Jose and Maria Huante are leaders in their community, assisting with local efforts to bring life to urban neighborhoods in southern California and protect wild places like the San Gabriel Mountains.
Attending a meeting in their community is what led Jose and Maria Huante to a mission for their retirement years: improving their neighbors’ ties to nature in El Monte, California.
Called to conservation
In early 2011, the Huantes were invited to meet the people behind Amigos de los Rios, a local non-profit devoted to bringing renewed life to urban neighborhoods within economically disadvantaged Southern California communities by protecting the environment, creating sustainable open spaces and strengthening community life. “I loved what I heard that night,” Maria recalls.
After, the couple visited a local park called Rio Vista, and they found out that because of budget cuts it was full of weeds and dry grass. “From that moment, I have been a volunteer almost every weekend,” Maria says.
At home in the San Gabriel Mountains
El Monte is a small town at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, about an hour's drive from Los Angeles. The Huantes settled there early in their marriage after Jose emigrated from Mexico and found work in the area. Jose says that they learned to love hiking and camping in the San Gabriels.
“There is nothing like stars seen from a mountain, and clean-smelling greenery to wake up to in the morning,” he muses.
Maria had her first experience with wilderness when her family went to the nearby mountains. “I remember going up Azusa Canyon looking at the river, the camping grounds, the big trees,” she recounts. “We camped out through the night. It was so nice to see the clear sky and stars and breathe in the clean air.”
Making a difference in their lives and community
Jose and Maria recently graduated from the San Gabriel Mountains Forever leadership academy, which trains and empowers community leaders to lead grassroots conservation efforts, and they are using their experience to help their work with Amigos de los Rios.
“I feel much better in a ‘green’ place. It means clean air and definitely no car noise. I think nature makes us all healthier,” Jose adds.
"I think nature makes us all healthier."
Maria expresses that she feels a transformation from these experiences, illustrating how volunteering for conservation work can permeate a person’s entire life. “My plants appreciate the ‘new’ me,” she declares. “I used to put just water to my roses. Now I have more flowers, more plants, and I love to be involved in anything that is green. Now I see I can make the difference at home and in the environment.”
In a place as heavily populated as Southern California, wild lands are under constant threat from recreational use and development pressure, making volunteers like the Huantes invaluable.
“The San Gabriel Mountains Forever organization showed me how to appreciate the wild areas,” Maria says. “It would make me feel sad to lose all that beauty.”