This month, we’re featuring Belinda Faustinos, the newest member of our California Environmental Grassroots funding board. Belinda is our first and only Grassroots Funding Board member from Southern California. She brings with her years of experience focused in equity and conservation in the outdoors.
You have devoted your career to promoting conservation and equity in the outdoors. What has drawn you to this work?
Like most of us we develop our likes in life at an early age. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and even though we were a large family of 6 kids we were fortunate that my parents had a profound connection to parks and the outdoors. Likely one reason was if you had the choice of staying indoors with six kids or taking them to the park or beach, it was a no brainer that getting them out was best for everyone. One of my favorite childhood memories are the handmade flour tortillas my Mom would make for burritos to eat on our way to our annual camping trips. Many times we were the only Latino family, whether it was in our state/national parks or beaches. When I had the opportunity to work on public lands, providing access was one of my high priorities due to my experiences. It also gave me pause because I understood the lach of cultural competency on the part of most park staff and the discrimination that people of color feel in these spaces was real back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
You are a member of numerous boards, panels, and committees. What about the Rose Foundation’s Grassroots Funding board inspired you to join?
The focus on small developing home-grown NOGs was the driver for my participation on this Board. Capacity building in community driven organizations is critically important if we are ever to change the power structure in environmental work. After more than 30 years working in the environmental world, I see incremental improvements however it is mainly with professionals working in environmental spaces. There are very few opportunities to develop true community leadership that is self-determined and supported by private philanthropy. That sold the sizzle for me and based on the experiences I have had to date with two rounds of grant funding, it is truly a gift for me to be in this position.
The Grassroots Fund is expanding from just northern CA to covering all of California. You’ve spent a lot of your life and career in the LA area, and you are the first SoCal funding board member for the Grassroots Fund. Is environmental work in SoCal the same as Northern CA? What do we need to understand about SoCal to be a good community-oriented funder there?
I have had the privilege of getting to know about environmental issues across the nation in my work with the National Parks Service Advisory Board and state through Coastal Commission, State Audubon, etc. and I can say form experience that fundamentally the issues of environmental and social injustice are very similar and the solution, building power in communities that have suffered from systemic disinvestment aren’t so different. While communities do have variations in needs based on local political and cultural differences across the nation I found tremendous similarity in both the problems and solutions. I am excited to see the work of Rose Foundation expand to Southern California because there has been a real void in programs which build capacity in our region. The approach taken by staff to reach out, get to know and build trust with local organizations in Northern CA will work just as well in SoCal.
The Rose Foundation has always had a movement-building orientation, but we have made a deliberate organizational decision to sharpen our focus to be more intentional towards supporting equity and justice. What are some of the main things you think we need to do to achieve this?
In evaluating the grant application I found that the questions asked of applicants provided a good framework for assessing the impacts of the proposed program/project in achieving equity and justice. As with any grant program, validating the information provided to substantiate those claims can sometimes be challenging, particularly when analyzing project proposals in which there is no personal knowledge of the area/issues by staff or Board members. Therefore, it is critical that the applicant is able to clearly identify the equity and justice element of their proposal. Due to language and other barriers it may be necessary for Rose staff to provide guidance and advice to applicants in addressing these issues.
A lot of the groups that apply to the Grassroots Fund have very little experience asking foundations for money. What are you looking for when you read a grassroots grant application? What advice would you have for somebody who is writing their first-ever grant proposal?
Best advice to ask for help from program staff, peers and mentors when submitting grant applications. Staff must nurture this part of their job and actively encourage applicants to ask questions on how to address questions in the application. I would also encourage them to review funded grant applications to get a sense of what sells the sizzle. Also trust your gut, sincerity and genuine language is always so much better than professional polish, particularly for new NGOs.
When you are not doing professional work, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend time outdoors, bike riding, walking in parks and exploring new sites with my husband. My siblings and I are very close and we tend to have at least one family celebration every month. I also spend a great deal of time with my 14 year old granddaughter and her friends who ground me in what matters most in my life, family.