Nathan Hazen Durán: Roots was there every step of the way

As he stared out the window of his cell, Nathan Hazen Durán realized he had already spent two years of his 15-year life in Juvenile hall. Being raised in foster care for most of it, it was almost expected for him to be there. It wasn’t the fact that he grew up in foster care that was the problem though. He appreciated having a home, having a place to go to — especially when the nights got cold in Arizona. It was the lack of attention stability that bothered him. This all contributed to a heavy gang influence on Durán’s life. One that cost him two years in Juvenile hall and countless more in bad decisions.

Those bad decisions came to a grinding halt when he was released though. He didn’t want to be stuck anywhere — literally and metaphorically. And that desire turned into a scholarship to study Architecture at the University of San Francisco. In four short years, he was able to turn his life completely around and seemingly escape poverty, violence, and homelessness.

Nate Durán Roots Alumni

For three years, Durán lived like other students his age — he lived with his friends, did his classwork, occasionally went to peruse the city. He was happy. But like how life is never that simple, never that easy, that happiness was stripped from him, almost like everything else, when his cousin passed away due to gang violence. And for a man already left with so little, the death of his cousin meant everything, to the point where he started tanking school. From there, he got involved with gangs and got locked up again.

Like when he was discharged from Juvenile hall, Durán realized he needed a change in his life and utilized Larkin St. Youth Services. There, he went through its transitional home upon his release. He then chose to participate in a job training program called Asian Neighborhood Design, where it used Roots of Success to foster students for employment.

Durán cites Roots’s in-depth approach to teaching as a foundational environmental skill. It helped guide and structure his understanding of how community organizing works while helping with job interviews. He says that a lot of city agencies and nonprofits value the Roots curriculum, and that the certificate upon completion of the course helps on a resume. But even more significantly, it teaches essential environmental and public health issues in the community, and how to approach talking about them.

“Roots was there every step of the way,” Duran says. “At every program I entered, they had either used Roots or were currently using Roots.”

With the knowledge he gained from the program, Durán went on to work in construction after his time with Asian Neighborhood Design. There, he convinced demolition crews to recycle used wood, earning a profit in the process. By using the financial literacy module he learned at Roots, he saved the contractor money and made money himself while applying the education he learned at Roots.

Durán, now 25, currently works at the Community Housing Project, where he got started by volunteering to teach environmental classes during his lunch break. As a Roots teacher and Adult Education program coordinator, he appreciates being able to mentor young adults much like him, a lot with very few skills like when he entered the program. But like the 15-year-old who decided he didn’t want to be “stuck,” or the man seven years later who realized he needed a change in his life, Durán is desperate to make an impact, especially in those populations that he identifies with. He envisions a nonprofit with an embedded horticulture program where he would get to launch a community garden at the government’s expense — so he would be able to apply all of the green knowledge he’s learned at Roots. He also wants to develop classes and teach so he can directly serve the population he came from.

“Everyone is very grateful that went through that program,” Duran says. “People have a lot of respect for Raquel and what she has created. It gave me inspiration and guidance and the know how to navigate through what I wanted my overall outcome to be.”

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