The mission of Conejos Clean Water is to build public awareness and encourage advocacy and education around environmental, social, economic, and food justice issues in the Conejos Land Grant Region. Conejos Clean Water (CCW) operates under the basic premise that water is our life source; therefore, protecting the water and fostering a healthy environment promotes public health and serves as a natural resource management system.
Meet Justin Garoutte, an inspiring educator and the Executive Director of Conejos Clean Water. Justin recently returned to Conejos County, CO with plans to be active in his home community. In 2005, he was one of the sixteen Americans chosen for the role of “citizen ambassador” for the U.S. Department of State LINC Program in Tunisia. He then studied for a year in Germany on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program. Following his participation in these two programs, Justin attended Colorado College on several academic scholarships, and in 2012, graduated cum laude with a BA in German Language and Culture. He then spent three years in Europe where he taught English at the University of Bremen and German for high school exchange students. In 2014, Justin returned to his alma mater to teach and direct the German production, Das letzte Feuer.
Today, he is busy maintaining Valleybound, an “empowering educational space” that he founded to support children and adults. Justin remains a mentor for at-risk youth in Conejos County and teaches literacy and healthy choices to students at Guadalupe Elementary.
Below is a Q&A with Justin about why he decided to join Conejos Clean Water and the mission he continues to pursue.
Tell us about how you got involved with Conejos Clean Water. What inspires you most about being a part of a positive force that impacts lives everyday?
I got involved with Conejos Clean Water upon my return to my hometown in southern Colorado, wanting to give back to the area that raised me. I am inspired each day by the generosity and resiliency of people, both in the Conejos Land Grant Region and outside of it.
Tell us your favorite story about how Conejos Clean Water impacted a life or lives.
My favorite story is the very story that founded Conejos Clean Water. One day hazardous, toxic nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Labs showed up in our small town of 800 people. Despite so many odds stacked up against our people and community, everyone came together to challenge this new development that was threatening one of our water sources, the San Antonio River. Through perseverance and our community working together with others around the region, we were able to successfully halt this transfer of hazardous, toxic nuclear waste on that site, thereby protecting our water, land and people!
When someone asks what Conejos Clean Water does, how do you explain it to them? What makes Conejos Clean Water unique?
Our organization focuses on elevating the health of communities throughout the Conejos Land Grant Region of southern Colorado. We focus on four pillars: social justice, environmental justice, economic justice, and food justice.
By focusing on these four areas, we are able to holistically affect systemic change within our communities, addressing the root causes of injustices faced by our people.
Specifically, we work with local youth and families to connect them to the earth, teaching them how to grow their own food. Additionally, we are developing a regional recycling plan for the entire San Luis Valley to help keep trash out of illegal dumpsites on our public lands. On top of this, we advocate for the permanent protection of our beautiful public lands in the area, leading outings on these lands with our local youth and families. And finally, we foster safe spaces for our youth within our local school, cultivating compassionate leaders in our Allies in Diversity club.
How can everyday people help and support Conejos Clean Water?
Folks wanting to help our organization can help out in any of the following ways: (1) Advocate with us around our current justice issues; (2) Volunteer with us at Valleybound – Antonito School and Community Garden; (3) Make a financial contribution to our work and communities; (4) Use Charity Charge for your purchases and designate us as your favorite nonprofit; and (5) Share our story with your family and friends!
How has being part of Conejos Clean Water changed your life from s personal perspective. What has it taught you?
My time with Conejos Clean Water and our program Valleybound – Antonito School and Community Garden has helped me grow in so many ways.
I’ve become a stronger, more balanced leader through the years of advocacy, programming, and community organizing efforts. I’ve gained a better understanding of justice work in rural America and what each of us can do to lift up our communities.
I am so grateful for the time I’ve shared with my colleagues, friends, and community members, and I look forward to all of the memories still to come!
If you could wake up tomorrow knowing that one global issue had been solved overnight, what would you want it to be and why?
I would like for every person in the world to have access to local, healthy foods that nourish and replenish our minds, bodies, and souls. Providing this for all people would help us address every other global issue out there, so that’s my wish for tomorrow.