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:





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

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.

Reflections of a Dreamer

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.

Thank you for joining us for the Sustainable Futures Fest!

Thank you to everyone that participated in last week’s Sustainable Futures Fest virtual fundraiser. We appreciate the support of everyone who tuned in and donated! In case you couldn’t catch the fundraiser live, the videos of each day are available now.

From conversations around environmental justice to innovations in environmental outreach, ECOSS is leading the region on empowering immigrants and refugees to promote community health while protecting the environment. It’s not too late to support ECOSS to go even further. Help us reach our goal of $40,000 and invest in underserved communities and small businesses.

Preview the Just and Sustainable Futures Fest

ECOSS’ Sustainable Futures Fest premieres next Wednesday at 12 noon! We’re excited to share how ECOSS and other environmental leaders are working to advance racial equity and justice.

The first day features the Just and Sustainable Futures Panel with environmental leaders from across sectors. Read about them below:

Lylianna Allala (she/her/ella) is the Climate Justice Director at the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment. She joined the City of Seattle in 2019 after serving as lead staff on environment/climate policy and outreach for U.S Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. Prior to transitioning to public service in government, Lylianna spent time as a restoration ecologist, building backcountry trails, and traveling the country facilitating leadership development workshops for environmental & social change leaders. Lylianna is a co-creator of the Growing Old Project, a podcast that explores what Seattle could look like in the next 50 years to be a place where both humans and trees grow old together.

Syris Valentine (he/him) is a Seattle-based writer, organizer, and advocate for climate justice. He currently works as a project manager for Africatown Community Land Trust working at the intersection of affordable housing, urban development, and community-based climate action. He also serves as a board member for the Reclaiming STEM Institute and the Seattle Green New Deal Oversight Board. You can read Syris’s writing on Medium and Substack.

Joycelyn Chui (she/her) is a transplant from Hong Kong. She is a graduate student at University of Washington’s School of Public Health, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. She also works as a consultant with BEA Environmental, and recently started her own consulting business (Upstream Environmental Consulting) that aims to intervene in climate issues with an upstream approach. Previously, Joycelyn was a Multicultural Outreach Manager with ECOSS, working extensively with local small businesses on topics like solid waste, food waste, and stormwater pollution prevention & management.


We hope you will tune in on Oct 27 at 12 noon to hear their insights and discussion around environmental justice.

Your attendance also supports local BIPOC-owned restaurants. Register for the daily giveaway and tune in each day to be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to a local BIPOC-owned restaurant.

Your generosity will help the communities and businesses we serve promote cleaner water, broaden environmental stewardship, advance environmental equity and more.

Working towards environmental justice in the Duwamish Valley, one job at a time

The environmental sector is commonly dominated by white and affluent demographics. Yet, multiple studies have illustrated the disparity in environmental impacts on underserved and vulnerable communities. There are many barriers to closing this disparity, including lack of resources, lack of knowledge, cultural differences and more. ECOSS and several partner organizations are coming together to design a process to address one of these barriers — the gap in green career pathways centered on low-income and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

On a cloudy morning in January, ECOSS joined the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps (DVYC) and DIRT Corps for a day of habitat restoration along the Duwamish River. At a property just south of Port of Seattle’s Terminal 117 site, a future restoration site in the South Park neighborhood, youth learned about what used to be marshland along the river and how their work that day would help return the habitat to a former healthier state.

A dozen youth planted native grasses that will help prevent erosion of the bank as the river’s tides rise and fall.

Guided by George Blomberg, one of the Port’s senior environmental program managers and native plant experts, youths and adults worked together to plant native bear grass and tufted hairgrass along the Duwamish River. A couple of hours and a hundred plants later, the shore was lined with new greenery. The native grasses will help prevent erosion of the bank as the river’s current and saltwater tides rise and fall.

This work is an early phase of a series of projects with the Green Jobs Coalition, an emerging partnership that ECOSS joined with Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, Duwamish Tribal Services and DIRT Corps. Working with the Port of Seattle, the coalition envisions a Duwamish Valley with no systemic bias, where lower-income residents and BIPOC:

  1. Face no barriers to sustainable, fulfilling, inspiring, living wage careers
  2. Contribute to, and benefit from healthy, whole, self-sufficient communities restoring the health of the Duwamish River.

For many of the youth who came to plant native grasses, similar opportunities are not commonly available for them. South Park is one of Seattle’s most vulnerable neighborhoods when it comes to environmental impacts, both in terms of population demographics and environmental exposures. The coalition’s work will address these kinds of inequities while uplifting underserved communities. Stay tuned for more stories from the Green Jobs Coalition!

Reflections on ECOSS; Environmental Leadership

Joycelyn Chui worked with Chinese contractors and community members to advance stormwater solutions. Photo Credit: Charles Law / ECOSS.

This week is a bittersweet one for the ECOSS family, as this is the last week for a dear colleague and friend, Joycelyn Chui, who is leaving to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health, with a focus on Environmental and Occupational Health at University of Washington this fall.

After joining in 2017 as a coordinator to work on Green Stormwater Infrastructure projects, recycling and composting outreach and more, Joycelyn quickly showed her passion and organizational skill for community engagement. In less than a year, she became a Multicultural Outreach Manager, leading projects with a focus on Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking communities and businesses.

In her three years at ECOSS, Joycelyn has not only advanced ECOSS’ mission of sustainability for all, but also served as an inspiring role model for everyone at ECOSS with her charismatic, inclusive and candid leadership.

Before she departs, we had a chance to catch up with Joycelyn for some reflections on her time with ECOSS:


What was your favorite part about working at ECOSS? What will you miss the most?

  • My coworkers! At ECOSS, people are open minded, independent and we have a lot of trust among folks. I’ll miss the privilege and availability to try new things and projects. Lastly, I love and definitely will miss the flexible working schedule.

Joycelyn supported Mr. Liang in constructing Grattix boxes (rain garden in a box) at Equinox Studios. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

How have your views on the environment evolved while working at ECOSS?

  • Unfortunately, my time at UW as a Fishery Sciences undergrad didn’t teach me anything about environmental injustice. Since I started working at ECOSS, I see firsthand how language barriers, technological divides, varied economic status, immigration status, etc. affect the communities we serve.
  • The topic of environmental protection can’t be silo-ed. There’s no way to do environmental protection, undo climate change or implement any environmental programs without addressing racial equity and social justice.

What are your biggest takeaways from your time at ECOSS?

  • The more you put in, the more you get out of it.
  • ECOSS is a lifestyle, beyond a job.
  • Skills learned: project management, environmental education, understanding how a nonprofit organization works.
  • There is so much more work to do about environmental equity!!!

Funny/memorable moments?

Group photo at the 2018 Water Festival, with emcee Aleksa Manila. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

LOTS!

  • Climbed up Formosan church’s roof to look at the roof structure, it was three floors high.
  • Water Festival. I was honestly surprised that ECOSS staff members gave me so much trust to run a festival.
  • Within the first month of working at ECOSS, I brought back six mooncakes. It’s meant to be shared among 4-8 people. Next day, I came to the office with one went missing. Turned out, Ruben ate a whole mooncake alone!!!
  • A RainWise contractor gave me two pounds of squid as token of appreciation
  • Doing outreach while having dim sum.
  • Did a simple photo shoot with Seattle Public Utilities. Next thing I knew, my face appeared in a lot of their collateral materials. Like their calendar, residential newsletter, website, even on The Stranger!
  • During the last week of my job, I had to help the RainWise team with running the contractor orientation. Charles’s ran into technical difficulties and ALL his PowerPoint slides lost audio tracks 15 minutes before the online orientation. We had to immediately pivot into narrating the slides! It worked great though 🙂

Where do you think the organization is headed? Or what do you hope to see in five years?

  • ​Be one of the leaders of environmental equity in Seattle.
  • Continue to be the cradle of environmental equity leaders.

Anything else you want to say?

  • The ECOSS experience is one of best things that has happened to me. I’m sad yet excited to leave to embark my next chapter of life. Thank you ECOSS!!!
  • We shall meet again someday! 後會有期!

Thank you Joycelyn for being part of the ECOSS family! We wish you well in your next adventures and look forward to seeing your future successes!

Environmental, Health and Racial Justice

In response the the COIVD-19 pandemic, ECOSS adapted its strengths in multicultural outreach to help businesses stay afloat and communities stay healthy. ECOSS staff have deep, trusted relationships with the businesses and communities they work with, which was critical during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

ECOSS is continuing to help frontline communities and businesses. Recently, King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice awarded ECOSS with a Community Response grant to build capacity and meet immediate needs. From that, staff have implemented numerous accomplishments:

  • Informed and assisted restaurants about City of Seattle’s Business Stabilization grants; 15 of these restaurants were among the selected grantees: Addis Market, Canton Noodle House, East African Grocery, Pho Hanoi Restaurant, Rain Café, Safari Njema Restaraunt, Thanh Thanh Cafe, Thien Phat Restaurant, Time Bistro, Yummy House Bakery, Blue Heron Café, Oak Tree Teriyaki, Teriyaki Plus, U DupBop, Rainier Teriyaki.
  • Delivered information and resources to over 80 restaurants and grocery stores in nine languages.
  • Provided translations and interpretation of coronavirus health literacy materials in Amharic, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and Vietnamese.
  • Trained Vietnamese community members in conducting wellness checks via phone and worked with a temple in White Center to distribute masks.
  • Created audio transcriptions of business loan information and coronavirus-related materials.

Many of the same disparities that lead to environmental injustices and inequities are drivers of health inequities: language access, digital literacy and geographical location, among others. For immigrants, refugees, non-native English speakers and other underserved communities, these disparities are being magnified during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

ECOSS has leaned into its role as an education and community outreach expert, pivoting quickly and nimbly to meet the immediate needs of those most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. However, your support will ensure ECOSS can continue to do this vital work:

GiveBIG through May 15

Donate to ECOSS directly or set up a monthly gift

Thank you for believing in ECOSS’ vision of thriving communities that are environmentally sustainable and equitable.