Environmental Justice to the Third Power

One Roof Foundation, Climate Pledge Arena, and Amazon collaborate to provide grants to local nonprofits devoted to improved air quality, cleaner water, green spaces and much needed jobs in local underrepresented communities.

By Bob Condor

When Cesar Garcia first heard the term “environmental justice,” he didn’t know the definition. But he quickly realized he knew all about its meaning.

Garcia is co-founder of the Lake City Collective, a minority-led nonprofit organization committed as part of an overall mission to North Seattle enjoying the same air quality, clean water and green spaces of other city neighborhoods. That’s the pursuit of environmental justice in real time and real life.

Lake City Collective and a number of other local nonprofits, including Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) and Chief Seattle Club, have been awarded environmental justice grants from the Climate Equity Fund, a partnership between Amazon, Climate Pledge Arena and One Roof Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Climate Pledge Arena and the Kraken.

“We formed this fund because we know that while climate change is global, it has hyper-local implications,” said Mari Horita, vice president of community engagement and social impact and executive director of One Roof Foundation. “And low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and immigrant populations face greater environmental harms.”

“We want to create healthy spaces for kids to play safely,” Garcia said. “We want clean air and water for our increasingly diverse and largely disinvested area.”

Garcia says Lake City Collective will use the funds to “take our youth cohort program to another level” by adding mentors and rejuvenating a summer jobs program. Three teen cohorts have already built community gardens in Northeast Seattle as part of the LCC initiative to “engage and teach” local youth.

The teens are learning about building community garden beds and planting flowers and edible plants, (including natives, “cultural foods” in a dense environment that lacks open spaces to grow food.

Another “important element” of the work is focused on building awareness with the youth cohorts and larger Seattle region about pollution in the Little Brook creek that runs through the Lake City neighborhood. The goal is to develop stewardship of this sole natural resource in the Lake City community.

If you have ever enjoyed Matthews Beach [about two miles northeast of the University of Washington], Garcia said its waters will continue to be adversely affected because of the pet pollution (caused by a density of dogs) upstream in Little Brook if the situation is not communicated and reversed.

Along with those actions, the environmental grant will allow Garcia, his co-director and wife, Peggy Hernandez, and fellow LCC team members, to add staffing for the youth program as needed, plus program equipment, food for events and general operating expenses for “community outreach in a North Seattle area that includes Native American, African American, East African, Asian and Latin Americanx populations.”

For Paulina Lopez, executive director of the DRCC, the grant will fuel “greater capacity” for a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 to represent the Duwamish Valley region of South Seattle.

She says the money will support both youth programming and an ambitious jobs initiative to place local residents in both “green jobs” (renewable energy businesses, retrofitting buildings to make them more climate resilient, corporate sustainability efforts) and the maritime industries (vessels, commerce, operations, shipping, marine terminals and transportation, including the state ferry system).

“The grant will keep us going strong at securing climate and environmental justice to Duwamish Valley,” Lopez said. “It can be hard for nonprofits on the ground to have enough funds to have the capacity to carry out efforts. The funds help us plan for achieving a more sustainable environment in our local community.”

Part of that planning is to help businesses and individuals to recover from the pandemic. Another positive outcome will be the purchase of air monitors to track shifts in hyper-local air quality, plus air filters and fans to be distributed to local residents for increased livability in their homes.

The nonprofit will also buy kayaks that can used by community members to “safely spend time on the Duwamish River,” plant mature trees to “augment the tree canopy in the South Park industrial area and train “community stewards to help implement environmental health and justice projects.”

Like Lake City Collective, the DRCC will use a portion of the funds for “organizational capacity building.”

Chief Seattle Club’s executive director, Derrick Belgarde, is relatively new in his role but not to the organization and its mission. Taking over in late May, the longtime deputy director and staffer in other roles is excited about the grant from the Climate Equity Fund.

It will support the organization’s Sovereignty Farms. The farms project is part of CSC’s jobs rehabilitation program, Native Works, training workers and rehabilitating job opportunities while connecting those individuals to “land stewardship and cultural heritage.”

The funds will be directed to Native Works participants to grow Native foods and herbs (one example: nettles) that in turn will supply those crops to a new café/art gallery in Pioneer Square. It will be part of a landmark mixed-use building called “ʔálʔal” (which means “Home” in Lushootseed) to provide affordable housing to Native people along with resident gathering places on each floor, a primary care health clinic through partnership with the Seattle Indian Health Board and on-site residents and community. The ʔálʔal Café will be on the ground floor and will serve as a retail café, Native art gallery and community hub.

Belgarde says the nine-story project is nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy in November 2021. The project, across from the Pioneer Square Light Rail Station, includes redeveloping Fortson Square Park, located at Yesler and 2nd Avenue Extension South.

“We look at the grant as seed money of sorts for the café,” Belgarde said. “I think it is really going to be the café to frequent in Pioneer Square and downtown. Locally grown food and Native dishes will be a highlight. Our gallery is going to exhibit some amazing works in an atmosphere that all Seattleites will love.”