ECOSS has seen many transitions in recent months, with many new energized voices joining and others moving onto new roles. One beloved ECOSS voice recently departed, but not before sharing some reflections on his time with ECOSS.

Ruben Chi Bertoni was ECOSS’ lead on multicultural outreach around residential stormwater solutions, working with King County and Seattle Public Utilities to make the region’s RainWise program more equitable. Not only was he an agent for change with project partners, he also was an advocate for more equitable practices internally at ECOSS.

Though we will miss seeing Ruben more regularly, we’ll still be connected as he moves into a similar role on the other side of the table at Seattle Public Utilities, working with environmental organizations like ECOSS around the RainWise program.

His is the story of ECOSS. Of being an immigrant looking to make a difference for BIPOC communities and being empowered around environmental sustainability. Here are some of his reflections below:

Ruben managed ECOSS’ multicultural outreach around residential stormwater solutions, like cisterns. Photo credit: Marcela Gara / Resource Media.

As I begin writing, I think about where I was in life back when I began working at ECOSS.

I was 23 back then. Working two jobs and going to school full-time. As a dreamer, I lived with many uncertainties, and particularly my professional future in this country. This took a toll on my self-confidence and feelings of security. But I always thought to myself that a college degree would be something I could take anywhere with me, so I kept on pushing, hoping things would turn out for the best.

My senior year at University of Washington, I found ECOSS while networking to find different organizations that did environmental justice work in the Duwamish Valley. After I graduated, things came together. ECOSS was looking for a new employee and President Obama at the time passed the DACA program. To me, ECOSS was the light at the end of the tunnel of living with fear, anxiety and uncertainty. And although this hasn’t gone away completely, ECOSS has supported me and my situation in an unconditional way where I felt heard and seen. Because of this, ECOSS is and will always be like a family to me.

When I started at ECOSS in September 2013, I worked with the Powerful Neighborhoods program. The program was very straightforward; change incandescent lightbulbs for LED ones and reduce energy usage. However, ECOSS managers decided that I could help with other programs. This was a great growth opportunity, but in my young mind I didn’t view it as such. It started with working on ECOSS’ outreach with the region’s RainWise program. Over time, I received more responsibilities and eventually became the manager for our RainWise work. I was supported and encouraged at every step of the way.  Looking back, I didn’t realize that ECOSS was building me professionally as I learned how the program operated and where ECOSS stood in the bigger world of community outreach.

Through this story I learned very valuable lessons:

  • Self-confidence
    At ECOSS, I was able to safely build my self-confidence. My team and colleagues believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Seeing others encourage me and say “you can do it” really made the difference for me to feel comfortable with growth.
  • Finding my voice
    Many ECOSS colleagues will find this surprising, but I used to be a very shy kid. I think at ECOSS, I was able to get comfortable enough to share my ideas. Then I realized we live in a world where the voices of BIPOC communities are not often at the seat of the table in decision-making for programs that will affect them directly. Seeing this, I realized how much more important it is to speak up. We cannot speak for all communities, but adding a different perspective other than what is the status quo is a good start. Also, as ECOSS staff have more conversations with community members on our programs, we can take this feedback and incorporate them into our programming.
  • Collaboration
    ECOSS has always promoted the spirit of collaboration. At ECOSS, all staff participate in giving their perspectives on how to implement programs. To me, it has been extremely enriching to learn about other cultures and understating how programs need to flexible so that ECOSS can adjust its messaging or methods to better serve diverse audiences. It has also been extremely helpful to partner with other organizations and collaborate to expand our reach to immigrant communities.

ECOSS set up to talk stormwater pollution with their watershed model. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

Ruben also shared some of his favorite and funny moments while at ECOSS:

  • All the potlucks
  • All the happy hours
  • Doing outreach with the team
  • Telephone – one time for RainWise outreach, we were helping a Chinese homeowner who didn’t speak English. The only available contractor was Vietnamese and didn’t speak English. I remember sitting in the office hearing my Chinese and Vietnamese colleagues talking to each other to be the bridge to make the RainWise installation happen. It was like a game of telephone, and the message got from one end to the other end successfully
  • Eating a whole mooncake – for Chinese New Year, a colleague brought mooncakes. Apparently, you were supposed to cut them up and share them but I didn’t know this so I ate an entire mooncake (probably about 1,000 calories) on my own

Thank you Ruben for being with ECOSS for eight years! We look forward to seeing how you grow and continue to empower businesses and communities of color to be environmentally sustainable.

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