Listening to Our Grantees to Help Deepen Cultural Connections in Environmental Education

As residents of Northern California, we are fortunate to be surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. From the coast of Half Moon Bay to the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Monterey Bay, we treasure opportunities to be outdoors and enjoy our local natural beauty, with redwood trees and ocean breezes that inspire us and rejuvenate our spirits.

Yet research shows us that youth from the underserved parts of our local communities participate in outdoor and environmental education programs at far lower rates than their peers. Whether it is lack of transportation, feeling unwelcome, or not finding relevant programming, the barriers for these youth are varied and complex. As a result, while many of these youth live very close to the ocean, they have never seen it.

As part of our Local Grantmaking Program at the Packard Foundation, we partner with environmental education organizations focused on connecting youth to nature. Our partner organizations told us that they wanted to make sure that these connections were authentic and culturally relevant to the communities they serve.

Our colleagues at the Morgan Family Foundation were also eager to join in these conversations and find ways to collaborate with our partners to tackle these complicated issues. A dynamic organization called Youth Outside quickly emerged as an ideal partner. Youth Outside uses a high-impact curriculum to train organizations on social and environmental justice, with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Youth Outside created the Cultural Relevancy Series, a seven-month initiative that brought together grantees of the Packard Foundation and the Morgan Family Foundation to learn how to provide programming rooted in equity, inclusion, and humility. The program offered a variety of tools and other supports to help these organizations have more authentic and meaningful engagements with communities from various cultures and backgrounds.

At the center of the process was cultivating a deep understanding of cultural relevancy and how it is uniquely applied to environmental education. That is, effectively reaching and engaging communities and their youth in a manner that is consistent with the cultural context and values of that community, while simultaneously addressing areas for improving diversity and inclusion within an organization.

We are pleased to share with you Deepening Commitments: Working Toward Equity and Inclusion When Connecting Youth to the Outdoors, a case study about what we have learned. Our grantees say that this series has made a real difference in how they approach their work. We also believe that this could be a model for how other foundations can support their grantees in learning about culturally relevant programming, equity, and inclusion.

We know that it is our local diversity, cultural vitality, and spirit that makes our community a successful, prosperous, and vibrant region for everyone who lives here. This project has given us another important tool to connect more deeply and meaningfully with our grantees and the people they serve.