Connecting to Nature with SCA Alum Luis Cabrales

SCA Alum Luis and Crew outside with planters
To celebrate #LatinoConservationWeek, meet SCA Alum Luis Cabrales! Luis (pictured above on the bottom right) is a Natural Areas Worker at the Chicago Park District and is also an Environmental Organizer for the Southeast Youth Alliance.
 
SCA: What is your first memory of nature/spending time outdoors or do you have a specific memory?
 
Luis: I was first connected to nature starting at a really young age, and my relationship with plants stands out the most. Growing up, I had a vegetable garden. This allowed me to spend time outdoors, get into the dirt, and really work with plants right in my own backyard.
 
SCA: How did you get your start in conservation? 
 
Luis: As a junior in high school, I was taking environmental science classes. Out of the many different environmental topics, climate change, ecology, and restoration ecology were of great interest to me. I also had the opportunity to work on my first crew with the SCA during the summer of 2015. Along with pursuing my Bachelor of Science degree in Integrated Health Sciences, all of this inspired me to connect to nature and help the environment.
 
SCA: When did you serve with SCA and what was your favorite part about your role? 
 
Luis: I first served with SCA as part of the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps during the summer of 2015, which is when my passion for conservation began to develop. I was an Assistant Crew Leader during the summer of 2017, focusing on plant ID and giving the crew the best experience possible. All throughout 2019, I worked on a tree planting crew on the Southside of Chicago all the while developing my passion for conservation towards community organizing. 
 
Luis planting a tree
 
Crew experiences with SCA helped me develop a passion for social and environmental justice. In addition, I started getting involved with constructing a community garden and really learned about EJ issues in my neighborhood. To me, connecting to nature is a powerful form of advocacy. Working on SCA crews gave me a stepping stone to share my experience of nature with others and eventually organize community events around environmental issues.
 
SCA: What are some ways you think the outdoors can be made more inclusive for Latinx and BIPOC youth?
 
Luis: Being Latinx, the relationship with and access to nature is different. Paying young people a decent wage is a large factor in how we can make the outdoors more inclusive. Programs like the ones through SCA are a good introduction into the environmental field for younger kids. 
 
Luis holding a turtle
 
It’s also essential to be intentional about environmental education days and who you connect with. Promoting decolonization and understanding native culture and history are some of the keys to making the outdoors more inclusive. But most importantly, it’s about meeting people where they are at. Not everyone wants to be a crew leader or feels comfortable assuming leadership roles. By providing more options to serve and eliminating things like age restrictions, the outdoors will be easier for Latinx and BIPOC youth to experience.