America's Great Outdoors: Homegrown Community Revitalization
Recently, I had the pleasure of joining forces with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and several other leaders in Washington, D.C., including Mayor Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, to open a new urban park in the Northeast community of Lincoln Heights. Once an unused and overrun piece of land that attracted illegal activity, the space has been transformed into a sustainable and welcoming outdoor park through a partnership between Planters and The Corps Network, the national nonprofit I lead that represents the country's service and conservation corps.
For the past month, we have brought together our local member Corps including Washington Parks & People, Earth Conservation Corps and the Student Conservation Association to work in tandem with the private sector, city government, community organizations and local residents to bring the vision of the park—called a Planters Grove—to life. Borne out of the ideas and goals laid out in the President's America’s Great Outdoors initiative, it is so much more than simply a new park. It is a nexus of neighborhood revitalization, community service and outdoor activity, and proof that public-private partnerships can seed community transformation and growth.
We know this transformation of community transforms lives. Built by the local member Corps noted above, the park has already contributed to the employment and training of young people in Washington at a time when we know our country's youth face tremendous challenges and disadvantages. For example, one young woman who helped us build, Ashley, is originally from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. After an abusive childhood, she has recently graduated from the Earth Conservation Corps, is now attending college and preparing to be a social worker and, through motivational speaking, is giving peers and youth inspiration through her story. Just one of several Corps members involved in the project, Ashley is representative of the powerful and lasting change these young people are driving in their communities and in themselves through this project.
Service and learning will continue to define the Planters Grove for years to come. The opportunities to engage the community are endless. We hope the re-imagined urban park will soon be used to teach community members green job skills and offer opportunities for residents, especially local children, to spend time outdoors and take part in healthy-living activities. The Planters Grove is truly a model for the broader city of Washington, D.C. and the nation for connecting residents of urban communities to nature and each other.
Sally Prouty is President and CEO of The Corps Network