BEAVERTON - When Ivan Camacho saw people in his neighborhood allowing motor oil to spill into storm drains, he did more than get irritated. He got organized.

Now Camacho, a water quality coordinator for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, has formed a partnership with the Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H Program to teach families how they can protect their local watershed and enjoy time together as well.

"It's been a concern for a number of years with me," said Camacho.

The after-school program at Barnes Elementary School in Beaverton is 4-H's first bilingual environmental education program. Simultaneously taught in English and Spanish, it is called "Family Nights at the Creek."

"He just walked in with this great idea for the program," said Beverly Hobbs, an OSU 4-H youth development specialist and the project director of Oregon Outreach, a five-year 4-H effort to involve more members of Oregon's Latino community in 4-H activities.

Hobbs credits Camacho's energy and diplomacy with launching the program at Barnes Elementary School in Beaverton, where about half the students are of Latino heritage.

A native of Mexico and fluent in Spanish, Camacho has overcome cultural and language obstacles that he says may form barriers to participation by Latino families.

"He called every single parent of a Barnes 4th- and 5th-grader who had a phone and invited them personally," Hobbs said. "He knew fliers weren't going to do the trick."

Camacho spoke to some families in Spanish and explained the classes would be taught in both Spanish and English and that they would be fun and entertaining as well as educational.

To ensure that, he offered refreshments and door prizes as part of the classroom meetings. Field trips include quarterly outings to Beaverton Creek - which serves as something of an outdoor laboratory - as well as a tour of the Beaverton's wastewater treatment plant.

"We compete with a lot of things," Camacho said. "We need to give a little extra effort."

Since January, Camacho has recruited about two dozen parents and students at Barnes Elementary.

Also involved in the program are Virginia Thompson, 4-H Youth Development Specialist; Washington County 4-H agent Jeanne Brandt, and Esther Lev, Wetlands Conservancy Youth and Adult Educator for 4-H.

On May 2, participants in the "Family Nights at the Creek" program will use stencils to spray-paint the now-familiar fish icon and the message "Dump No Waste - Drains to Stream."

But for the first time, the message also will be stenciled in Spanish to read: "No Tire Basura - Drena Al Rio." Camacho is hoping to get stencils that read "Drains to the Tualatin" in both English and Spanish to make the no dumping message more relevant.

"I think the best is yet to come," Camacho said. "More people are hearing about the program and we're planning to have a show on the local TV."

A field trip planned for June is a canoe trip down the Tualatin River, a waterway whose many pollution problems can be traced to the little bits of pollution that flow off each driveway, lawn and roof along its urban route.

Ultimately, the message that Camacho would like to pass along through the program is that all of us are both the cause - and the solution - to our water quality problems. He is optimistic that this program is a good way to teach people to do "the simple things right" to protect the water everyone shares and everyone needs.


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Beverly Hobbs, 541-737-1319