Lowering barriers and inspiring outdoors enthusiasts

Being outdoors and around green spaces has been repeatedly shown to be good for one’s health. But not everyone has equal access to outdoor recreation opportunities. Trailhead Direct – a bus service provided by King County – lowers one of the greatest barriers to outdoor recreation: transportation.

In 2018, ECOSS partnered with King County Parks and The Wilderness Society to amplify the impact of Trailhead Direct through outreach to multicultural communities. By organizing and leading hiking trips with diverse communities, ECOSS created culturally-centered opportunities for community members to enjoy the outdoors and opened an avenue for immigrants, refugees and other people of color to give direct feedback on the bus service. This feedback contributed greatly to the opening of a Tukwila/Renton to Cougar Mountain route to meet the needs of South Seattle residents.

For the 2019 season, ECOSS reached 621 community members of diverse communities to raise awareness of Trailhead Direct. From that outreach, 145 people participated in ECOSS-led hikes! Youth, adults and seniors alike enjoyed the mountains, from strolls through Cougar Mountain to summiting the locally-famous Mailbox Peak.

Despite King County’s increased effort to advertise Trailhead Direct on common public transit options, most community hikers had never heard of the service. 76% of community hikers did not know about Trailhead Direct before ECOSS’ outreach. Many that did know were through previous ECOSS outreach. This was also reflected in communities’ feedback to King County.

 

“Let more people know about the services because I didn’t know we have this service until I went on this trip.” – Vietnamese community hiker

“Get information to minority communities.” – East African community hiker

This represents yet untapped potential for public transit to connect people and nature. Many community hikers with ECOSS were not just using Trailhead Direct for the first time, but also hiking for the first time. Community members cited barriers to participation such as knowledge of trails and knowledge of transportation options (especially for those without cars). But after overcoming those barriers, the benefits are vast, not just to health, but also to perspective:

“I participated for the first time in a hiking activity organized by Trailhead Direct and ECOSS last summer.  As a Latino immigrant man, I never had anyone to introduce me or invite me to explore this wonderful physical, social and emotional activity. Meeting new people in such a healthy outdoor environment and being able to reach extraordinary views and be in direct contact with the abundant nature of PNW was profound to me. I cannot wait to continue this activity with friends and other members of my community. Thank you so much to the organizers, sponsors and to the public transportation system for letting me have this positive experience free of cost.” – J. Fernando Luna, Latinx community hiker

One hiking trip centered on a group of 34 Latinx community members that included all ages! Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Lack of knowledge should not be misinterpreted as lack of interest. When presented in a culturally-relevant manner and with thoughtful inclusion, immigrants, refugees and other people of color are eager to engage in nature. As Trailhead Direct evolves out of its pilot phase, ECOSS is ensuring community feedback on the diverse needs in outdoor recreation reaches government so they can adjust accordingly. This type of private-public partnerships is promoting the vision of outdoors access and sustainable living for all.

 

Read more Trailhead Direct stories!

Thank you to The Wilderness Society and King County Parks for funding multicultural community engagement. Thank you Entre Hermanos and Bhutanese Community Resource Center for working with ECOSS to recruit hikers. Thank you REI, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Washington Trails Association for your support.

Forging a path to foraging

Are you familiar with the Pacific Northwest’s variety of edible wild plants? The rainy climate that gives Seattle its gloomy reputation also feeds local mushrooms, ferns and other forage food. And this last autumn, ECOSS and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (MTS) opened up that world for one Bhutanese community.

In an immersive workshop along the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River, Bhutanese community members get a hands-on introduction to public land regulations and foraging. Photo Credit: Britt Lê / Washington Trails Association.

For Bhutanese refugees living in the greater Seattle area, there are several similarities between the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the jungles of Bhutan. This includes some shared wild plants such as the fiddlehead fern. But whereas Bhutan has few regulations on outdoors recreation, federal, state and county regulations restrict how people in the Pacific Northwest can use public lands and harvest plants.

Seeing the knowledge gap that prevented Bhutanese refugees from connecting with nature in the same way they would have in their native country, ECOSS worked with the community and with MTS to design an immersive workshop on public lands regulations and local foraging.

In an immersive workshop along the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River, Bhutanese community members get a hands-on introduction to public land regulations and foraging. Photo Credit: Britt Lê / Washington Trails Association.

The workshop included a guided walk/hike led by MTS and the US Forest Service, an introduction to the rules and regulations regarding public lands and a discussion of the different types of public lands. As a demonstration of the education, the workshop led into a conversation about foraging and local flora. After the formal workshop, the dozen Bhutanese community members were free to enjoy the surroundings and camp overnight.

 

“I am really thankful to this workshop. Foraging specially fiddlehead fern, watercress and mushroom was very common in our community back in Bhutan and in the refugee camp, but because of limited English and cultural differences, many of our community folks are not able to do what they loved doing.” — Bhutanese community member, workshop attendee

ECOSS’ New Arrivals program collaborates with communities of color to create access to environmental education and experiences that are directed by community needs. This community-centric approach ensures both program success and community benefit, like in this public lands workshop.

Read more New Arrivals stories

Thank you Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for partnering with us, Washington Trails Association for providing gear, US Forest Service for providing public lands education and Bhutanese Community Resource Center for bringing community members!

🎉 Thank you for celebrating with us at PINKAPALOOZA! 🐟

Our deepest gratitude to you for joining us at our PINKAPALOOZA Block Party this year!

As we reflect on the inspiring night, we constantly return to the community of amazing people who gathered together to celebrate the return of pink salmon.

Collectively, we raised over $97,000 to support sustainable businesses, equitable communities and a thriving environment! This is an amazing achievement in its own right, by which we are humbled. It is also an opportunity for an even greater achievement.

We have a chance to make ECOSS history. Will you help push ECOSS over $100,000 in annual donations for the first time ever in its 25+ year history? Every dollar counts.

Help us shatter the donation record!

Check out some of the highlights from the night:

Photos were captured by our wonderful volunteer photographers Char Davies and Rachel Lee. Find more inspiring photos here on our Facebook page.

Group photo of current and former ECOSS staff.

Thank you again for your support! We hope you came away from the night inspired and we look forward to seeing you again at the next PINKAPALOOZA Block Party in 2021!

Sincerely,
Your ECOSS Family


Extending the reach of Green Stormwater Infrastructure

What does it take to center equity in Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) projects? How can others replicate successful community engagement models?

ECOSS’ many years of multicultural education and outreach have broadened the inclusion of communities of color around rain gardens and cisterns, including pioneering installations for community spaces and businesses. These are key examples of Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), which have provided home improvements and green jobs in some of Seattle’s most vulnerable communities while reducing the amount of polluted stormwater runoff entering the Duwamish River and other local waters. What does it take to center equity in GSI projects? How can others replicate ECOSS’ successful community engagement models?

A recent Green Infrastructure Partnerships (GRIP) Panel featuring ECOSS and partners in King County’s RainWise program tackled these questions with an audience of municipalities and organizations passionate about GSI.

RainWise managers and ECOSS’ multicultural outreach team led the GRIP Panel. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

Conversation circled around a central theme: bridging gaps. Economic, cultural, language and more. GSI installations are expensive for both property owners and the contractors that install them. For low-income residents, contractors commonly must front installation costs before being reimbursed for materials months later. For property owners, only certain basins are qualified for the RainWise financial rebate. When these financial hurdles arose, ECOSS helped find solutions, such as leveraging other grant opportunities.

But financials are only part of the journey. Contractors that want to work with RainWise must first get trained, which is only offered in English. ECOSS recruits contractors from the communities that it serves, then joins them in training to act as interpreters and mentors. Similarly, ECOSS walks property owners through the RainWise paperwork and processes. The GRIP panel illuminated the work and dedication that is required to overcome the barriers to making GSI accessible for all.

The audience included municipalities, nonprofits and others working closely with Green Stormwater Infrastructure. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

The setting for the panel could not have been more appropriate. Co Lam Temple is a central location for the local Vietnamese community and the site of several cisterns that ECOSS helped establish. It also illustrates the challenges of expanding GSI access. The temple is not located in a RainWise-eligible basin. Many community members were not native English speakers nor familiar with GSI. ECOSS helped bridge these economic and language gaps while building trust within the community. After a productive discussion of how other municipalities could help promote equitable GSI, ECOSS led a tour of Co Lam Temple to show how the cisterns were being integrated into the temple and broader community.

To bridge gaps, ECOSS builds personal connections with communities. The installation at Co Lam was a success in large part because an ECOSS staff member was already a regular attendee of the temple. When he approached the head monks about installing GSI, it wasn’t as an outsider offering a service; it was as a community member suggesting a solution.

Cisterns are now a prominent feature around the Co Lam Temple, accompanied by educational signage in English and Vietnamese. Photo Credit: William Chen / ECOSS.

ECOSS has grand visions for further advancing the equity of GSI installations. A revolving fund would expedite contractor payment by reimbursing installation costs up front and refilling from completed installations. Additionally, an ECOSS-administered fund would build on native language capacities and rapport with multicultural contractors to lower bureaucratic barriers.

The GRIP Panel was a precious opportunity to share insight on ECOSS’ equity lens with other cities, counties and organizations. The buzz of excitement after the events of the day provided hope that the lessons learned will inspire similar programs across Puget Sound.

Check out other GSI stories

An equitable approach to accessible clean energy

With new climate records being broken seemingly on a weekly basis, it is more important than ever to address the causes of our increasingly extreme climate. Transitioning to clean energy is a concrete solution for reducing our carbon footprint. But that transition needs to be just and equitable. Everyone must be included to ensure sustainable solutions.

Buying solar panels can be a daunting consideration for new homeowners in Puget Sound. First, the Greater Seattle Area is known for being cloudy and overcast most times of the year. This has led to the misconception that the region is not suitable for solar panels. While it’s true that Seattle will never see the levels of sunlight normal in southern United States, Seattle does receive more sunlight than most of Germany – a world leader in solar energy.

Moreover, Seattle’s climate offers some advantages. For example, frequent rain cleans off pollen and dirt from panels, thus reducing the need for maintenance. Furthermore, some solar cells become less efficient when temperatures get too hot.

Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust connected with ECOSS to engage communities of color and create equitable access to clean energy. Photo Credit: Solarize Northwest.

The real challenges for solar panels are lack of awareness, finances and bureaucracy. Installing solar panels demands a significant upfront investment. Although there are financial grants and incentives, navigating the processes to access them can be a barrier. Combined with the misconception that the Pacific Northwest is not suitable for solar, people give up on the hope of having solar panels, non-English speakers especially.

ECOSS strives to shift the narrative towards equity by empowering low-income immigrant homeowner families to access green energy. Partnering with Spark Northwest, Homestead Community Land Trust and Puget Sound Energy, ECOSS is educating low-income homeowners, raising awareness about solar panel programs (e.g. Solarize the Land Trust) and helping community members navigate grants and incentives for installing solar panels on their property. For ECOSS, underserved communities are primary audiences, which include immigrants and refugees and non-English speakers.

ECOSS provides food at workshops and info sessions to lower the barriers of attending. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

Engagement is not successful with only one interaction. ECOSS hosts workshops where homeowners are invited to learn more about solar energy. These workshops include interpretation, childcare services and food, recognizing that these are all common needs for families to attend. If an attendee is interested, ECOSS connects them with a solar panel contractor and helps homeowners assess whether solar panels are the right choice given their electricity use, roof suitability and more.

ECOSS works with businesses and community members throughout the process of creating sustainable solutions. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens.

If this all sounds familiar, it is because ECOSS has pioneered this type of community engagement before. ECOSS advances equity throughout the cycle of installing Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI), from engaging immigrant and refugee homeowners to recruiting and guiding multicultural contractors. This outreach simultaneously provides stormwater solutions and creates green career pathways within marginalized communities. And ECOSS is working to provide the same model for solar panel outreach.

ECOSS is excited to leverage decades of experience to bring an equity lens to solar panel outreach with communities throughout Puget Sound. As the program grows, ECOSS will consider how previous experience with GSI can inform solar panel demonstration sites and contractor training.

Learn more about ECOSS clean energy projects

Combined sewer overflow: how stormwater became Puget Sound’s #1 source of pollution

Stormwater runoff is the #1 source of pollution in Puget Sound, threatening human, fish and aquatic life. But how does rain result in pollution? One contributor is in how cities manage their sewage.

Seattle implemented its first centralized sewer system in the early 1900s ahead of a premier world fair. Rather than having separate pipes for sewage and stormwater, Seattle’s chosen system collected both sewage and stormwater through the same pipe. Generally, there was no issue as the combined sewage was treated at water treatment plants.

Graphic detailing the route of sewage under dry conditions.

Sewage is directed to a water treatment plant during dry weather.

However, heavy rain overloaded this system, dumping an overflow of untreated sewage and stormwater into Puget Sound, the Duwamish River and other local waters. The combined sewage included human waste, heavy metals from roads and pollutants accumulated on roofs. The polluted water is highly toxic to salmon, orcas and other aquatic wildlife. Moreover, it is detrimental to people swimming in the waters or fishing in urban rivers.

Graphic detailing the route of combined sewage during heavy storms.

During large storms, stormwater is combined with sewage in the same pipe, and the increased volume overflows straight into nearby waters.

The archaic combined sewer systems still exist today. Construction of new combined sewer systems stopped in the 1950s, but older systems have yet to be completely replaced. And with population growth and urbanization in Puget Sound, combined sewer overflow has only become more polluted.

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) such as rain gardens and cisterns reduce the amount of stormwater entering the combined sewers. More combined sewage is captured by the sewer system and treated properly, rather than going into Puget Sound waters.

Graphic detailing the route of combined sewage during heavy storms controlled by Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI).

Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) manages stormwater so that sewer systems are less likely to overflow.

ECOSS engages multicultural communities to raise awareness about GSI opportunities for property owners so that communities of color can be included in the solutions for clean water and healthier communities. Furthermore, ECOSS recruits and guides multicultural contractors through training to install cisterns and rain gardens. These green career pathways promote small businesses of color and ensure that the benefits of GSI solutions are reaching Puget Sound’s most vulnerable communities.

Read more about stormwater solutions

Thank you King County for source material inspiration of the first two graphics.

Bhutanese Community Members at Cedar River Watershed

Allan Kafley named a Sustainability Leader!

Congratulations Allan Kafley!

Allan Kafley at Mt Si. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

Despite the desire to connect with their environment, immigrant and refugee communities often face language, geographic and lifestyle barriers that limit their access to outdoors experiences. Allan Kafley saw this need within his own community and took the opportunity to spearhead the New Arrivals program in 2014. Allan currently leads this and other programs as one of ECOSS’ Multicultural Outreach Managers.

Tours to the Cedar River Watershed are an excellent opportunity to show new arrivals the source of their drinking water. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

The New Arrivals program provides education, services and experiences to immigrants and refugees newly-arriving in the greater Seattle area. Crucially, the program generates outreach in collaboration with the communities it serves.

For this pivotal role and for being a leader within Puget Sound’s Bhutanese community, Sustainable Seattle honored Allan with a Sustainability Leadership Award!

Until the age of 19, Allan grew up in a refugee camp, where he was not afforded the privilege of self-determination. This changed in 2008 when Allan came to Seattle as one of the city’s first Bhutanese refugees. Spurred by his father’s stories of Bhutanese wilderness exploration, Allan sought out opportunities to engage with the environment and other refugees. He subsequently helped found the Bhutanese Community Resource Center in 2010, which hosts cultural events and connects Bhutanese refugees with resources, education and experiences.

Allan connects the Bhutanese refugee community with opportunities to give back to their environment. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

Joining ECOSS in 2013, Allan has since built awareness of healthy fishing along the Duwamish River, led outdoors trips throughout Washington and improved the environmental health of underserved communities throughout the greater Seattle area. Check out some of his recent projects and features:

Creating opportunities for immigrants and refugees to give back to nature

What does camping mean for the Bhutanese community?

Promoting outdoors access via public transit

New Arrivals program featured as a social innovation

Congratulations Allan Kafley on the award! Your leadership in centering equity in environmental programs is truly inspiring. Join ECOSS in celebrating his accomplishments at Sustainable Seattle’s Campfire Stories.

Learn more about New Arrivals

Equity in stormwater management must start from the Summit

Centering Equity at the Annual Green Stormwater Infrastructure Summit 

The Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map, a recently-published tool, revealed plainly what many already knew from their lived experiences: communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately subjected to environmental health risks. Yet, these same communities receive disproportionately fewer resources and their voices are disproportionately left out of the conversations around environmental solutions. ECOSS pioneers education and outreach programs with these communities to help right these environmental injustices, but we can’t do it alone.

ECOSS recently attended the 4th Annual GSI Summit, a City Habitats event led by Stewardship Partners. The summit focused on green infrastructure – emerging research, applied solutions, community stories and more. This year, ECOSS joined the hosting committee, a central role that allowed ECOSS to advocate for a larger focus on equity in the summit.

Challenge tables centered solutions-driven conversations around a plethora of green infrastructure challenges. ECOSS led a discussion around equity. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Taking the role to heart, ECOSS led a session on community engagement and captained a discussion table to discuss equity in green stormwater infrastructure. ECOSS brought its experience working with Vietnamese and Chinese communities and businesses. Conversation blossomed around how all sectors can make green stormwater infrastructure more equitable.

Surveying the rest of the summit, numerous presentations concluded with the revelation that organizations should work with communities rather than for communities. It was encouraging to see more people adopt this approach, but it also came with a sense of disappointment that was perfectly captured by the summit’s Youth Voices Panel.

The Youth Voices Panel, from left to right: Risa Suho, Hannah Price, Shelina Lal. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

“We need you to need us.” – Shelina Lal

A simple statement, but one that spoke volumes. Lal went on to lament that youth shouldn’t even be speaking at the summit – that if green infrastructure leaders were actively working with communities to advance solutions, the summit wouldn’t need youth to make impassioned speeches about the suffering of low-income communities and communities of color. The entire Youth Voices panel echoed similar sentiments throughout their hour on stage.

ECOSS works with RainWise to provide green infrastructure rebates and career pathways within communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental injustices. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

This is the pulse that organizations must track to advance the equity of green infrastructure. ECOSS has been a trusted partner of businesses, diverse communities and government to provide co-created, practical solutions for 25 years. ECOSS works with communities; the majority of staff are from those communities. Yet, these and other connections are underutilized by environmental organizations wanting to reach historically underserved communities. The best time to work with low-income communities and communities of color on environmentally just programs was at the programs’ inceptions. The next best time is now.

An undercurrent of urgency pervaded the summit. We must mobilize. We must go beyond naming problems and act. There is still much room for progress in equitable green stormwater infrastructure. However, that the words from the youth of our most-impacted communities were met with standing ovation rather than only uncomfortable stares raises hope for the future of equitable environmental solutions.

Read other green stormwater infrastructure stories

Thank you to RainWise partners for promoting ECOSS as a leader in equitable green stormwater solutions!

Give to environmental sustainability and equity on #GivingTuesday

Join the global movement to support charitable organizations on November 27, #GivingTuesday. No matter how big or small, giving to ECOSS funds:

  • Pollution prevention training for small businesses
  • Outdoor experiences for immigrants and refugees
  • Protection of healthy waters via rain gardens and cisterns
  • Education on and access to clean energy technology such as electrical vehicles and solar panels
  • And more!

And when you give on November 27, your donation will be matched 100% by Facebook and Paypal.

Give on Facebook

There are also other ways to support local businesses and communities:

  • Give online at ecoss.org/donate.
  • Select ECOSS as your charitable organization on AmazonSmile, and Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to us.

All donations to ECOSS are tax-deductible (Tax ID: 91-1613460) and will help empower local small businesses and diverse communities to be more environmentally sustainable.

What does camping mean for the Bhutanese community?

“Let’s go to the place where you can make a lot of noise, where you can yell and shout!”

How do you escape the hustle and bustle of city life? Many Seattle residents seek out the serenity and simplicity in nearby mountains that is rare in the city center. Pack up the car, pick a destination and play. But these adventures are not always so accessible to all.

A common misconception is that non-English-speaking communities don’t care about the environment or need to be “convinced” to go outdoors. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many underserved communities simply do not have the information that comes to long-time or English-speaking residents. They may not know where to go, what to bring, what spoken and unspoken rules to follow.

Part of the collection of gear the Bhutanese community brought camping at Deception Pass. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

Seattle’s Bhutanese refugees are intimately familiar with the jungles of their home country. It is their backyard. It is their solace. It is where they can shout and not a soul would hear. Recreating outdoors around Seattle, however, is an entirely unknown prospect for refugees when they first arrive.

The New Arrivals program builds resilient immigrant communities by providing access to environmental learning, resources and experiences like this trip to Deception Pass:

Over 40 Bhutanese community members went on this camping trip, many for the first time! At least, in the United States. The Bhutanese connected with the environment and with each other. And they did it in their own way. Communal dinner (made from scratch!), music and dancing. The energetic spirit was unmatched on the campgrounds.

Bhutanese community gathering to cook communal meals for over 40 campers. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

The community also gained a deep knowledge of the rules, regulations and expectations of camping in the United States. The group learned how to borrow outdoors gear, where to go exploring and — with the help of a friendly park ranger — the appropriate hours for merrymaking.

Trip by trip, the New Arrivals program helps this and other communities regard their new environment as their home environment.

Learn more about New Arrivals!

Partnerships with community organizations like the Bhutanese Community Resource Center make New Arrivals connections possible.

Thank you to the Satterberg Foundation, the Rose Foundation and the Cuyamaca Foundation for generously funding outdoor recreation opportunities for diverse communities.

Thank you Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and the Washington Trails Association for supporting the camping trip.