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Environmental Quality / 2013

Youth Take Their Lives Off The Streets And Into Gardens

Youth Take Their Lives Off The Streets And Into Gardens

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity, Social Justice and Action, Inc.

Today’s youth will bring tomorrow’s environmental change. Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity, Social Justice and Action, Inc (LA CAUSA) believes that our youth possess the power to bring systemic change to their environments. Our youth go from the Streets2Gardens. The Streets2Gardens program will be a stepping stone to establishing a community’s ability to become self-sustainable by growing its own food, as well as addressing the issue of the quality of air, through the engagement of disenfranchised youth at elementary schools. The goals of the Streets2Gardens program are two-fold: (1) create a curriculum that is engaging to youth and small children in order to encourage participation in growing gardens and trees to improve the environment of impoverished areas; and (2) get different communities in LA County to support green initiatives to improve their environment though planting gardens and trees. When there is a curriculum that is engaging and relevant to the community, the possibilities are endless. LA CAUSA's youth will create an engaging curriculum for elementary school children in schools the most affected by environmental neglect. LA CAUSA’s youth will also conduct research and determine which elementary schools they wish to approach. The goal is to select two elementary schools in cities, such as Huntington Park, Highland Park, Rosemead and even as far as Pomona. These schools will be in addition to two elementary schools which LA CAUSA has already been working with in Los Angeles: Humphreys Avenue Elementary and Eastman Avenue Elementary School. Once they have selected the schools, then the real fun begins. Alongside the elementary school children, our youth will plant gardens with an array of native Southern California plants, including fruits, vegetables and trees. As part of the program, our youth, with the assistance of experienced staff, will also educate the elementary school children and the surrounding community about the environmental benefits of growing their own food and planting trees. They will treat the soil, plant the seeds and trees, harvest the crop, and educate the elementary school children on how they can do the same at home and help the environment, as well as have healthier food options. The youth will also give workshops to the community about the importance of youth getting involved in environmental issues and share their work at the elementary school gardens. There is power in numbers. There would be about 10 youth involved in this program, broken up into two teams of five and assigned to one of the existing gardens and one of the new gardens. In addition, our youth will host a minimum of two community workshops, bringing different sections of the County together. LA CAUSA’s youth will use their creativity to produce marketing materials, such as brochures and a video of their work, to promote the program and the positive impact of youth involved in environmental issues. The written materials will inform the community of the work being done, why it is being done and who is performing the work, with special thanks to the funder that made it all possible. The video will track the curriculum created and show how any school and family can take their limited resources to grow a garden that can produce healthy food options, as well as address environmental concerns about air quality. Through the Streets2Gardens program, LA CAUSA’s youth will learn necessary life skills that will be transferrable to post-secondary education and employment opportunities. They will be taught to be accountable to their peers and the community by being timely, perform, and work as a team. Therefore, they will receive compensation in the form of stipends to model after a real-life employment situation. If they do not meet the requirements of the program, then their pay will suffer. These necessary life skills will give our youth the ability to establish positive habits that will enhance their level of success in post-secondary education and employment. In educating the elementary school children and the community about the program, our youth will incorporate how life responsibilities affect the outcome of your efforts. For instance, if the garden keepers lack responsibility and fail to timely care for plants and trees, the environment suffers. LA CAUSA believes that through these gardens, some of the most impoverished areas of Los Angeles can become self-sustainable and be better equipped to control their environment. Through the involvement of the program's youth, LA CAUSA seeks to show that when you give youth a sense of purpose, they can be catalysts for change no matter where they come from or what their past looks like. The youth will give back to the community and engage in environmental activism to improve the same area that is currently being destroyed by poverty and environmental neglect.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

 LA CAUSA has successfully begun to grow gardens at Humphreys Elementary and Eastman Elementary.  These gardens have served to host mentor/mentee events and has engaged a number of community youth and elementary school children.  Through the California Endowment, LA CAUSA has also helped corner stores in Boyle Heights change their appearance and products to offer healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables.  The corner stores receiving this attention are those surrounding poor-performing elementary schools in Boyle Heights.  Recently, San Gabriel Conservation Core and LA CAUSA have been discussing a partnership to grow a community farm that would feed families in need of healthier food options.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

 LA CAUSA has been fortunate to have a great ally in San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corp., which has express a interest in creating a partnership to address environmental issues, in particular, the need for the community to become self-sustainable through the cultivation of gardens and farms.  In addition, Humphreys Elementary, Eastman Elementary are current partners in LA CAUSA's efforts and we look forward to contacting two additional elementary schools to expand the work LA CAUSA has begun.  LA CAUSA will also actively continue looking for opportunities to create partnerships and collaboration with other organizations to further LA CAUSA's garden ideas.  

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

 As part of the curriculum, pre and post assessments can be given to the elementary school children, as well as the community members who attend the workshops.  These assessments will reflect how much they knew about the benefits of gardens on the environment before working with LA CAUSA and compare it to the knowledge base after attending an educational session or workshop with LA CAUSA.  It will also measure the likelihood of those engaged in the program to remain involved in the future.  We will create a database to track the age of the participants, knowledge before the program and after, and their likelihood to remain involved in some way with improving their environment.  The goal is to have at least 80% of the participants give the program a successful rating.  

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

 Streets2Gardens program will benefit Los Angeles by bridging the gap between different communities on the issue of environmental neglect.  The Streets2Gardens program will create and promote a garden curriculum that can be replicated in any school and individual home.  The program will also show how youth have a tremendous amount of power in changing the circumstances of their communities.  By putting soil, seeds and trees in the hands of our youth, and connecting them with their community in a positive way, they will become catalysts for systemic change in their environments.  Streets2Gardens will begin by getting 10 youth off the streets and into gardens, creating and teaching a garden curriculum that will be engaging and powerful.  Streets2Gardens will get result in different sections of Los Angeles County coming together to discuss how their environment affects them and how the gardens will begin to address a number of health and environmental issues.  
 The two existing gardens and the two new gardens, plus trees to be planted at all four sites, will begin a trend that will result in improved health and air quality in the area.  The gardens will harvest fruits and vegetables that can be eaten by the children at the school and/or their parents.  With the curriculum that is going to be created and shared with the participating schools, the schools can encourage and teach the parents to plant their own fruit and vegetable gardens.  The possibilities are endless.  

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

 LA CAUSA envisions Los Angeles to be full of gardens at all schools and homes.  The schools and homes would provide healthy food options to the community, thus realizing true self-sustainability.  It follows that the air quality would have improved given the increased presence of plants and trees in the communities.  Los Angeles would look green with rich reds, oranges, and yellows, to name a few colors, with crisp wind blowing.   

The youth who made this possible are likely to be involved in address environmental issues as public servants, lawyers practicing environmental law, leaders in not-for-profits with environmental focus, and the like. This is especially true for LA CAUSA youth who tend to engage in work that improve their communities. These youth would have led generations of young people into the realm environmental consciousness, resulting in stronger communities advocating for better environmental conditions. They would also be mentoring young people who continue with the mission to ensure Los Angeles is green and clean.

The curriculum that Streets2Gardens youth created would have been improved and shared with all of the elementary schools in the United States.