ECOSS recently held its second PINKAPALOOZA Block Party, celebrating businesses and diverse communities that are being empowered to be more environmentally sustainable. At the celebration, ECOSS invited employees, former and current, as well as community members to tell their environmental stories. Here is one of the night’s stories:

Vicky Raya is a former ECOSS employee who now works as a racial equity advisor for Seattle Public Utilities. Photo Credit: Rachel Lee.

“Hi, my name is Vicky Raya and I am a former ECOSS employee. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and both my parents are from Mexico. This means my first language is Spanish and I consider myself Chicana, or bicultural.

Prior to ECOSS, I worked as an informal science educator and then trained other educators who wanted to better engage and support girls and youth of color in STEM.

Ironically, although my work was meaningful, my work environments were rarely diverse. I was often the sole person of color among my peers, and although I was not consciously aware of it, I was working very hard to fit into a normative professional culture that did not reflect my own, and that in many ways, wasn’t fully prepared to recognize my isolation.

I always felt a little out of step with my peers and assumed I had to work harder than others to meet an imaginary standard. This dissonance and lack of connection eventually forced me to make a huge career shift which, not coincidentally, led to a lot of healing.

I could not have taken a better step toward healing than coming to ECOSS, where my role was to learn about the communities we wanted to serve and then apply strategies to make environmental education fun, relevant and purposeful.

The sense of ease and community I experienced at ECOSS was so welcome and needed, and it became the springboard to my current role as racial equity advisor at Seattle Public Utilities.

And that’s the ECOSS story I want to tell. How this organization hires from the communities it serves. It nurtures and develops confidence, language and professional skills, then prepares staff for future careers.

There’s a lot of talk about the need to diversify the environmental sector, which is true for government, private and nonprofit organizations. On the one hand, it’s expensive and difficult for ECOSS to develop and lose talent. On the other hand, ECOSS has many well-placed friends. I don’t know any other organization that has such loyal former staff.

Who here tonight is a former ECOSS employee?”

To which, dozens of hands sprang up around the venue, from recent alumni stretching all the way back to ECOSS’ first executive director 25+ years ago. Vicky went on to say:

“And while we’ve moved on to other organizations, we are ambassadors for equitable workplaces, and we demonstrate the strength of learning from differences. We are bicultural and often bilingual (and trilingual), we know the joy in embracing each other’s differences with appreciation, generosity and humor.

Thank you ECOSS for the opportunities you gave us. Although small, ECOSS punches above its weight in workforce development.”

Thank you Vicky for being part of the family and for continuing to blaze the environmental equity trail you started with ECOSS.

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