This article was written by Christian Giles, a student and Peer Leader for Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), and a freshman at the University of Denver studying Environmental Science. Environmental Learning for Kids is a participant in The Denver Foundation's Executive Directors of Color Institute, the Nonprofit Internship Program, and has been the recipient of multiple grants from our Community Grants Program and Donor-advised funds.
From stewardship projects to exploring our National Parks, my time at Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) has been life-changing. The number of adventures I’ve gone on and the amount of memories I’ve made is immeasurable. The biggest trip I’ve taken in my life thus far was with ELK. During spring break of my junior year in high school, ELK created an alternative spring break program. This trip included journeying to three National Parks - Zion, Arches, and the Grand Canyon. I convinced my friends to join as well – because who doesn't want to visit cool places like that with their friends?
Our time at Zion was nonstop, from beautifying service projects, to meeting with National Park Service Rangers, but the most impactful part of this portion was the hike to the Emerald Pools. The hike was rigorous, but we pushed on until we were finally greeted by a huge mountaintop and waterfall. Suddenly, it was as if time had slowed down and everything else had faded into the background – as I gawked at the sheer beauty before me. I had gone from my small Montbello neighborhood to being able to be here in this moment. And to some people, this would have just been another sight to see. But for me, a kid who’s only natural wonders had been viewed courtesy of his television or by word of mouth, this moment was everything.
Growing up, my perception of the Grand Canyon was not much more beyond the place where Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner would often duke it out. That first look left me speechless. It was so vast and beautiful that part of me didn’t genuinely believe it to be real. At that moment, I truly understood why conserving these parks is so important for everyone to be able to enjoy. The one sentence I could get out was: “Man could not think to make anything as beautiful as what we are seeing at this moment.”
Prior to my time with ELK, I had no idea about these National Parks. I had no idea that there were so many career opportunities in these spaces. Most importantly, I didn’t know that they belonged to me. I had been deceived into thinking these activities weren’t meant for me. I am not alone in this as I have seen even within my own community, people who look like me shying away from the outdoors because we are not properly represented. My experience during this spring break trip and my six years as an ELK student changed my life. Prior to joining ELK, I wanted to be a psychologist. Now I’m majoring in Environmental Science because ELK cultivated my love for the outdoors that I never thought I had.