other.

“Instead of teaching people to be philanthropists or environmentalists, ask them instead to show you how they already are,” she said. “This is what I aim to do.”

For more information visit sdfoundation.org or call 619-235-2300.

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