From Diversity Outreach to Community Engagement
By Laura Prestigiacomo, South Carolina Dept. of Natural Resources
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ (SCDNR) mission is to serve as the principal advocate for and steward of South Carolina’s natural resources. To serve as that advocate, SCDNR recognized the need for relevancy and inclusion in the work it does. Thus, we created the Diversity Outreach program (DOP) as part of the Office of Media and Outreach.
The goal of the Diversity Outreach program is to connect with people who are not traditionally represented in the outdoor community of South Carolina. The greatest need for this program was identified by the Hispanic and Black populations of the state.
“Our hope is to facilitate a greater community of outdoor stewards that better represent America, for this and future generations,” is the Diversity Outreach program mission statement.
The purpose of the DOP is important, but how do we achieve its mission? The DOP team works with various other DNR programs to offer specialized and unique outdoor engagement opportunities to these audiences. These opportunities come in the form of free fishing clinics, bilingual hikes and field days designed to celebrate culturally relevant themes such as Hispanic Heritage Month or Juneteenth.
The team also runs various forms of media, such as a Spanish-language Facebook page and a bilingual newsletter. While these initiatives are important, and there is a clear vision, the program – now 7 years old – faces regular criticism and confusion.
“Do you mean biodiversity?”
“Everyone can hunt and fish. Why do they need a special program?”
“Why can’t you just speak English?”
These are only a few of the regular interactions the team experiences when spreading awareness about the program’s efforts.
After impacts of the COVID pandemic, combined with staff turnover, it was time to reframe the program. We needed to update the DOP to remain relevant, and it was important that we continue connecting with the under-represented audiences of the state. Thus, the team met with DEI (Diversity Equity and Inclusion) officers from other state agencies in the southeast such as Missouri, Virginia, Florida and Texas.
Outreach or Engagement?
During the series of meetings, SCDNR’s team discussed the importance of the words we choose to identify ourselves. Is “outreach” a relevant term? Outreach is defined as an organization’s involvement with a community, and often in state agencies that means going out and sharing information. The DOP program wanted to serve, not solely inform, people. Thus, a word such as “engagement” involved action and tangible impact, something the team felt better represented their goals in serving the people of South Carolina.
However, Diversity Engagement still did not fit, especially with the need to please existing SCDNR customers. The team felt strongly that the program should serve everyone while also establishing equity. The concern centered around the idea that the existing name created unnecessary exclusion and took away from the original mission.
Thus, it was decided that Community Engagement was a more accurate and inclusive title for the program. The Diversity Outreach program announced its name change to Community Engagement Program (CEP) in February 2022. The CEP continues to create bilingual content, manage inclusive media and offer equitable access to the outdoors.
See the CEP’s information brochure.
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