A Naturalist points out a bird to 3 community members who are viewing it with binoculars

Cultivating Community and Environmental Stewardship at Seward Park

On Saturday, July 23rd, ECOSS led a nature walk and habitat restoration event for BIPOC communities in collaboration with Mountains to Sound Greenway, Green Seattle Partnership, and the Audubon Center at Seward Park. BIPOC and low-income communities have historically experienced inequality in access to outdoor parks and environmental stewardship programs. This event served as an opportunity for these communities to come together and enjoy a morning of caring for the forest and learning about one of their local parks.

GSP has been funding ECOSS since last year to provide opportunities for more BIPOC and low-income community members to engage in environmental stewardship programs. This year Greenway Trust helped ECOSS secure additional funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Grant to supplement outreach/recruitment efforts. Outreach and recruitment are unique at ECOSS since the staff speaks the community’s languages and they reach out to the community where they are. This personalized and intentional method of outreach builds authentic relationships between organizations and communities.

Our community outreach and recruitment take a lot of effort and the success of this program depends on the partnership we build and the relationship we have with the community.

Allan Kafley, Multicultural Outreach Manager

Community members started off the morning by sharing their thoughts on how they would like to engage with forests/trees in the future and expressed a strong interest in future planting events and nature walks. 

Responses indicate a strong interest in future nature walks and planting/restoration events.

The Lead Naturalist at the Seward Park Audubon Center, Ed Dominguez, led a nature walk for the volunteers that included a lesson on how to use binoculars, and information about the various trees and birds that call the park home. Along the way, the group learned about Douglas fir trees and saw a juvenile hawk and a large bald eagle nest with their binoculars.

A Naturalist points out a bird to 3 community members who are viewing it with binoculars

Afterward, the community members helped to remove Himalayan Blackberry plants, an invasive species, from an ECOSS adopted site in the park. They learned about the tools and techniques to safely remove this plant since it is covered in thorns and has a large bulb-like structure that needed to be dug out. Removal of these plants will make way for the planting of native brush and trees at a future event in the fall. Providing tools, knowledge, and meeting these communities where they were by having 6 language interpreters available at the program paved the way for a fun and successful event that will have a lasting impact.

We are involved with a lot of families in a big group so it’s been really fun, I love it! I was hoping to plant today too, but [ECOSS] said that’s going to happen in the fall so I’m very excited to come back.

– Latinx community member 

ECOSS, Mountains to Sound Greenway, and Green Seattle Partnership also provided lunch, Visa gift cards, beanies, native wildflower seed packets, and raffled outdoor gear to participants to encourage them to pursue outdoor activities and environmental stewardship in the future. 

Save the Date for ECOSS’ 2022 Fall Fundraiser!

Mark your calendar for the ECOSS Community Happy Hour! ECOSS is hosting its annual fundraiser at Jellyfish Brewing Co. on September 15. Come learn about plans for the organization’s future in promoting environmental equity, meet our new Executive Director, Chiyo Crawford, and connect with community members. There will be food, drinks, entertainment, and much more! 

The standard ticket price for our event is $35 per person. We believe that cost should not be a barrier to celebrating with the ECOSS community. Thus, we are offering discounted tickets at $15. We encourage those who can pay more to purchase a $55 ticket to supplement the cost of someone else’s ticket.

COVID Precautions

We take the safety of our guests and staff seriously. As the event approaches, we will share more information about our guidelines for COVID-19 precautions at this event.

ECOSS welcomes Dr. Chiyo Crawford as our new Executive Director 

Chiyo standing in front of a wall of plants

We are excited to introduce Dr. Chiyo Crawford as ECOSS’s next Executive Director! 

Chiyo is a holistic and relational leader who has dedicated her career to advancing racial and environmental justice. She brings depth of knowledge and experience in anti-oppression work. Most recently, Chiyo served as Associate Director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, where she provided strategic leadership in all aspects of the nonprofit, including strategic planning, operations, fundraising, financial management, and more. Before that, she was Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Hobart & William Smith Colleges focusing her research and teaching on environmental justice. She holds a Ph.D. from Tufts University and B.A. from the University of Washington.

Complementing her professional experience, ECOSS staff and board are impressed by her thoughtful leadership style and focus on building relations within ECOSS as well as externally with partners and the larger community.

“The Board is elated that Dr. Crawford will be the new executive director. We honor her experience as an educator, a leader, and an administrator. We have every confidence in her ability to lead ECOSS with vision and compassion.”

Tisha Pagalilauan, ECOSS’ Board President

A second-generation immigrant herself, Chiyo understands not only the inequities that immigrants and refugees face, but also the potential for ECOSS to empower immigrant and Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color in self-actualizing sustainable solutions. 

“As I engaged with ECOSS staff, I heard them talk passionately about working with community members furthest from environmental justice to promote community stewardship and equitable access to green spaces. I also heard them describe their colleagues as ‘loving and compassionate’ and ECOSS as a ‘healing’ place to work. The commitment of ECOSS staff to the mission and to each other really moved me. I am honored to be entrusted with leading this amazing organization. I look forward to working with you all to center the experiences of frontline communities, deepen ECOSS’s impact, and collectively achieve positive social and environmental change.”

Chiyo Crawford

ECOSS is a leader in providing environmental resources, education and technical assistance that meets people where they are. From rain gardens to outdoor recreation access to waste reduction education, ECOSS empowers thousands of business owners and residents throughout the Puget Sound region to be environmentally sustainable every year. We center language, culture, and individuals’ experiences in business settings, multi-family apartments, community spaces and more. 

Chiyo brings the same community-centric values and warm approach that is the heart of ECOSS’ success. Her lived and learned experiences with the barriers immigrants and refugees face and her knowledge of environmental justice will take ECOSS to the next level.  

We are thrilled to have Chiyo join the ECOSS family. 

Authentic engagement accelerates progress for equitable parks access

Interest in outdoor recreation has increased dramatically in the last couple of years, but access to green spaces remains inequitable across King County due to factors such as language barriers, proximity to outdoor spaces, culturally-relevant programming and more.

ECOSS has helped bring community voices to outdoors initiatives through outreach around King County’s Trailhead Direct service and leading hiking trips that are inclusive of immigrant and refugee communities. In 2021, King County Parks, The Wilderness Society and ECOSS took that collaboration to new heights.

ECOSS helped multi-generational families access green space by leading hikes via King County’s Trailhead Direct service. Photo credit: ECOSS.

Centering and empowering community voices

Building on the successes of gathering feedback during Trailhead Direct hikes, the team set out to conduct a community needs assessment dedicated to centering underrepresented voices around the challenges of accessing parks and green spaces. To do so, the three organizations connected with additional community-based organizations and groups to co-create surveys and discussion sessions (termed “Roundtables”) that were culturally-relevant and tailored to different communities. Ultimately, the core team invited an additional 11 community-based organizations that served Black, Latinx, Asian, Muslim, youth, disabled, immigrant and refugee populations.

“We’d like to see the county treating transit safety and greenspace access as interconnected issues intersecting with environmental issues, racial justice, etc. It seems like different issues are addressed in a silo, one by one.” 

—Young Women Empowered roundtable

Community recommendations highlight growth opportunities

From the surveys and roundtable discussions, five key themes arose. Chief among them was how safety concerns using public transit and being within parks discouraged communities’ access to green spaces.

In addition, participants highlighted education & outreach, infrastructure improvements, better representation & inclusion, and continued engagement & accountability from government decisionmakers.

“Better access for disabled people. In other parks outside of Seattle, there are swings that can be used by people and kids with wheelchairs Machines to work out by yourself in the park. Swings for moms that can be used with their babies.”

—ECOSS Spanish speakers roundtable

Authentic partnership was key to the success of this project. From planning to execution to reporting, the team engaged partners to understand how to tailor surveys and provide support for partners to lead roundtables that would center the partners’ communities. Community partners were provided flexibility in how deeply they engaged, and were financially compensated accordingly. Transparency and collaboration built trust with community partners. And these relations will promote the sustainability of the partnerships.

Continuing the community engagement

King County Parks, The Wilderness Society, and ECOSS are engaging various local and regional agencies to discuss how we keep the momentum and bring the community recommendations to life. Additionally, this project highlights the value of We look forward to deeper engagement with community-based groups and more opportunities to fund their work!

Learn more and download the report from ECOSS’ partner, The Wilderness Society:

GiveBIG to environmental equity and justice

May 3-4 is GiveBIG and this year, we are excited to share the opportunity to double your impact. Thanks to the Washington Hydrological Society, your donation through May 4 will be matched, up to $3,000!

Support ECOSS in bridging language, cultural and technical gaps with businesses and frontline communities that are caring for the environment.

Read about ECOSS’ impact on clean water, clean energy, waste reduction and green space access to learn about how your gift benefits small businesses and immigrant/refugee communities!

ECOSS’ 2021 Year in Review

Due to the pandemic, several projects were put on hold in 2020. Nevertheless, ECOSS persevered and continued to serve diverse communities and small businesses. 2021 was a year of growth for ECOSS, with greater female representation in management and promotions of people of color into senior leadership positions. And as public health restrictions loosened, ECOSS’ trusted approach of in-person outreach returned. ECOSS programming served 429 community members and 422 businesses in 2021! Check out the summary of the year in this printable summary sheet.

And take a deeper look at the year’s highlights below:

Stay up to date with ECOSS’ accomplishments by signing up for our newsletter and following ECOSS on Instagram and Facebook.

You can also support ECOSS and the environmental equity work we do by donating.

Celebrating ECOSS’ Women

Before March comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the amazing women at ECOSS in honor of Women’s History Month. Since the start of 2021, the number of women on staff has doubled from six to the 12 women you see here today! All of these lovely ladies have played a major role in helping ECOSS shine and their efforts will continue to be celebrated all year round.

Learn more about them and their work through the links below:

Meet Hawa: Budding environmental steward

Hawa (middle) getting her hands dirty with planting native shrubs. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

ECOSS has seen many new faces recently. It is always exciting to welcome more passionate voices to the ECOSS family. We were able to connect with one of our newest Multicultural Outreach Coordinators, Hawa Abdullahi, to see how things are going. Hawa is part of the East African community in the greater Seattle area and came to ECOSS after graduating from the University of Washington. She speaks four languages (Oromo, Amharic, Kiswahili, English) and does outreach with the East African and Muslim communities. Here’s some of her thoughts on starting at ECOSS:

How has your first several months at ECOSS been?

I started working at ECOSS September 1st of 2021. After going through the interview and doing research on the organization I felt that I would be able to have a meaningful contribution to my community through the organization. I was really scared when I started because of I came with little to no knowledge regarding environmental health topics. Topic such as food waste laws, rain wise (specifically rain gardens), and electrification of transportation started to intrigued me. They were topics in which the East African community of south Seattle barely had interacted with. The lack of connection in the past with the community, and my lack of background knowledge made it difficult to convey the message at times. It felt like I was reading a script rather than sharing a resource or a passion. As work started to feel heavy in the first two month, I got introduced to stewardship by one of the project manager who wanted to involve East African is restoration work and other opportunities.

How did you develop your interest in environmental stewardship?

The first time I did a stewardship activity was to introduce community members to the Green Job Coalition. A program in collaboration with The Port of Seattle and DIRT Corp. I invited about 5 community member, 2 of them loved restoration work and 3 that never tried it. We spent the day by the lower Duwamish river (by Boeing) learning about the native animals that have returned due to the ongoing efforts of the restoration workers and how our planting for that day was going to affect the land erosion amongst other things.  I knew at that moment that I fell in love with restoration work and work that involved environmental stewardship.

What is/was your role in the Green Jobs Coalition work?

In green Job coalition my main focus was learning. It was almost like a training for me because ECOSS wanted to lead similar programs in the future and unfortunately it was not something they were fully equipped in. I did the hands on training lead by George from The Port of Seattle and Andrew from DIRT Corp. I did have two extra things besides learning which was being the unofficial photographer/videographer of the group and writing a report at the end of every week explaining what we did for the day.

Hawa brought in East African community members to ECOSS’ stewardship event at Seward Park. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

What is your favorite part about working on environmental stewardship?

My favorite part of working on environmental stewardship is getting on my knees and using my hands. I guess that is specifically focusing on restoration work. There is something about a physical change you create that will have a bigger impact for the community you live in and the earth that supports your existence.

Favorite thing you’ve learned (e.g. about yourself, our work, the environment, etc.)?

A favorite thing I learned is that creating small changes will have widespread impact. And that it is important to care for and understand a message you are conveying.

Thanks Hawa for taking the time to share how you’ve been enjoying your work with ECOSS!

Targeted Universalism: How does it promote equitable outreach and solutions?

Compared to many American cities, Seattle has a fairly robust recycling and composting system. The City of Seattle also provides resources to educate residents and businesses. In addition to physical fliers, there is an online search tool.

ECOSS often visits Seattle’s Chinatown-International District to work with the restaurants there, many of which are owned by immigrants and refugees. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

However, with a robust system comes constantly changing rules, such as regulations around plastic bags, Styrofoam, takeout containers and more. For small businesses, especially when the owner or staff don’t speak English as a first language, it can be challenging to stay up to date with all the changes. ECOSS helps residents and small businesses adapt to these changes, and advocates for racial equity, such as language access and culturally-relevant education. Yet, it’s difficult for these suggestions to change government policies systemically.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is ECOSS’ main client for solid waste management outreach, and they are stepping up when it comes to equitable engagement. By law, SPU can demand fines be paid for businesses that aren’t in compliance with recycling/composting regulations. However, this would inequitably harm business owners of color, many of whom face language and cultural barriers to adapting to Seattle’s regulations. Rather, SPU is spending resources internally to promote more equitable practices and externally for community-based organizations like ECOSS to ensure that commercial businesses have fair opportunities to recycling and composting education and resources before being hit with punitive fines. So what does that look like?

Enter “Targeted Universalism,” a framework created by UC Berkeley professor john a. powell as a model for promoting equity in policies and strategies. SPU has adopted this framework to guide their outreach efforts with businesses around recycling and composting compliance. The idea is that suppose there is a broad, universal goal to achieve – in SPU’s case, it’s 80% of all businesses complying with solid waste regulations. To reach this goal, there must be targeted solutions that recognize how different segments of the population are situated relative to that goal. For example, a takeout place will have different challenges from a sit-down restaurant. A Mexican-owned business will have different questions from a Vietnamese-owned one. Without a framework like Targeted Universalism, fining noncompliant businesses will unintentionally and unfairly target businesses of color due to inherent language and cultural barriers.

In practice, the framework greatly aligns with the ECOSS approach of recognizing the diversity among and within underserved communities and promoting culturally-relevant engagement. Here’s an example within the Korean community. Multicultural Program Manager David Han, who manages this project from SPU, was tasked with learning about how to improve compliance among Korean food-service businesses. Through outreach to 20 Korean-owned restaurants, David learned their lack of compliance was a simple difference in how compost was defined in Seattle versus their home country.

Understanding how to dispose of waste can be a daunting task. Seattle Public Utilities provides illustrative fliers to help businesses and community members determine what goes where. Photo Credit: Seattle Public Utilities.

Food waste is handled in its own cycle in South Korea. Due to a language barrier, David’s sample of Korean restaurants conflated compost with food waste. It thus didn’t make sense for Korean business owners to go through the additional mental and logistic effort to implement composting. David quickly picked up on this cultural difference and helped these businesses learn how other waste such as wooden chopsticks, used napkins and more could be redirected to composting, saving businesses money in the process.

Insights like these will inform engagement with that segment of Korean businesses throughout Seattle. In total, there are dozens of these segments, divided by type of food-service, geography, language and more. Through targeted engagement like what ECOSS accomplished, each segment can reach 80% compliance with education and solutions that are relevant to each community. By the time each segment reaches 80% recycling and composting compliance, there will be universal compliance of 80% or more – a win for the city that doesn’t come at the expense of underserved communities.

Environmental equity is often much easier said than done. With a framework like Targeted Universalism, there is clarity on how well the goal of equity is being met. ECOSS will continue to push for mindsets like this one so that there can be sustainable solutions for all.

Co-creating habitat restoration opportunities with communities of color

Attendance at habitat restoration events is typically dominated by people who are white, affluent, and/or retired. Although these events provide opportunities to connect with nature, there are a number of barriers for low-income and/or people of color to get involved — knowledge gaps, the opportunity cost of working a weekend job, and safety concerns, to name a few.

Fundamental changes to how we approach habitat restoration events are needed to make these outdoors activities more equitable. Over the years, ECOSS has advocated for and implemented compensation models, training and community outreach to make environmental stewardship more inclusive.

This year, ECOSS began working with Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Green Seattle Partnership to further assess community needs and interests around urban environmental stewardship. ECOSS recruited eight community leaders from Vietnamese, Filipino, Bhutanese, Burmese and Latinx communities for focus groups to learn about Green Seattle Partnerships, gather input on how to make stewardship more equitable and help co-create stewardship events. Thus, community members could influence the conversations around environmental stewardship at a broader scale than simply individual events.

ECOSS welcoming participants to the day’s habitat restoration event. Photo credit: ECOSS.

The year’s work culminated at Seattle’s Seward Park. ECOSS brought together 17 community members across Vietnamese, East African and Bhutanese/Nepalese communities for a planting event. In addition to showing people how to plant and mulch for different native plants, ECOSS provided food, hot beverages, and giveaways including: indoor/outdoor plants, tote bags, beanies, and $30 gift cards as thanks for their time and participation.

The focus group greatly supported the event’s success. ECOSS learned which plants were culturally-relevant, what activities were of interest, and how ECOSS and the Green Seattle Partnership should recruit for the event. The preparation also affirmed that the volunteering mindset of the dominant stewardship model doesn’t resonate for people who don’t have the privileges of ample time and resources.

Habitat restoration can be an inclusive activity that resonates with different communities’ connections with nature and stewardship. The key is in meeting underserved communities where they are.