Talking about pocket parks and CORO Fellows with Omar Gonzales
November 16, 2015
Earlier this fall we hosted a CORO Fellow. And in 6 short weeks Omar Gonzales became part of the Open Space Council family. He worked on our ongoing project to develop a case for support for land conservation in the Bay Area (why should we invest in land and parks?). He learned how a small nonprofit operates. And he hacked our Instagram account with some stunning photographs. So, in following our tradition of copying the Talk section of the Sunday New York Times Magazine, we sat down with Omar to ask him some questions…
Tell me, how did you arrive here at the Bay Area Open Space Council?
By BART! And also through a public affairs fellowship. I’m currently a CORO Fellow. A central component of the 9-month leadership development program is the exposure to a variety of sectors through rotational placements. So the Bay Area Open Space Council was my “nonprofit” placement. Future offices will include government, business, and organized labor organizations. Fun fact: I found out I was placed here only two days before I started.
What did you do while you were here? What were some of the highlights for you?
Lots and lots of reading. Which was useful and necessary because it helped me create a case for support for regional conservation funding. This project is going to help support the Outdoor Voice initiative by providing insight from member organizations about the projects that future funding should support while also considering what happens if funding isn’t obtained. Towards the end of my time here I took over the Instagram account and posted my photos of the open space, parks, and farms I visited during my six weeks here.
Highlights include: eating dark chocolate everyday, walking meetings at Cal, providing a printer consultation, using an exercise ball as a desk chair, and working with this awesome/fun/smart/passionate team.
How do you find out about the places you posted about on Instagram?
The Internet was helpful because there’s an incredible amount of Buzzfeed-esque articles that list “TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN SAN FRANCISCO” that are geared toward hikes and exploring Bay Area lands. But what those lists always didn’t mention, I learned through word of mouth, Open Space Council materials, and wandering. I also have a long list of places to go to in the future, which may or may not include places to eat ice cream, thanks to Annie and Mary.
What did you learn during your fellowship? Did anything surprise you?
Six weeks ago I thought open space was just about pocket parks. So the definition of open space surprised me at first. It may sound obvious but I learned about land conservation and why parks, open spaces, and working lands are important to the Bay Area. As a frequent park user, this placement made me aware of the opportunities available to take my love of parks and hikes a step further by using my “voice”, whether through voting or volunteering, to support conservation efforts. Some of those efforts I’m particularly interested in after working here include increasing public access to parks and building partnerships between Native Americans and land conservation organizations. On the operations side of things, I spent some time with Yoko where I learned how business principles are adapted and applied in a nonprofit setting. Finance = Fun
What do you hope to do after your CORO fellowship is over?
I’d really like to travel right after I’m finished. Currently making plans for the summer. Long-term, I’m hoping to attend law school or graduate school for public policy and eventually work in the public sector. Whatever I do, I want to use my background in business and experience in the nonprofit and political spheres to work across sectors and encourage interjurisdictional collaboration. The impact and immediacy of local government is something I can point to that I’m particularly drawn to. I wholeheartedly believe that the local level of government is the most important because it’s felt and seen everyday in people’s lives and it plays an important role in empowering communities and improving the quality of life for residents. Somewhere in between all of these things I also hope to pursue my quest to be on Jeopardy, be a National Geographic photographer, perform in SNL, and continue jamming with my bluegrass band, BanjOmar.
What is your favorite kind of chocolate?
Dark. (only because if I say milk chocolate I will probably receive some glares from the chocolate savants in the office.)
You’ve been going outside a lot in your time in the Bay Area. What has been your favorite park or open space so far?
I feel pretty lucky to be living in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco which is located near some cool municipal parks. The first is Alamo Square Park where I shamelessly join throngs of tourists taking in the views of downtown and the over-Instagrammed Painted Ladies. There’s a tennis court too, so that’s a bonus. The other park, after I run the Panhandle, is Golden Gate Park. Anything that combines museums, hot dog stands, and nature is good place to be.