My name is Justin Garoutte and I’m an Antonito native who recently returned home to give back to my community. At an early age, I was fascinated with traveling. I was one of sixteen Americans chosen to be a citizen ambassador for the U.S. Department of State LINC Program in Tunisia in 2005. After this, I went on to study abroad again, this time for a full-year in Germany on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) progra.
After graduating from Colorado College and spending three years working in Europe, I decided it was time to head home, so I founded Valleybound, the Antonito School and Community Garden, which serves as an empowering educational space for youth and adults alike. Educating and empowering community remains my main focus, all of this culminating in my work as the Executive Director of Conejos Clean Water (CCW).
CCW is a community-based nonprofit whose mission is to build public awareness and encourage advocacy and education around environmental, economic, social, and food justice issues in the Conejos Land Grant Region of southern Colorado. We are grateful to have received funding from the Chinook Fund during the Fall 2015 grant cycle. That being said, our current initiatives include:
• Valleybound, the Antonito School and Community Garden
• Recycle Conejos and Costilla Counties
• Río Grande del Norte National Monument Expansion Initiative
CCW operates under the basic premise that water is our life source, therefore, protecting our water and fostering a healthy environment promotes public health. In order to achieve our main goal of reducing disparate human health impacts in our rural communities, we focus on four interrelated factors: natural, built, social, and policy. The natural is our community and the environment in which we live, work, play, and learn. The built is present in program addressing illegal dumping, recycling, and local food systems. The policy is seen in our efforts to expand the Río Grande del Norte National Monument in order to permanently protect public land in Conejos County. The social appears in our efforts to organize public comments, as we do so through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
As a member of the Chinook Fund’s Giving Project, I have been able to meet so many talented individuals, all of whom are deeply invested in issues of social justice, seeking systemic change for a better tomorrow. I have deepened my understanding of the roles of race and class in our society, as well as built upon my limited knowledge of grassroots fundraising. All of this has led to numerous conversations with family and friends about social justice and the critical work that is being done throughout Colorado by a multitude of constituent-led organizations seeking community-wide, lasting change.
I look forward to continuing my work on the Giving Project, along with my work on the ground in Antonito, Colorado, located in the beautiful and majestic San Luis Valley. Spending most of my time in rural Colorado, I often feel isolated, but since partnering with the Chinook Fund, I must say I feel more connected than ever before to a greater movement for justice in Colorado and beyond.