Connecting youth in the community to the outdoors

LAS CRUCES – Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is a non-profit organization working to protect and restore public lands through advocacy and building an engaged and diverse public land community. Our work ensures resource protection and responsible access regardless of wealth, privilege or social status. Through grassroots organizing and continued advocacy, we were able to protect 500,000 acres of land with a National Monument designation. While our organization greatly appreciates the National Monument designation in 2014, we understand that much work remains to ensure that all members of our community have the opportunity and comfort to access these lands.

Much of our programming work is done through our Moving Montañas youth program. Our Moving Montañas program aims to connect youth in the community to the outdoors to amplify the importance of protecting our environment. Our organization understands that public lands are for everyone, but that does not mean that everyone has the opportunity to use them for recreational or educational purposes. With hard work and intention, this program also targets children who have fewer opportunities to explore public lands. The goal of this program is to train the next generation of stewards of public lands. However, we recognize that there are other positive results from our Moving Montañas program. For example, we know that time spent outdoors has a positive impact on mental and physical health. Our public lands are also a great tool for education: the lands around our community tell a range of stories, from history to geology.

Friends of the OMDP continues to work to improve and expand this program so that all members of our community have the same opportunities to experience the outdoors. We remain committed to this program and its continued success and growth. We engage our participants through guided hikes, summer camps, camping trips and other educational enrichment activities.

Friends of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks is a non-profit organization that works to protect and restore public lands through advocacy and building an engaged and diverse public land community.

Moving Montañas is also driven in large part by our extensive network of partners. These relationships help us identify members of our community who could benefit from our programming. We built and maintained these relationships before the public health crisis and we have maintained them throughout it as well. Along with our preparatory work, these partnerships position us to continue to bring more youth from our community to our public lands. Our partner network includes many other community organizations such as Las Cruces Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Club, Community Schools, Office of Land Management, and SUCCESS Partnership.

The SUCCESS partnership aims to provide better educational opportunities for new Mexicans, regardless of background or privilege. We both serve communities in Doña Ana County, which is one of the poorest counties in New Mexico. Our county has a child poverty rate of 39%, which is much higher than the statewide rate of 27%.

We consider ourselves fortunate to collaborate to provide better opportunities for New Mexicans who do not have the opportunity to receive a quality education and who do not have the opportunity to experience the outdoors recreationally. Through our collaboration with the SUCCESS Partnership, we connect youth to our public lands and include the whole family in the outdoor experience. This is important to us as an organization because we are able to create lasting memories while building an appreciation for the land. We host monthly events such as family hikes, family camps, and even overnight campsites through our connection to the SUCCESS Partnership 21st Century Family Engagement Program. Many families may not have the resources or comfort to do these activities independently. Yet we can build their skill level and comfort in the hope that they continue to enjoy our public lands.

Jessica Gomez is the Community Engagement Coordinator for Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. Kyla Navarro is Policy and Community Engagement Coordinator for Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks.

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