ELK Youth Take to Our Nation’s Capital

The ELK and Hispanic Access Foundation Teams in DC!

On September 18th 2012, 3 ELK youth and 2 staff were busy boarding a plane for Washington DC.  For many of our students this plane ride was their first.  This plane ride was just one of many firsts for our youth.  We met up with a group of students and staff from the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) a Washington DC based non-profit.  Together we have been working to expose more Hispanic youth to the natural wonder of Browns Canyon and emphasize through experience the importance of preserving it for future generations.  More than 65 students and families spent a July weekend whitewater rafting and camping in Browns Canyon!  Now we are taking our voice to DC to be heard by our elected officials.  We arrived in DC around midnight, so we were exhausted and needed to get some shut eye before our big day meeting with US Colorado Senators.

Wednesday morning sure came early!  ELK students and staff were dressed to the nines and ready to hit the pavement.  We first met with Senator Michael Bennet for coffee in his office, where we discussed how education and the environment are the driving force behind the economy in Colorado.  We also talked about how Senator Bennet and his office can get more involved with ELK and he is on board with getting out on some of our field trips.  We then caught up with Senator Mark Udall, where we took some great pictures and expressed our thoughts about his upcoming legislation to make Browns Canyon a National Monument or National Wilderness Area.   ELK students Maurice Hernandez, Samantha Gilmore and Angel Caraveo-Ramos got to ask the Senator a few great questions!

ELK and HAF youth had a great meeting with U.S. Senator, Mark Udall.

We then had lunch on the National Mall and we got to see the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  The students loved the museum and said they will be back to visit it again!  We also walked through the Supreme Court Building, and it was so cool to see all the history that lives in that building.  Needless to say after this long day we were all beat, so we headed back to the hotel for an early bed time.

ELK Youth exploring Washington D.C.

Thursday morning and we are all refreshed!  We started the day with a tour of the Capital, which was amazing and we learned a lot.  Next up was a meeting with the White House.  In attendance at our meeting was the White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley,  USDA staff, Rohan Patel, Eli Levin, and Max Finberg.  Ali Kelly from the First Lady’s office was in attendance as well.  What an incredible opportunity for our students to meet with all of these great people.

Well we certainly didn’t stop there, we next headed to the Department of Interior to meet with Secretary Ken Salazar’s staff, and then a great surprise the Director of National Park Service Jon Jarvis was egger to meet with the ELK and HAF youth.  This was a great meeting talking about how to get more kids outdoors and into the National Parks.

ELK student, Maurice Hernandez, thrilled to be exploring the sights of Washington D.C.

What an amazing day and we didn’t even know what the evening had in store for us!  After dinner we headed down to the National Mall to visit all the remarkable monuments and memorials that line the reflection pool.  From the WWII Memorial to the Lincoln to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial these students were in admiration for these great Americans.  It sure made them feel proud to be an American.  I guess you get that feeling when you are in Washington DC.  So, the night was not over.  We kept hearing this music and we followed it all the way to the Dr. King Jr. Memorial.  There we stopped to hear the music and then a gentleman made a special introduction for us.  We were introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice A. King!  It was such an honor to have met her and tell her about all the great things ELK is doing for the youth in Denver, CO.  She was so great talking to our students, taking pictures, and dancing with them.  Our kids were on cloud nine after that, calling home to tell friends and family who they just met!  Very cool!

ELK and HAF youth with Representative Polis

Friday, our last day was filled quickly with meetings with Representative Jared Polis, and Representative Dianna DeGette, where we talked about the importance of education and getting kids outdoors.

WOW, I think, in admiration as I stand beside our youth while getting ready to board the plane back to Colorado.  These young adults that I have the pleasure of working for are unbelievable.  They really can do anything they want to and I will be there behind them every step of the way.  I feel very honored to have brought ELK students to our Nation’s Capital and the expressions on their faces when looking at the memorials and monuments is one I will never forget.   Thank you ELK for this wonderful opportunity!

–   Kim Weiss, ELK Education Coordinator