Lorena works as a Community Engagement Specialist at the Field Museum. Specifically, she works to uplift programs, natural areas, and gardens in South-East Chicago and Gary, Indiana. They are working on local stories, mapping community assets, and creating natural areas while keeping in mind important historical contexts of the working areas. Lorena is the daughter of Mexican migrants. She was raised in Little Village, and currently lives in South-West Chicago with her lovely husband and three children.

How did you first encounter CSLN and what is your current relationship?

I encountered CSLN in the summer of 2016. I applied for an opportunity to take a small step-in leadership role. I wanted to be connected to a broader network of folks, because during that time I was doing a lot of energy work and education and I felt that I was doing the same things over and over again. Joining CSLN let me do that. I was accepted and came together with a leadership group here, then got into the networking meetings and so forth. 

Lorena in front of her South-West Chicago home
Photo: Maura Parker

What keeps you motivated in your individual work, outside of CSLN? 

My family is my number one motivation. They push me to challenge myself to learn more, to connect with more people and opportunities. Not for myself necessarily, but for opportunities for my programs. They push me to learn from people, their goals, and their challenges, in order to see how I can also implement their tactics. It is important to be able to learn from others. There are so many barriers and challenges that go with connecting with a community. However, when we work with people, they can share their expertise with you and give you another vision. You can strategically think about how to implement programs on the ground in a different way. 

Could you tell me a specific story about a high point of working within CSLN or within your community? 

A high point for me was the recycling program we did that brought education about recycling to the community. I got to learn some of the ends of recycling and the dirty work that goes into recycling to run one product into another. Specifically, CSLN was educating me on which communities are recycling the best and which are the worst.  It’s no surprise that it is in brown and black communities that we don’t know how to separate recycling. We want to recycle, we want to be enthusiastic about it, but there is so much that goes with it. There is not a lot of education on the ground about teaching folks the proper ways to recycle. I am really thinking how I can implement this better within my own family events. It is such a big task to take on and it is really under sourced in terms of education.

I love the way Caitlin, Samantha, and Seva (from ICA-USA) facilitate conversations. They are actually connecting with leadership within the city. I think that is so empowering and valuable. It is not always just fighting a fight but it is also about being strategic and connecting with leaders everywhere. They brought me to the table and they made a space for them to be in front of the city, to learn with them and to advocate for a better recycling program here in the city of Chicago. That has been a highlight for me, that these women have given me a space to join them and to uplift the city of Chicago. 

Photo: Maura Parker

What makes CSLN unique for you?

As an engagement person I do have the facilitated conversation and connect with people. When I was first starting in 2016, I was a bit shy about connecting with leaders across the city of Chicago. I can connect with individuals and be fine if I don’t know what they do. But it is more nerve wracking when you know this is a representative for the city of Chicago, this is somebody who’s working in the South-side who has a cohort and a community that follows this person. But the way Caitlin, Samantha, and Seva facilitate this in front of other leaders is a model for me to take on. I have learned facilitation skills from them and how to be assertive in a space like this.

For the future, how do you hope to expand what you are doing with CSLN?

Where I live in the South-West side of the city there is not a lot to talk about environmental issues. That is not to say that we are not talking about really important things like social justice, housing, jobs, sustaining homes in general, transportation, these are things that my community really talks about. I want to find and bring that intersection between the environment and other issues to the South-West side. We care deeply about climate change but we just don’t know what to do about it. And I think there are a lot of people who care deeply, but there are still a lot of questions. Ensuring my community are thinking in terms of dynamic ways to talk about the environment is a challenge, because I still don’t have a clear vision of what is going to be done. I’m still envisioning what that looks like with my community and connecting with other organizations and leaders who are not necessarily working in the environment but finding those crossroads.

I want to bring CSLN in for a networking day in the South-West side. I am working to find a hosting site and an organization that would take us on. That would be great to have the CSLN leaders with local leaders on the South-West side together. Then, we could talk a little more about who’s doing what and maybe find some common roots and align strategies together and so we can work together towards a common goal. So that’s my hope for this year and I think the CSLN is the tool for that.  

Ensuring my community are thinking in terms of dynamic ways to talk about the environment is a challenge, because I still don’t have a clear vision of what is going to be done.

 How did you get your job at the Field museum? 

I was very frustrated with my past employer, I needed to do something different and I wanted to expand my wings. A CSLN member knew this, called me up, and suggested that I should apply for this job at the Field Museum. I talked about CSLN during my interview while discussing the different networks that I am connecting with and my community engagement.

I’ve used a lot of these skills from CSLN at the Field Museum. There are a lot of scientists, anthropologists, and social scientists and I have to assert myself to them as well. Just taking ownership of the physical space is really important.  That is really one of the things I have really taken away from CSLN. 

Author: accele11