Color naming

Phoenix woman promotes outdoor recreation for girls of color

PHOENIX (AP) — From a young age, Raquel Gomez loved being outdoors. Her parents took her biking, rock climbing, sledding, rollerblading and swimming. At age 10, she joined the Girl Scouts and was exposed to camping.

But in addition to the thrill of sleeping outside, singing by a campfire and making s’mores, something happened outside that she never forgot. Gomez, now 35, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican, realized none of her peers looked like her.

“The campsite was kind of the first time I realized that I was the only person of color in that group, and not just in the group, but in the campsite,” Gomez said. “I realized then, outdoors in general, that I was usually the only person of color there.”

This realization at a young age led her to embark on a career in youth development and promoting access to outdoor recreation for black and brown children.

Finding a job that combined these passions was not easy. So she created one.

In the summer of 2020, Gomez founded Atabey Outdoors, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that provides free guided outdoor adventures to Black, Indigenous, and other girls of color ages 8-12.

“When I went looking for jobs to do this, there were none that existed that combined all of my passions and interests at (Phoenix),” Gomez said. “So I wanted to create a program for younger Raquel, for girls who want to be outside with girls who look like them.”

Gomez, who is originally from Connecticut, left her job as a youth coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club of Phoenix in the summer of 2020 to focus full-time on creating Atabey Outdoors. The project started in memory of his father.

“My dad passed away the summer I was thinking of starting this organization,” Gomez said. “He was the adventurer who took me on a lot of my outdoor experiences, so I thought it would be best to do this as a tribute to him.”

In many of these adventures, the same questions popped up in his head.

“I would ask my parents why am I the only black or brown girl in football? Why am I the only black or brown girl in Girl Scouts? And there were no answers to the questions,” she said.

Throughout his life, Gomez sought answers to these questions and solutions to the underlying problems.

“I don’t claim to know all the reasons for everyone,” Gomez said. “But in terms of why I created this program, it had a lot to do with the communities I worked with.

“They don’t have access to outdoor adventures the way affluent white people do. It takes money for the equipment. It takes transportation to get where you need to go. And it takes knowledge to know the skills you need to do those outdoor adventures.

Recent population statistics on local, state, and national park use confirm Gomez’s experiences.

A survey conducted by Arizona State Parks and Trails in 2019 and 2020 found that visitors are predominantly white. In the sample, a quarter of visitors surveyed at Arizona state parks were people of color. Currently, 46% of Arizona’s population is made up of people of color.

A 2018 survey by the National Park Service revealed the same dynamic. The non-visitor survey examined the most common barriers to visiting national parks among racial and ethnic groups.

These barriers included lack of transportation, travel expenses, and national park entry fees. A significantly higher percentage of Hispanic and African American non-visitors surveyed cited these barriers than white non-visitors.

As she got older, Gomez continued to combine her love of the outdoors with her interest in helping young people.

While attending Old Dominion University in Virginia, Gomez worked as a camp counselor. When she lived in Chicago, she worked as a rock climbing instructor.

Before moving to Phoenix four years ago, Gomez was a wilderness therapy guide in Huntington, Utah, guiding children and young adults in the backcountry, teaching them survival skills and assigning therapy homework to those who were experiencing issues like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Samir Clinton, 8, joined Atabey Outdoors for a “Hike n Paint” adventure. As the Atabey members walked along the Freedom Trail in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, they stopped to admire the view and paint the landscape in watercolors.

At the Boys and Girls Club of the Valley, Gomez coordinated after-school programming and summer camps.

Gomez said she didn’t have much experience with the administrative side of running a nonprofit, but she felt her experiences provided a solid foundation on which to build her organization. She spent a lot of time indoors during the pandemic looking for the pieces she needed to put in place.

“I already had experience in youth development programs as well as knowledge of how to manage staff and volunteers,” Gomez said. “Having this knowledge already in my pocket helped the whole process.”

In just one year, Gomez registered Atabey Outdoors as a nonprofit and formed a board of directors with two other women of color. She said the name was inspired by Taino traditions, indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and early Hispañola. Atabey (Ah-Tah-Bay) is the Earth Mother and supreme goddess of the Taino community.

Gomez operates Atabey full-time with the help of volunteers who share his passion for raising children of color outdoors.

Quin Works, 30, has been a volunteer with Atabey Outdoors for over a year and has seen Atabey’s outreach progress. Works helps manage the organization’s social media pages and accompanies many outdoor adventures.

“It was amazing to see the momentum of how Atabey embraced the community and how the community embraced Atabey,” Works said. “It’s really exciting when there’s a win, so to speak, like new partnerships, media inclusion, or new girls signing up. It’s gratifying.

When families enroll children in Atabey Outdoors, they fill out a questionnaire that asks for information about the child’s ethnicity and the family’s income level. Gomez said the average income of participating families is $15,000 to $35,000 a year.

Members of Atabey Outdoors had the chance to practice their meditation and headstand skills on this “Yoga in the Park” adventure.

According to the Atabey Outdoor website, although programming is primarily aimed at black and brown girls, the organization welcomes all ethnicities, all economic backgrounds, and even boys as long as they demonstrate their commitment to the mission of the outdoor. ‘organization.

To date, Atabey Outdoors has over 50 registered members and an average of 10 children join each of the outdoor adventures.

Atabey operates on grants, partnerships and donations. Grants come from organizations such as the National Recreation Foundation and the REI Cooperative Action Fund and help pay for food, transportation and equipment. REI lent the group outdoor gear such as mountain bikes and kayaks. Atabey recently received a $25,000 grant from the City of Phoenix.

Funding also supports training and development. Gomez encourages Atabey volunteers to get certified in CPR and wilderness first aid.