Hispanic Heritage Month: Gladys Ruiz

Gladys Ruiz is a 1997 & 1998 LEAF Alumna who is originally from New York City and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She attended Long Island University Southampton College and worked as a Central Park Ranger in New York.

Gladys currently works for the Audubon Society of Portland as the Eastside Conservation Education Coordinator, where she is spearheading the organization’s new youth leadership development program TALON (Teach·Advocate·Lead·Observe·Nurture) to empower underrepresented youth in conservation fields. Gladys is a recipient of the prestigious Toyota Together Green Fellowship and was recently awarded the Willamette Weekly Skidmore Award.

Hear Gladys reminisce more about her LEAF experience.


What led you to the career path your currently on?


Growing up in New York City public housing during the 1980’s, I had little opportunity to enjoy nature. My love of the ocean led to my studying at the NYC High School for Environmental Studies (HSES). While attending HSES, I was able to participate in a few programs that helped change my trajectory in life. The most impactful part of being in The Nature Conservancy’s LEAF program was getting out of the city and into nature, igniting my passion for educating and engaging youth like me in the natural world. Seeing the importance of serving as a role model made me want to focus my career on helping others engage with nature, and becoming an Urban Park Ranger for the City of New York started me on that path.


Why do you think it’s important for urban high school students to have this kind of experience?


As an urban dweller for 23 years, I believe that it is incredibly important for young people to experience nature outside the city in order to really appreciate the beauty of nature in the city. For me, after participating in the LEAF program, I was more apt to observe nature and more and more willing to engage with nature. The LEAF program replaced the fear of the woods with a sense of comfort, practical experience and a huge sense of accomplishment. The program provided more than just an opportunity to get away but a whole list of life skills that I would never have been able to get at that juncture in my life.


How can The Nature Conservancy and Audubon help the next generation address challenges we currently face in the environment?


I believe that by directly engaging young people through the creation of employment and career training opportunities among high-school and college age urban youth we will nurture powerful messengers, bringing an appreciation of nature and conservation awareness to their respective communities. It is through programs like LEAF and TALON that we will continue to educate and train the next generation of environmental leaders.


Can you tell us more about Audubon’s new program for youth leadership in conservation and how you are “paying it forward”?


Since joining the Audubon staff full time, my goal has been to create and implement a youth program enabling young people of Portland with an opportunity to learn about the natural world while gaining real-life work experience. The goal for TALON is to expose youth to conservation career options, providing 10-weeks of training and paid summer employment opportunities in programs including education, conservation, wildlife care, and stewardship. For me, this program is extraordinarily personal because it provides me with an opportunity to shepherd young people into careers in the environmental field, and completes the circle that I have been working towards my whole life.


Why is it important for Latinos to be involved in conservation?


Simply put, without Latinos engaged in environmental conservation, this “movement” will slow to a crawl. As the fastest growing demographic in America, engagement in the conservation movement is imperative to the protection of our natural resources. By educating our young people now, we are building the next generation of environmental leaders that will encourage and inspire others to do the same.


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