Jean Bartholomew

Jean Bartholomew, second from left, leads a community hike with Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Featured Earthsaver, SCA Alumni Council

At age 16, Jean Bartholomew (above, 2nd from left) joined a SCA national crew for a trail project located 15 miles deep into the Yellowstone backcountry and she’s been a true believer in the transformative power of the great outdoors ever since. She stayed connected with SCA throughout her time at the University of Pittsburgh, and following a brief stint in a cubicle she decided to pursue a career that embraced her love of the outdoors. She now works in San Francisco as an educator at the Crissy Field Center for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

With her dedication to changing lives through service to nature, and her commitment to addressing environmental justice issues that disproportionally affect historically disenfranchised communities, Jean is the type of leader America needs now more than ever.

What motivates you to take action that serves your planet, your country, your community?

In my career, I seek to combine my passion in social justice and environmental conservation. I firmly believe in intersectionality and that the conservation movement must recognize and address the environmental justice issues that disproportionately affect people of color and traditionally disenfranchised communities.

My experiences in the outdoors as a youth fostered in me a true love of the outdoors. I want others to have the opportunities I had in the most welcoming and inclusive environment possible.

What are some of the positive impacts of the work you’re doing now?

Through my work at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy I team up with the Park Service to outreach with community groups and the San Francisco Public Library to provide free transportation to underserved communities in the Bay Area. With our summer partnership with the libraries we provided transportation and programming to almost 600 people, most of whom had never visited the parks before.

I love to speak with participants and learn about what motivated them to join the trips. People join for such a wide variety of reasons, like seniors who don’t drive, a woman who has lived in San Francisco for 40 years but never had an opportunity to visit the Marin Headlands, a young family who takes the bus to meet us at each branch library every week to hear our famed storytelling park rangers. Then there are people who come on their own for the comaraderie and to rejuvenate their mental and physical health. I love that as participants discover their local national parks they also find a sense of community.

What was the positive impact of the work you did with SCA?

I changed lives through service to nature! I helped youth develop a conservation ethic, leadership skills, a sense of independence as well as the importance of interdependence. It makes me proud to see the young adults from my first crew now at 21 and 22 years old working for the environment and global justice. 

Why is it important to gain hands on leadership experience early on?

My SCA experience at 16 was incredibly transformative –- I gained self-confidence in my physical strength and independence and felt like an important member of the community. The leadership experience I gained helped me enter college more mature and prepared for new responsibilities. I was ready to be an active citizen and civically engaged in my broader community.

Jean leads a community environmental education workshop.

How did the experience of serving with SCA help you grow and transform?

I have had many transformative experiences with SCA. My experiences as a national and leader crew leader in 2012-2014 helped me gain skills serving people of different backgrounds and abilities. I learned to be flexible and cool under logistical challenges and to be able to appropriately change plans to meet the needs of participants.

On leader crews, I was able to learn to live out my conservation ideals day to day. Peer leaders taught me to bring my own tupperware for leftovers in restaurants, to always carry a water bottle, and so on.

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever experienced in the great outdoors?

I would have to say swimming with sea turtles with my crew members in Virgin Islands NP. The students on my crew were all from the Virgin Islands but most had never swum with sea turtles before. That crew was so wonderful as we truly taught each other. The students taught me about their culture. They showed me edible native plants and even how to bring tarantulas out of their holes!

What’s your favorite park or other outdoor space?

My favorite place to be is deep in the backcountry of Yellowstone. It’s where I am my happiest and truest self. When I’m deep into the wilderness I’m reminded that I can carry everything I need and be self-reliant and also a part of a team.

What’s your next Earthsaving goal?

My next Earthsaving goal is to continue to improve on integrating social justice into my work. In my everyday work, I want to actively engage with people on how we can improve accessibility and inclusion for everyone.