Picnics en el Arroyo

by Verónica Godoy

The Central Texas team and I spent two months preparing for this day, our first picnic at Beverly S. Sheffield North West Metropolitan park in Austin. We were excited and nervous, running every possible bad scenario in our heads and having more questions than answers. Would the families show up? Would the kids like the activities? What if they don’t want to participate? Would we have enough water and snacks? The nervousness faded when we saw the families arriving from different corners of the park geared up for “un dia al aire libre” (a day outdoors) and when we laughed at the kids who decided to chase a curious “ardilla” (squirrel) as the moms were settling around the picnic tables. We had a full day of fun in nature: we played a recycle relay game, walked along Shoal creek, explored life in and around the pond with a bingo game “Bingo de la Laguna” and studied the biodiversity of macroinvertebrates that live in the pond using fishing nets and magnifying glasses. We had a good laugh when we discovered that the long branch sticking out of the pond was not a branch but the neck of a Great Blue Heron hiding in the tall grasses. Kids and parents engaged in every activity with curiosity and enthusiasm.

My favorite memory of the picnic was a conversation I had with a lively 9-year-old girl. She shared about the rock collection she has at home and how much she loves turtles, her favorite animal. She insisted on being my assistant in every activity. She did not leave my side; she did not want to miss a thing. When I asked Alejandra Quintana, the team Project Assistant, to share a highlight of the day, she said, “One of the boys who is autistic, really enjoyed one of our activities called BINGO de la Laguna. Although he did not mark everything he saw on his Bingo card, he was a really great scouter. He really took the time to look for any animal, insect, or plant when walking around the pond. I was completely impressed when he came to me and asked me to look at what he had found. When I looked up, I saw a green lizard on a tree branch. I was able to capture a few pictures of it as well! This was indeed on the bingo card, and he was the only kid to spot such a reptile. It was outstanding and very impressive.”

The picnic at Beverly S. Sheffield North West Metropolitan Park was the first of 8 outdoor events in Spanish we have planned to reach underserved Hispanic families with language barriers from May 2022 to May 2023. Each event takes place in a different location—a district, state park, or private land in the Austin area with access to a creek. The particular historical, geological, and biological features of the place shape the type of activities we offer. We design the picnics as unique and fun experiences connecting families to the land, water, and living creatures. At the time of publication of this blog, we hosted three picnics on public land. We visited three watersheds: Shoal Creek, Walnut Creek, and Onion Creek. We hiked more than 3.5 miles. We served 61 people, 25 adults and 36 children, and we created many lovely memories in nature for the families and us.

We are learning valuable lessons, adapting and asking questions. For example, I prefer email communication but families respond better to texting, so I had to adjust and embrace texting. Lot’s of texting! We are doing a very good job at engaging elementary school age children in the activities, but we want to figure out how to engage toddlers and teens better. Also, we realized that some families speak Spanish fluently but do not feel comfortable writing or reading it, so we incorporated a bilingual approach in our written communication and materials. We have many questions around the impact of Picnics en el Arroyo in the time the families will spend outdoors and the activities they will choose to do one or two years from now. The power of time, well designed surveys, and  interviews, will give us some answers that I hope to share with you in the future. 

By the end of the first picnic, the team and I were hot, sweaty, and exhausted but with a great sense of accomplishment. The event was a success, and our commitment to facilitate access to green spaces for underserved Hispanic families grew stronger. We expect that Picnics en el Arroyo will continue to connect families with creeks and parks in Austin, enable them to spend more time outdoors, and empower them to make decisions that will contribute to the health of the local ecosystems and the community. 

Picnics en el Arroyo is funded in part by 2022 Community Outdoor Outreach Program grant from TPWD.

Interested in volunteering or learning more about Picnics en el Arroyo? Contact Verónica Godoy at [email protected].

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