Each year the Bay Nature Institute board and staff select remarkable individuals to receive a Local Hero Award in recognition of outstanding work on behalf of the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area. The 2022 recipients will be celebrated during the 12th annual Bay Nature Local Hero Awards event from 2 to 5 p.m. at the David Brower Center in Berkeley on March 27. Please join the festivities in person or virtually!
For Richard Tejeda, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Saved By Nature, the name of his organization is more than just a title—it’s his truth.
“To escape the adversities of my neighborhood, I would grab my fishing pole, drive to Coyote Creek Trail, and walk along Coyote Creek,” Tejeda says. “This is where I built an affinity for nature.” And this is where Tejeda’s life began to change.
Raised in a low-income community in South San José, Tejeda, as a young boy, barely had any exposure to nature, other than a trip to Yosemite when he was 10 through the Boys & Girls Club San José Family Camp. Tejeda remembers the magical feeling of being in nature, hiking, and standing in the middle of a creek while rainbow trout swam between his legs. But the chance for a second experience wouldn’t come for another 19 years. The pull of his neighborhood was strong, and some bad decisions put Tejeda on the wrong path, leaving him with wasted years and seemingly no way to improve his situation. “I was surrounded by negativity like drug dealers, drug addicts—including family members,” he says.
It wasn’t until an uncle introduced Tejeda to fishing that he made a change for the better. At 25 he spent day and night along Coyote Creek, fishing for largemouth bass, salmon, and trout. There was no doubt in his mind: nature is where he wanted to be. Motivated to return to school, Tejeda enrolled at West Valley College in Saratoga, earned an A.S. degree in park management, and later earned a B.A. in environmental studies at San José State University.
After a decade of working in parks—everything from maintenance to education—Tejeda decided to create his own project. He founded Saved By Nature (SBN) in 2018 to help more people of color visit and work in parks. “My inspiration came from knowing that only 1 to 1.2 percent of African Americans and 3.18 to 6.7 percent of the Latinx population visit our public lands,” Tejeda says. “Saved By Nature is a direct response and solution.”
Today, Tejeda leads in-person and virtual hikes for SBN throughout the Peninsula and South Bay and is working to provide environmental education programming to the Boys & Girls Club in the Silicon Valley during summer. As the first person in Santa Clara County to be granted a Certificate of Rehabilitation through his work in nature, Tejeda wants to design a program that draws on his success and supports youth and adults during reentry following incarceration. He hopes his organization will continue to spark a passion for nature in the hearts of young people.
“We’re gonna face some complex problems in the future, whether it be climate change, climate change, or climate change,” he says. “All of our outlooks, and the ways we were raised, and our beliefs, are gonna be needed. Because if we all look at the natural world and the problems in one way, we’re not going to be able to solve that problem.”