SVCF grantee Nuestra Casa develops environmental leaders

SVCF grantee Nuestra Casa develops environmental leaders
Longtime SVCF partner Nuestra Casa uses recent grants to enhance its “Parent Academy,” a part of its Environmental Justice program.

A key focus of Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s new strategic direction is improving access to clean air, clean water, open space and food in communities of color and undocumented communities. One way of achieving this goal: supporting a program run by East Palo Alto-based Nuestra Casa that helps members of those communities build leadership skills to advocate for environmental solutions.

Nuestra Casa is a community-based organization that has supported Midpeninsula communities including East Palo Alto, Redwood City and Belle Haven for the past 19 years. While Nuestra Casa has received grants from the foundation in previous years, the group was among the first to receive an Environment Community Action Grant from SVCF in 2021. The funding is being used to enhance the Parent Academy that is part of its Environmental Justice program.

The academy started several years ago with a survey of community needs in East Palo Alto.

“We realized that a lot of the challenges that were coming up through this community needs assessment had to do with the environment: people concerned about water quality, worried about air quality, worried about flooding,” said Miriam Yupanqui, executive director of Nuestra Casa de East Palo Alto. “Since then, we have been able to build partnerships with key organizations to support our work in this area.”

Nuestra Classroom
Nuestra Casa's Parent Academy workshop

This Parent Academy is part of Nuestra Casa’s larger Environmental Justice program and aims to develop community leaders from the three major ethnic groups in the area: the Latinx, Pacific Islander, and African American communities. The 12-week curriculum teaches parents and their middle school- or high school-aged children about climate, climate change, pollution, water quality and flooding.

After learning about environmental issues that affect the local community, participants take action to solve them by engaging in local projects.

“They learn about pollution and contamination, and this inspires them to take action at the community level,” Yupanqui said.

Past projects have included a recycling program and the creation of a home garden out of recycled material. One group was interested in cleaning up the Baylands and is working on organizing a volunteer day to clean up the streets in the area. Another group answered the call for community feedback about public transportation in the area, speaking at city council meetings to share concerns about the proposed routes.

Helping Parents Help Communities

The program’s focus on parents is intentional.

“They’re attending the school meetings, they’re interested in getting involved in the community in other ways,” Yupanqui said.

They are also interested in addressing the causes of the problems they see. For example, East Palo Alto is at risk for flooding and pollution – and it also lacks a tree canopy.

“There’s lots of discussion about asthma rates but not as much about the lack of trees,” Yupanqui said. “We talk about flooding from time to time, but we’re not necessarily talking about how climate change is potentially contributing.”

To make participants into more effective advocates, SVCF’s funding is helping to support a mentoring program for the program’s graduates.

“We realized that our participants needed more guidance and training to get to the next level — to really enable them to speak at city council meetings and to act locally on the issues that they were interested in,” Yupanqui said.

Nuestra Casa worked with local partners to develop a mentoring program – connecting participants with leaders from the local community — to bridge that gap. The program also connects participants with local groups that are already engaged in some of the efforts participants are interested in, such as recycling or clean energy.

A Strong Partnership with SVCF

SVCF’s Environment grants support BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and allied organizations working on environmental issues, as well as organizations with annual budgets under $1 million.

“When parents and youth participate in this academy, their eyes brighten and they say, ‘I’m interested in taking action – my children have asthma but I’m not sure what contributed to it,’” Yupanqui said. “Once they know, it really inspires them to take action. We are focused on helping them really gain confidence, so they can become advocates on their own behalf.”

Neustra Forum
Nuestra Casa's Parent Academy workshop

Previously, SVCF supported Nuestra Casa’s census and voter engagement work. Nuestra Casa also received a grant from the LatinXCEL Fund, which aims to increase funding for Silicon Valley’s Latinx community leaders and Latinx-led nonprofits.

“SVCF has been a key partner for Nuestra Casa for the past 12 years,” Yupanqui said.

Supporting organizations like Nuestra Casa is part of SVCF’s long-term strategy to affect systemic change in our region. As our communities strive to emerge from the pandemic, there is an increased urgency to address environmental inequities and SVCF is proud to support Nuestra Casa’s work.