05 November 2021

Connecting with Purpose

Written by: XImena Diaz Velasco

In late October, I had the privilege of being a part of the Emerging Leaders Program at the SHIFT conference in Grand Junction Colorado. I was recognized as a young professional that identifies the environment as a social determinant of health. The conference and leadership program brought so much meaningful connection to a lot of my fellowship work, including Executive Orders that deal with reducing barriers to access public spaces. 

My favorite thing about the conference by far was the keynote speaker, Melody Mobley. This trailblazing woman was the first Black forester in the Forest Service. She gave a compelling account of her journey through her career, recounting the many challenges that were continuously thrown at her. She also discussed the importance of exposing kids and community members to nature as we seek justice in our communities. It was incredibly inspiring to me to see her speak with such conviction about a topic that I feel so passionate about as well. 

The connection between participants was another one of my favorite parts. This was my first time in an in person professional event since the pandemic began. It was refreshing to connect with people in a much more organic way than muting and unmuting oneself on zoom. I was able to make connections with a public health professor from a university in Texas, a landscape architect that created programming for public spaces in Chicago, and countless other individuals that had different perspectives from my own. 

I had a particularly fun time engaging with the other seven individuals in the Emerging Leaders Program. They, like me, were also starting their careers in this interdisciplinary space of human well being, recreation, and conservation. While most of us only met through zoom, we created connections by talking about our work, personal influences, and future goals. 

Being in Grand Junction also provided a lot of connection to our natural world. I had the opportunity to visit the Colorado National Monument and participate in a six mile hike. Not only was the hike therapeutic, but it also provided more context to the work my office does. I was able to learn about native plants and animals, while learning more about land management and national agencies. 

If any future fellow is reading this post, I recommend you take part in this conference in future years! 

Until next time, 


Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Washington Office Region 1

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Hispanic Access Foundation connects Latinos and others with partners and opportunities to improve lives and create an equitable society.

Phone: (202) 640-4342

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