Guardians of Nature Award for Outings Leadership Winner: Jayah Faye Paley

Congratulations to Jayah Faye Paley on winning this year’s Guardians of Nature Award for Outings Leadership! In an interview, I had the chance to talk to her about her background and work with local environmental organizations and her advice for others that want to volunteer and make this world a better place.

Q: What does this award mean to you and your work with the Loma Prieta Chapter and why is it important to you?

A: I'm a lifetime member of the Sierra Club and receiving this award was an honor as recognition for the work I’ve done with the Sierra Club Military Outdoors program.

Many years ago, I met Dr. Edgar Wayburn, lifetime president of the Sierra Club and recipient of the presidential medal of freedom; he and his wife saved about 2 million acres of wilderness.  He agreed to appear in my video on how to use hiking poles and, in exchange, he wanted me to contribute to the Sierra Club, which I have continued to do ever since. He is my environmental hero so getting this award for my work with the Sierra Club is a way of honoring his memory.

Q: How did you grow an interest in the outdoors and what was the first thing you did when you started to work with environmental groups?

A: I grew up in a muggy, buggy, flat area so I never knew anything about hiking. When I moved here in my early 30s, I discovered hiking.  But I didn’t have the intuitive footing which people who grow up hiking develop.  That’s why I started using hiking poles as a way to enjoy nature while being able to connect with others. Learning about hiking and poles started me on the path of wanting to do more, which led me to the Sierra Club.

Military Outdoors Selfie

Q: How did you get to know the military outdoors program and why did you want to be a part of it?

A: When the call for proposals came out two years ago, I was immediately interested. Helping Veterans?  Heck Yes!

Sierra Club Military Outdoors (SCMO) was looking for ideas on how to help veterans to experience the healing power of nature.  They were looking for a creative idea, which would reach a diverse group of veterans (and their family members) and required strong chapter support. 

[Image: Guardians of Nature Award for Outings Leadership Lornett Vestal (on the left), Senior Campaign Representative, Military Outdoors visited the Bay Area this year and met with Loma Prieta Chapter representatives.]

I had the contacts and infrastructure from my Pole Hiking and Pole Walking programs I had been teaching for almost 20 years all over the Bay Area. That was the creative idea - training veterans of almost all abilities (including veterans with mobility challenges and disabilities) to use poles for hiking, walking and exercising outside. 

But I was lacking one key SCMO requirement, which was strong chapter support. I wrote a (dare I say brilliant) letter and sent it to everybody I could think of. Lisa Barboza, (who serves as the Outing Chair and the Chapter Executive Committee as well as the head of the Guadalupe Regional Group) got back to me immediately and was excited to bring this idea to life. Since that day the support from the Loma Prieta Chapter has been unwavering. I’ve been lucky/honored to have everyone at our Chapter so completely supportive and want to give a special shout out to Barbara Kelsey who has been behind the scenes (occasionally in the role of therapist when things were challenging). Other Chapters have also been incredibly supportive, most notably, our neighbors at The Bay Chapter. 

Jayah Patel

Q: What has been an outstanding or very important moment for you working with this chapter of the Sierra Club?

A: Two come to mind:

When we first started the program, I knew we had to have a way to make it easy for people to find out about our offerings. Getting our website and calendar was the key. Thanks to our Chapter Director, James Eggers and a lovely, talented Sierra Club employee named Lydia, our website went live and that was the moment it felt like the start gates opened for our program.

[Image: Lisa Barboza (on the left) and Jayah Faye Paley (on the right) at the Coyote Hills Veterans Veterans Day Wander and Wonder Hike.]

Also, getting a VA blue badge, which is necessary to have before I could step into a Vet center or a VA hospital. It is a complicated and grueling process (and it’s why the VA has such trouble recruiting volunteers) but I am now an official Veterans Administration volunteer and this has opened many doors for our program. 

Q: What can you say to encourage others to volunteer for this chapter?

A: Recently SCMO celebrated Veterans Day with a “wander and wonder hike” at Coyote Hills. Everybody was so happy to be outside. Bringing such a diverse group of people together like this, hearing so many stories, being able to make new friends and sharing a common passion for the outdoors is what this program is all about and we hope others will join us. 

Thank you for making the world a better place and sharing your story with all of us!

By Tine Vatankhah