When I am in the wilderness, I feel alive. I revel in the simultaneity of being active and empowered yet inevitably vulnerable to the elements. I believe this is what it means to be human. I chose to pursue a career in advocacy because I understand what it is like to feel alone and powerless, and I want to help people discover their own agency and dignity in the way that others have helped me. Through my early life, my family struggled with poverty, substance abuse, depression and homelessness. I spent much of my youth interacting with social workers, service providers and court-appointed counselors. But after being the first person in my family to graduate from high school, I found myself on a different path.
In 2008, I was hired as a homeless advocate at a nonprofit men’s shelter that was founded by a woman who became my mentor. She taught me that advocacy is not about ‘fixing’ someone else’s life, but about encouraging people to test their own strengths and abilities while offering unconditional support and forgiveness. I also came to see that my experiences as a youth provided me with an innate sense of empathy for the people who I was now in a position to serve. I realized that the people at the shelter could easily have been me or any of my family members. I adopted an ethic of treating every person with the dignity and respect that I would have wanted my loved ones and I to receive. The lessons I learned in this experience have shaped my character and my future. When I say I ‘found’ myself on a different path at the shelter, I mean that I literally found my new purpose in life. I now know that I have the capacity to pay forward the generosity and empowerment that my mentor afforded me.
I moved to Washington in 2012 with my partner John. We fell in love in the mountains of Northern Arizona and we’ve been blazing new trails ever since. I’d never intended to leave my hometown of Flagstaff, but following the guidance of my mentor, I stepped outside my comfort zone and into the unknown. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had the opportunity to attend the University of Washington Bothell from which I recently attained my Bachelor’s in Society, Ethics and Human Behavior. This interdisciplinary degree has provided me with the vocabulary and the theoretical foundation to understand interlocking forms of social, economic and political oppression. This educational framework has fueled my passion to pursue social justice through grassroots organizing and community-based activism.
Through this internship with the In My Backyard program, I hope to be able to integrate my education, professional experience and personal background to empower young people become stewards of their own futures. Whether in National Parks or in their own communities, I believe that with the appropriate support and guidance, youth have the capacity to balance their power and vulnerability as they discover what makes them feel alive. I believe that our role as interns is to facilitate a dialogue between the National Parks Service and underserved youth. This conversation will be the basis for lasting relationship built on reciprocity and collective action. It is my goal to develop a method for allowing the NPS and Seattle youth to engage in this dialogue in a way that is productive, dignified and intentional. I am excited about the prospects and looking forward to continuing the conversation!