WISCONSIN – In 2018, USDA Forest Service partnered with Hispanic Access Foundation to create a program called Forest Service Hispanic Access Resource Assistant Fellowship (RA Fellowship). This program was designed for Latino and Latina youth to gain hands-on skills, training, and experience in natural resource conservation careers. Selected candidates were introduced to various tasks and projects within the Forest Service, such as conservation education, resource interpretation, communication strategies, and rehabilitation activities through their assignments. Participants also received specialized training, mentoring and ongoing support from HAF to effectively carry out their assignments. These RA Fellows gained an understanding of professional opportunities in natural and cultural resources while honing the skills and experience required for success in these careers – all resulting in a more diverse workforce of conservationists.
“My time as a resource assistant allowed to me learn and grow as a professional, community member, and enthusiast of the great American landscape,” said Resource Assistant Fellow Francisco Hernandez-Flores from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Francisco Hernandez-Flores was one of twelve youth selected across the United States to work in this new program. His passion for the outdoors began with a middle school-sponsored camping trip to northern Wisconsin. After that trip, he realized that there are “many with my background that will never have the same opportunity. That is one of the reasons that I was excited to work with the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Forest Service, to bring the great outdoors to communities who have generally been excluded from those spaces.”
Throughout his education, his work with the outdoors and nature continued as he worked with local nature centers in Milwaukee. Now studying history and secondary education at Marquette University, Hernandez-Flores saw this RA Fellowship as a perfect opportunity to grow professionally while giving back to his Hispanic culture and community and sharing his passion for the outdoors with others. Through the HAF, Hernandez-Flores joined the Urban Connections team at the Forest Service – Eastern Regional Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After getting acclimated to the Forest Service, he was able to “dive into my work with the Latino community.” He worked closely with organizations that he has grown to respect and admire, such as the Urban Ecology Center and United Community Center. Through these partnerships, he was able to create opportunities for Hispanic youth to experience outdoor recreation and conservation messages. “We took children out hiking, biking, canoeing, and rock climbing, many of which were ‘foreign’ activities.”
“My biggest takeaway…is simply knowing that the Forest Service in Milwaukee is working toward connecting the Latino community to the outdoors. It is a message that I can take with me wherever I go, wherever my professional career path takes me. All I can hope is that the Forest Service continues to work toward that goal, not only in Milwaukee but around the nation.”
For more information about RA Fellowship and positions that are currently available, visit https://www.hispanicaccess.org/our-projects/us-forest-service.