City of residence: Santa Fe
Current title: Executive director and community engagement specialist
Place of business: Keep Santa Fe Beautiful and city of the Santa Fe Resiliency Center
Education: 2020 Master of Science (candidate), Applied Anthropology, University of North Texas; 2017 Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science, American Public University
Family: Two sons: Westin, 18, and Wade, 16
Professional responsibilities: In the last year as executive director of Keep Santa Fe Beautiful, my role is to engage our community in activities to protect and enhance the environment where we live. By inviting participants to be a part of programs and projects, they learn, share and work together to “better our area.” Since the organization’s revitalization campaign started last fall, the success has been overwhelming with litter cleanups, hands-on projects and events. For example, more 70 individuals came out on an early Saturday morning to pick up trash and clean up our community. Many of these volunteers were local students from the Santa Fe High School football, volleyball and ultimate frisbee team members, Boy Scouts, American Girls and a youth softball team. Our recent "Color the Can," painted trash can art competition yielded 13 trash cans from Santa Fe's art students and from some businesses and organizations. We offered no prize, but these original artworks captured the crowd's attention at our first Earth Day celebration. This event in April brought the community out for the day to watch a community-wide 3-on-3 basketball tournament and to raise funds for the Therapeutic Garden.
The garden project, my main project this year, began when I proposed the idea to the city council last June after the tragic shooting at Santa Fe High School. I was asked to become the director of this nonprofit to re-energize Keep Santa Fe Beautiful and raise funds needed to ensure the project reaches completion. The garden is explicitly designed to provide a place of emotional restoration and healing for those struggling with post-traumatic stress issues. My background in environmental science and anthropology has provided evidence of nature-based healing, and life experiences these past years in Santa Fe, indicate that this therapeutic garden will benefit all. In October, I lead a large volunteer project where 120 volunteers from all over the nation came to Santa Fe to help us begin the first phase transformation of the garden. We cleared the property, relocated playground equipment, refurbished the existing gazebo, and built a 7-foot fence on two sides of the property. Since then, I have been working with a civil engineer to design a drainage system. Upon completion of this, we will put in trails and plantings that will enhance the restorative and serene elements of the space. Upon completion of this park, I will partner with the City of Santa Fe Resiliency Center to build outdoor therapy programming.
For the week of remembrance, I contacted the Santa Fe High School Ag Mechanics teacher and presented an idea to have his students construct a gigantic welded heart to hold plastic lids that were left over after the community collected nearly 4,000 pounds of lids. The lids collected were transformed into 10 memorial benches to honor the 10 lives lost during the Santa Fe High School shooting on May 18, 2018. As the executive director of Keep Santa Fe Beautiful, I partnered with the Resiliency Center on the recycled benches project and have taken the lead to find a home for the leftover lids our community collected. The “Heart of Santa Fe” was unveiled on May 18, 2019, and houses some of those lids. We hope that no further tragedy will come to any other community, but if it does, we will send caps from our heart to help their community also start a memorial benches program. The heart will forever be housed at the therapeutic garden, which is also in the heart of Santa Fe on Main Street behind city hall. During this week of remembered, I also led a service project on May 17 to allow our local teenagers a place to give back and honor their fallen friends and teachers.
As the community engagement specialist for the city of Santa Fe's Resiliency Center, I listen to the community and gather information about the experiences of community members; I share what I learn so we can offer resources to help our community heal; and through continued research, I discover more ways to provide assistance to everyone who needs a path to restore their sense of peace, can have a way. The Resiliency Center has completed its first year, which was a full year of response, offering numerous services to hundreds of people. The second year will focus on recovery while continuing the ongoing activities; the center will increase the ways it reaches out to additional groups, students, families and individuals through my role as the community engagement specialist. My ultimate purpose within the center is to look at all the different groups within Santa Fe (parents, students, teachers, first-responders, Spanish speakers, recent high school graduates, homeschool students and more to ensure the center remains all inclusive. Additionally in my very short time with the Resiliency Center, I have engaged with hundreds of individuals and received feedback to strategically plan year two and into the future; helped facilitate teacher assessments, improved confidentiality with a new space layout, and furthered our social media presence by creating a Snapchat and Twitter account.
Currently, I am also working on a nature-based getaway for some of our most impacted students from the May 18, 2018, Santa Fe High School shooting. Students will spend a week at a restorative retreat in Marble Falls and will be able to engage in hiking, swimming, peer relationship building and more. In addition, I’ve created a nonprofit coalition for Santa Fe, where area nonprofits meet and discuss opportunities to partner and further help our community as one. Other projects I’m working on include a sports clinic and volunteer opportunities for our youth over the summer.
Before this last year, I worked for an environmental nonprofit in Houston, Greens Bayou Coalition, where we address bayou clean-up projects, flood mitigation and park planning. While with Greens Bayou Coalition, I grew the Kayaking for Kids program, where we took local urban kids kayaking to teach them about local wildlife, the environment and how to reduce flooding. We also transformed a 33-wooded-acre property into preserve; one-third of the property remained mostly untouched for wildlife conservation, and the remaining two-thirds was transformed as an outdoor classroom for the local community to use.
Also, I’ve worked with the Texas Historical Commission as a docent at Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia and with Santa Fe ISD from 2007 to 2012; where I oversaw many student programs, including Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Shattered Dreams. As the SADD advisor, I had the opportunity to mentor many students in Santa Fe and took half a dozen on national trips to engage in youth leadership training where the students would be equipped to help their peers restrain from destructive decisions, including drinking and drugs. Shattered Dreams is a program to teach students the dangers of drinking and driving. As the coordinator for the program, I ensured the partnership with the Santa Fe High School, Sant Fe Fire and Rescue, Santa Fe Police Department, our local State Farm Insurance, Hays Funeral home and Elite Emergency. Through these partnerships, we held a live mock car crash for the entire Santa Fe High School student body to further teach the dangers of drinking and driving. Upon completion, we held a lock-in for more than 50 students at Elite Emergency, where students learned more ways to sustain from destructive choices and help their peers.
Accomplishments/honors: Earned a Keep Texas Beautiful Gold Standard Rating for the Keep Santa Fe Beautiful organization in its first three months of revitalization; master of Science candidate at the University of North Texas, pursuing a graduate degree in Applied Anthropology; NOLS Wilderness First Aid Certified; Houston Wilderness Great Green Quest Scholarship recipient; Outstanding Student Leadership Award Nominee, American Public University System; American Public University System Anthropology Club founder and president; Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award; PEO International Scholarship recipient
Community involvement: Through Keep Santa Fe Beautiful, I presented programs at the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, Rotary of the Mainland Club, Santa Fe Garden Club, Houston Satellite Branch of the American Begonia Society; spoke with Cox Media Group, USA Today, NPR radio, ABC 13 – Houston, Scripts National Television and local news station i45NOW
In 2018, I was elected by the city of Santa Fe City Council to serve on the city of Santa Fe Parks Board member. In this time, I have assisted with the Santa Fe Heritage Festival, the Christmas parade and tree lighting and the Community Easter egg hunt.
In the fall of 2018, I joined the Santa Fe High School Memorial Committee, where we are working on sorting through memorial donations that we can then present to the families of the deceased and the Santa Fe ISD School Board to further a memorial project to be constructed at Santa Fe High School to honor and remember the 10 lives lost.
Additionally, I serve as a Steering Committee member for the city of Santa Fe Resiliency Center. An American Business Women Association of Greenspoint Business Associate Event judge for the last two years; American Public University Ambassador, since 2017; a Wetland Restoration Sea Citizen with Artist Boat in Galveston in 2016 and 2017; and an excavator of a 17,000-year-old mammoth that is now housed at Rice University.
Throughout my time in Santa Fe, I have volunteered numerous hours with teens, military men and women, the homeless, food banks, cancer patients and more. I get pure joy from helping others and helping my community; I hope to instill these same values in my children, family, friends and fellow community members throughout the remainder of my life.
Why did you go into your particular field?
I've always been connected to nature and helping people, but after my community experienced an extreme tragedy, I wanted to use my specific skillset to help my own community heal. This lead to the revitalization of Keep Santa Fe Beautiful and leading a Community Engagement program with the City of Santa Fe Resiliency Center.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was little, I told people I wanted to be an archeologist. However, what I really meant was I wanted to be a paleontologist. I didn't know the difference between the two back then – Ha Ha Ha. Funny how I ended up in anthropology though, after all, archeology is a subfield of anthropology.
What was your first job?
When I was 13, I worked the buzzer for the 8-second bull ride at my uncle's place a few times and I also did some babysitting jobs. But my first real job was working at Garfield's at Mall of the Mainland as a waitress.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Keep a notebook full of things you like and dislike about your supervisors; that way, when you're on the top, you'll be able to reflect back and not make the same mistakes they made and continue and build upon the things that made you feel valued as an employee.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
My favorite thing about the work I do with both Keep Santa Fe Beautiful and the City of Santa Fe Resiliency Center is doing my part to improve the quality of life for my community.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I would have ensured I set aside enough time for myself and my family. As a young professional, you can get carried away with getting each big project complete, but maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential to your career, yourself and your family.
Who do you consider to be your greatest mentor and why?
I have an array of mentors in the professional world; however, my children are my greatest mentors. My boys have taught me more than anyone ever could and their love and encouragement keeps me going every day.
When you’re not at work, what do you do to relax?
Mind-numbing television is always a good quick relaxation fix. However, if I truly want to relax, escaping to nature is my heaven on earth. Hiking, camping, visiting gardens, anything where I can have the sun beam down on me, see trees and smell flowers makes me happy.
What is something about you that most people don’t know?
I'm truly a Libra and have to have balance in my life. For example: Professionally, I'm a little bit of a perfectionist and set myself to a pretty high standard before I put something out there with my name on it, but at home and as a parent, I'm pretty relaxed.
How do you hope to grow in your career?
I've really hit the level I'd like to be in my career but I would like to have the opportunity to share what I've learned with future generations through mentoring, speaking opportunities or teaching at the college level.
If you couldn’t do what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
I don't know, I guess I could always fall back on my childhood dream of digging up dinosaurs, ha ha ha.