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Growing Green Neighborhoods Through Youth Engagement

Divya Kumaraiah, Policy Assistant to the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, shares the story of an innovative community organization in Sommerville, MA that is greening the community by education and engaging youth.
Groundwork Somerville, youth gardening

Groundwork Somerville teens tending and harvesting a garden and learning about urban agriculture. April 25, 2011. (by Chelsea Clarke, Groundwork Somerville)

In 2010, Chelsea Clarke joined Groundwork Somerville (GWS), a nonprofit that promotes sustainable community development and revitalization in Somerville, MA.  It was a “giant leap of faith,” for the environmental consultant, but it turned out to be the perfect blend of her passions and the incredible investment in her own community she had been yearning.

Clarke began at GWS as a Green Team supervisor.  Green Team is an environmental job corps that employs youth ages 14-17 to learn about and practice environmental stewardship, educate communities on green space issues, and conduct community health outreach.  The youth also maintain the upkeep of school gardens and harvest and sell produce at local farmers’ markets.  Green Team helps youth develop strong interpersonal skills through their team, with their supervisor, and through interactions with farmers’ market customers.  “You can really see them grow over time,” gushes Clarke.  “Just a few weeks ago, we took some of the teens to Philadelphia for the 2011 EPA Brownfields Conference.  It was amazing to see someone who started out as a shy kid get up and present so confidently at a national conference.”

Now a community organizer, Clarke works more extensively within the neighborhood, primarily with the Green Line/Green Spaces Team.  This team concentrates on the planning and use of lands for the extension of the Boston metro system through Somerville, specifically focusing on the project’s affect on urban youth.  Clarke explains that “key issue areas for city youth are surprisingly similar to those of older demographics” – youth are just as concerned with sustainability, transportation affordability, and efficiency as their parents.

Groundwork Somerville, Garden Youth Crew

Garden Youth Crew gets their hands dirty and learn about urban agriculture in Somerville. April 22, 2011. (by Chelsea Clarke, Groundwork Somerville)

GWS also has programs for younger children as well as the broader community.  The Schoolyard Gardens Program and Garden Youth Crew teach urban kids about their ecosystem and the agricultural practices behind the food they eat.  The Community Corridor Planning program aims to make community planning processes inclusive and advocate for health equity and local jobs.  The Somerville SoilCycle picks up compost for community members and uses the fresh soil from the composting for school gardens.  Finally, the “Spring into Action!” program gives 2nd and 3rd grade Somerville students a chance to spend their spring breaks learning about their environment, participating in outdoor physical activities, and learning to prepare balanced meals.

Groundwork Somerville is part of the national Groundwork USA network, which works to improve neighborhoods that have experienced long-term decline in their physical and social environments.

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