Community Connections highlights the many leaders, partners, and neighbors who make a difference in our community. This month we are featuring Richard Tejeda, Founder and Executive Director of Saved By Nature, a San Jose-based nonprofit organization focused on changing lives through nature.Can nature save a life? Just ask Richard Tejeda.
Tejeda first experienced the power of nature in his twenties, when he discovered that being outdoors offered him the opportunity to escape, mentally reset, and ultimately better his life.
“I had many stresses in my life, but when I got out into nature it provided a reset for me through physical and mental healing,” Tejeda explains.
Driven by this life-changing transformation, Tejeda is determined to break down the barriers that prevent people from accessing the healing benefits of the outdoors.
Tejeda has worked for many environmental organizations over the years, including Coyote Hills Regional Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Santa Clara County Parks, and even the Open Space Authority. These experiences, along with studying for degrees in Park Management and Environmental Studies, led Tejeda to develop his idea for an organization that would connect people to the outdoors, regardless of their background, ability, or income.
“I wanted to make a safe place for everybody, a place where you can be yourself while experiencing nature,” Tejeda says of his early visions of the organization.
Saved By Nature, created in 2018 and established as a nonprofit in 2019, exists to provide nature programs and field trips to all, with a special focus on seniors, at-promise-youth, those living with disability, and low-income communities of color.
In summing up Saved By Nature’s ultimate mission, Tejeda says, “Individuals changed through nature, our purpose is to provide environmental education for everyone. To build partnerships that inspire inclusion and equitable access to the outdoors for mental and physical healing.”
Well before COVID-19 and statewide shelter-in-place orders, Saved By Nature was bringing nature to those unable to leave their homes due to disabilities and illness. Having worked with children and adults with special needs for 10 years, Tejeda saw an opportunity to engage an underserved and often isolated community through virtual nature programming. Partnering with Virtual Photo Walks, a free service that connects people to nature in real time through video conferencing tools, Tejeda livestreams all Saved By Nature programs (internet connection permitting), beginning with their very first event at Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve in 2019.
Tejeda and Authority Educational Aide Dani lead a virtual wildflower walk at Coyote Ridge during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place
Now, due to widespread feelings of isolation caused by self-quarantining and limited social opportunities, Tejeda has seen newfound interest, support, and appreciation from the general public for virtual nature events. From the Laguna Seca seasonal wetland to Ulistac Natural Area, these livestream tours are connecting people to nature and to each other in a completely new way for many. Partnering with the Authority, Saved By Nature will continue to offer virtual nature walks at our preserves and urban open spaces.
Tejeda is especially passionate about the recently protected North Coyote Valley Conservation Area and what it means for increased access to nature. Having grown up a stone’s throw from Coyote Valley and learning to fish along the Coyote Creek Trail, Tejeda has a special affinity for the area. He is excited about the potential nature experiences it can provide to youth growing up in nearby disadvantaged neighborhoods, like he did.
“It’s a gateway into this whole other world for a lot of kids,” Tejeda says. “Coyote Valley, it’s the Valley of Hope.”
Tejeda leads a group hike at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve
In partnership with the Authority, Saved By Nature will bring underserved communities - from afterschool programs to senior groups- to experience Coyote Valley through weekly field trips and programs.
“The more people we introduce to Coyote Valley, the more stewards we create, and the better possibility we have of changing someone’s life.”