Michelle Okawa is a graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Leadership Academy and a volunteer who joined coalition members on a trip to meet with representatives in Washington, D.C. Below, she reflects on the experience.
What Surprised Me:
Before going on the trip to Washington, D.C., the idea of speaking to Congress members worried me tremendously. I’ve never spoken to government officials before and honestly I didn’t really know what to expect. Despite these pre-trip nerves, Duyen & Rob did a wonderful job preparing us on what we would be doing in each meeting and what we should talk about. One thing that surprised me in D.C. was how unpredictable each meeting would be. Depending on who you are speaking with, you may be meeting with a Congress member or a staffer, sometimes in their office, in a backroom, or even in the hallway lobby. You never really know what to expect!
What We Got to Talk About:
Since we only had about 20 minutes to meet with each office, it was important to be concise and really hit the points we wanted to make. Depending on who we were speaking to, we would adjust our talking points to create the most effective argument to support the San Gabriels. I feel like as a team we had a really great flow to our conversations that complimented each other really well. We all had different roles to play, but it was truly the teamwork that allowed us to shine as a group.
In my presentation, I spoke about being a resident of the San Gabriel Valley my whole life and having very little awareness about the San Gabriel Mountains until only recently. I spoke on behalf of the members of my Japanese American community, and how there is a lack of public accessibility to the national recreational areas that are right in our backyards. During my presentation I got to share pictures and stories about the Leadership Academy project that my supervisor and I implemented last year. Our project was called Camp Chibikko, and we took a group of 75 children ages 5-12 on various field trips to the San Gabriel Mountains. While on these field trips, the children got to participate in several hands-on activities where they learned about the native plants and animals surrounding them. For many of these children, this camp really provided their first introductory experience to interacting with nature. Across the board, parents said that their children absolutely loved the field trips and nature activities they participated in. I stressed the importance of providing people with these opportunities to explore local natural lands, so that they may have access and awareness to the recreational areas that are available to them.
What I’m Still Thinking About:
Even after the trip ended, I continued thinking about the impact that our projects have on the communities that we live in. I am thinking about the incredible opportunity we were given to represent our communities and actually show Congress members how essential the San Gabriel Mountains are to the residents of the Los Angeles County. After this trip, I am determined now more than ever to fight and protect our San Gabriel Mountains that has provided so many incredible experiences for myself and the people that visit.