This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, spend an hour with Renata Barnes learning about the work of the Outdoor Equity Alliance

Here in the Hopewell Valley, where nature is all around us, many of us never stop to consider how lucky we are. Recently, Hopewell Valley’s own Renata Barnes appeared as a guest of the NJ Audubon Society’s “Coffee at New Jersey Audubon” podcast to talk about how what we take for granted is not accessible to many people and how that affects them.

Barnes is the Coordinator and first staff member of the Mercer County based Outdoor Equity Alliance, which is composed of the Mercer County Park Commission, local land trusts, service organizations, and school officials throughout Mercer County partnering to create experiences that inform and inspire people of all ages, ethnicities, abilities, and income levels to enjoy nature and the outdoors. The Coalition pays special attention to removing barriers to participation.

If you can, take some time today to listen to the podcast, found here, (Episode 25 “To Change a Narrative”), consider what Barnes calls “bitter truths,” and learn about how the OEA is building partnerships to overcome those barriers to the nature all of us here in the Hopewell Valley enjoy every day.

The OEA is fiscally sponsored by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and recently announced that it is the recipient of a $50,000 grant from Princeton Area Community Foundation’s “Bunbury Fund,” which will be used to support the organizational development, strategic planning and visioning activities to advance the mission of the OEA.

“The Bunbury Fund’s advisors recognize the importance of engaging the next generation of environmental leaders in the region by providing access to quality outdoor opportunities and career exposures, particularly in communities of color” said Fund Advisor Jay Watson. “We provide this support in recognition of the challenges of establishing a start up in such complicated times and hope that it will help build the organization’s capacity and advance their good work in the community.”

The OEA was established to create educational, recreational and career opportunities for people of all ages, races and ethnicities, income levels  and abilities to enjoy nature and become stewards of the outdoors.

“Members of underserved communities have less access and representation on public lands.” said FoHVOS Executive Director Lisa Wolff, “This very generous grant will help Mercer County advance the OEA mission of ‘Nature for All,’ so that everyone shares in the health and economic  benefits of the great outdoors. We hope to see community members actively participating in local stewardship, programming, and in setting conservation priorities.”

Eleanor Horne, Governance Chair and Advisory member, echoed Wolff’s gratitude: “We are grateful to the Bunbury Fund Advisors for believing in the importance of our work and investing in OEA’s infrastructure to build the capacity we need for greater impact.”

“OEA helps our partners develop programs that ultimately help more people share in the health, wellness and economic benefits of the outdoors and green economy, with the added benefit of leveling the playing field, for youth of color. We achieve this through collaboration and alliance building,” explained Barnes. “The OEA has already begun forming authentic and meaningful partnerships with other organizations and individuals through programs founded on creating pathways and experiences where very few if any have existed prior. We judge success by realizing a more diverse range of stakeholders. All these voices matter, especially when it comes to the environment.”

Leslie Summiel, President of the OEA Board added:”I always say that actions speak louder than words…Bunbury has shown great faith in OEA’s mission of inspiring future generations to be active stewards of Mercer County’s outdoor spaces.”

For more information about the OEA, click here.

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