SAN LUIS VALLEY — Tiera Guerena grew up in the small town of Globe, Arizona “playing in the dirt, making mud castles, camping with the family and picking up snakes” with her brothers. While most professions might not view that as prerequisite, job-related experience, Guerena’s lifelong love for the great outdoors makes her a perfect fit for her new position as program coordinator for SLV GenWild, one of the cornerstones of SLV GO! “Spending all that time outdoors with my family when I was a kid is, I think, key to who I am,” she says.
Guerena’s path from being a little kid in east-central Arizona to program coordinator of a dynamic program serving thousands of youth in the San Luis Valley was not exactly a straight shot but, looking back, it seems almost inevitable she would end up where she is.
Starting when she was about twelve years old, Guerena was in a theater program in her hometown but, as she entered high school, she became fascinated with the idea of running an arts program. She transitioned to working at an art center in Globe, helping to “write grants and other administrative things” after school. Upon graduation from high school, she attended an art school in Santa Fe while continuing to grow her interest in community development. When the school lost its funding and closed its doors, Guerena transferred to Arizona State University. While in Tempe, Guerena became part of the Arizona Creative Communities Initiative utilizing the arts and the environment in developing communities. “Economic development is important,” she says, “but arts and the environment can be really effective, as well.”
Guerena ultimately majored in Non-Profit Leadership and Management at ASU. As part of her degree program, she had to complete a full-time internship. Her search led her to SLV GO! and subsequent move to the San Luis Valley. After completing her internship and spending a year as an Americorps volunteer, she took the position as program coordinator of SLV GenWild.
With its origins in an initiative of Great Outdoors Colorado, SLV GenWild is one of twelve “Generation Wild” communities located throughout the state, each one committed to bringing together a coalition of organizations, volunteers and partners focused on breaking down barriers to getting youth (of all ages) outside and interacting with the great outdoors. In the words of its website, SLVGenWild and its coalition partners are “dedicated to creating sustainable, culturally relevant land and water stewardship education programs for youth ranging ages pre-K through college.”
While some people may not immediately recognize the name, the impact of SLV GenWild and the role it plays in the San Luis Valley can be found in the lives of an estimated 5,000 “kids” ranging in age from 4 to 24 years old they serve. That and the nine partners they work with, including Boys and Girls Club, Alpine Achievers Institute, Adams State University Adventure Program, Alamosa Parks and Recreation, Creede Parks and Recreation, SLV Rattlers, the Rio Grande Water Conservation and Education Initiative and SLV GO!.
In Guerena’s words, they “all share the common vision of a San Luis Valley that is healthy and cared for by all” with a primary focus on youth with families a priority, as well.
In other words, SLV GenWild is, to a certain degree, the organization behind the organizations -- a coalition of partners who are all working together, in different ways, toward the same end of ultimately serving the communities where they’re located by serving the youth and families who live there.
As a new person in a newly created position with an organization like SLV GO! that is taking on a number of new initiatives, Guerena clearly has her work cut out before her.
And she is already blazing the trail.
She plans to spend the first six months in her position learning about the coalition of SLV GenWild’s partners in the coalition as well as implementing a strategic planning process. She’s also focused on learning how to build on the programming that comes out of the coalition.
“Programming is typically geared toward outdoor recreation or environmental education or both of those things combined,” she says, citing the Alpine Achievers as an example. “Some days, they may take kids rock climbing or ice skating. Then some days, they may have an environmental education workshop or online classes to bolster kids’ science education.”
Although Guerena didn’t have specific numbers on hand, she said that, as a coalition, they serve around 5,000 kids a year. Between all nine partners, they also offer scaffolded programming, allowing youth to participate in programming through SLV GenWild where, at four years old, they can do things with Boys and Girls Club; in high school, they can participate in programs through SLV Rattlers and, while attending college, they can participate with ASU’s Adventure Program.
It is an extraordinary accomplishment for SLV GenWild that has only been in existence since 2017.
Although she’s only been in the position for a short time, Guerena is already looking at the bigger picture, including working with the coalition to grow on their already existing goal of diversity and inclusion. Another goal is to have a youth leadership council that advises on programs.
Worthy goals for a young woman who seems tailored to the position she’s in.
Anyone interested in learning more about SLV GenWild or its parent organization SLV GO! should go to either slvgenwild.com, slvgo.com or look for them on Facebook.