What It Takes to Get to the River (Even When It’s Right In Your Neighborhood)

Can you imagine being so afraid of your neighborhood that you never spent any time outside…ever, including your own backyard? This was once the grim day-to-day reality for the Sanchez-Baylon family.

Noemi, having moved to the Airport Neighborhood in Modesto just a little over four years ago with her three children, was so afraid of the neighborhood and the adjacent Tuolumne River Regional Park when she arrived that,

“I wouldn’t let my children play outside in our own yard.”

Happily, this all started to change when Noemi began connecting with other residents and hearing about outdoor activities being offered by the Tuolumne River Trust (TRT). She signed up her three children  for TRT activities because she knew they enjoyed being in nature and it provided a “good distraction” for the whole family in the safety of a group.

“My perception of the river, the park and the neighborhood has changed.  I am not scared anymore and I feel more comfortable.”

Noemi’s son, Aaron, now a sophomore in high school, has participated in multiple TRT-sponsored programs over the last four years including: TRAC, Fun Fridays at the River, Summer Camp and Family Days, and has recently signed up for a leadership role in the new Airport Bike Club! (Incidentally, he particularly enjoys canoeing.) He notes that these experiences have taught him the importance of taking care of the river and keeping it clean:

“We need cleaner water, more water conservation…and cleaner parks.”

Aaron’s sisters, Yurelia and Noelia, have also participated in several TRT activities in recent years that have helped them overcome their fear of the river. Now they enjoy spending time exploring the river with other kids and families, “instead of just being home because being outside is healthy.”

Noemi says she and her family try to take advantage of any TRT activity as well as other outings.  She now leads a Girl Scout troop for the Airport community with about twenty girls and is eager to get them involved as well! She’s even requested that TRT help with paddle safety training and paddle day for the troop to help instill the same comfort and confidence at the river that she and her family feel.  When asked if she would be in the lead canoe to model for them, she smiled and nodded with a confident, “Absolutely!”

River stewardship is core to TRT’s mission and over the last few years has become core to the Sanchez-Baylon family.  They are active participants and actively recruit other families and youth to participate and take greater care of their community, their parks, and their river.  While no one would deny that the Airport Neighborhood still has more than its fair share of problems, stories like that of the Sanchez-Baylon family represent an encouraging transformation in the community.

If you’d like to learn more about TRT’s work in Modesto or come join us for a Family Day on the river, please contact: Meg@tuolumne.org or Ed@tuolumne.org