Our Nature: Perspectives & Relationships
People connect with and experience nature in many different ways. In this panel, folks will share their personal perspectives, cultural lenses and stories of how they connect with nature.
Roy Iwai (he/him) is a water quality scientist with a passion for collaboration to improve watershed health. He has managed the Water Quality Program at Multnomah County since 2007. He leads several partnerships at the local and state levels, including the Clean Rivers Coalition, a collaborative partnership dedicated to creating the first statewide clean water outreach campaign in Oregon. Roy has a Masters degree in Oceanography from Louisiana State University.
Juan Garcia (he/him) has been working in the solid waste industry for just over 10 years. He enjoys the outdoors and the opportunity to create community with people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Today, he is most challenged and energized by development of a work transition program he and his team have embarked on and continue to expand. Since 1993, Metro’s RID Patrol has served the greater Portland area in removing abandoned/dumped waste in public ways and natural areas. Juan is the Crew Supervisor of a team of seven crews providing clean-up and garbage disposal services to people experiencing houselessness.
A born extrovert, Juliet McGraw (she/her) has always been drawn to connecting ideas, people and organizations. Raised in both Washington and Texas, Juliet is intimately familiar with finding commonality in seemingly disparate lifeways. She has found her skills and enthusiasm are most useful in the liminal spaces between the Urban Indigenous Community and dominant culture, the daily world and the academic tower, and natural and built environments.
With grounding in ethnobotany and archeology, Juliet is aware her experiences caring for a living Plankhouse, paddling with Tribal Canoe families, and land-tending our Plant Family members across the PNW are ones of profound privilege not afforded to many non-status Indians. She works to honor those gifts as an Indigenous anthropologist applying Traditional Ecological and Cultural Knowledge (TECK) to landscape reclamation and revitalization in the Pacific Northwest, as well as, actively challenging anthropology as a discipline to move forward with Decolonization initiatives.
Vanessa Pacheco (she/her) is a lover of all things outdoors; she can be found year-round exploring the hiking trails and natural areas of the PNW, paddle boarding, skiing, and everything in between.
Vanessa is a transracial adoptee and a domestic violence survivor; nature has always brought her a profound sense of connection and healing, made even deeper when she hiked and wandered over 100 miles of trails in Oregon and Washington mostly solo during the summer of 2020.
She has worked in nature-based education with youth for the past 5 years and is a passionate advocate for creating safe, accessible, and equitable outdoor spaces for present and future generations. In her personal time she is a mindfulness guide utilizing our connections with nature to offer safe spaces for BIPOC communities to explore how healing in unison with the land and one another can change our communities.
How did we get here? Connections & Disconnections
During this panel, we’ll explore the current landscape of policy affecting our connections to nature. What community needs and barriers can be addressed through policy change? What are current initiatives making a difference to increase access and remove barriers? Panelists will deepen our understanding of the connections between policy and community needs.
BEN DUNCAN, Kearns & West
Ben Duncan's (he/him) work has focused on equity and environmental justice for almost two decades in nonprofit, government and consultancy practice. He currently is a Senior Director and Facilitator with Kearns & West, where he specializes in developing effective and inclusive processes in complex political and organizational environments and communities to develop collaborative solutions. He was a founding appointee to the Oregon Environmental Justice Task Force and serves on the Oregon Commission for Black Affairs as the liaison to the EJ Council. He has been a part of foundational discussions with the Kijani Collective focused on bringing Black voices to environmental policy and decision-making.
CANDACE AVALOS, Verde
Candace Avalos (she/her) is a first-generation American “Blacktina,” daughter of Black Americans from the south and Guatemalan immigrants. Prior to her venture into the nonprofit world as the Executive Director of Verde, an environmental justice nonprofit, she worked at Portland State University for 8 years providing civic engagement education and advising support for student leaders. She lives in East Portland and is an active member of her community, serving as chair of the Citizen Review Committee, formerly a Charter Review Commissioner for the City of Portland, as well as on the boards of Portland: Neighbors Welcome, Coalition of Communities of Color, and Street Roots. Her hobbies include watching cooking shows, trying new recipes, and playing outdoor sports.
DR. DERRON COLES, The Blueprint Foundation and DRC Learning Solutions
Dr. Derron Coles (he/him) is a learning strategist with over 20 years of experience designing learner-focused workforce development training. Derron has a wide-ranging portfolio that runs the gamut from learning solutions for technical topics, like a globally utilized online training on river system analysis, to interpersonal skills training, such as his award-winning equity diversity and inclusion (EDI) curriculum.
Derron is owner and principal consultant for DRC Learning Solutions, a culturally responsive company focused on helping organizations in both the private and public sectors develop and sustain social and environmental justice initiatives. He is also the executive director of The Blueprint Foundation. The nonprofit provides workforce development for Black-identified students using project-based learning and multigenerational mentoring that attends to pressing environmental justice issues, while solidifying skills necessary for college, a career in the green sector, and civic life.
DR. MEGAN HORST, Portland State University
Dr. Megan Horst, PhD, (she/her) is an Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. She researches and teaches about climate resiliency, food systems, and land use planning. She is currently co-chair of the Portland Clean Energy Fund, Community Advisory Committee.
ROBIN WILCOX, ODOT Great Streets Program Manager
Robin Wilcox (she/they) is a licensed landscape architect whose career has centered access – access to natural areas, parks, playgrounds, transportation and access to public process, planning, and technical design. The Great Streets Program prioritizes connections to walking, biking, and transit and safety by centering the needs of the most transportation disadvantaged people (those under 18, over 65, living with a disability, and low-income households, for example). ODOT is a conduit for funding trail and community livability projects statewide, and the owner/manager of trail and pathway projects throughout the Metro region. Transportation facilities can be barriers to accessing natural areas for communities. Great Streets is one of several programs within ODOT that can help make busy streets more livable, and by incorporating green infrastructure, can bring nature back to people’s front door.