Our community is located in the Westlake District of downtown Los Angeles. It is a working class community of Latinos, mostly Central American, and African Americans. In the past decade the Latino population has shifted from being primarily Mexican-American to newly and recently arrived people from mostly Guatemala and El Salvador. While surrounding neighborhoods have quickly gentrified, ours is much slower in that process. Our group consists of eleven students at a continuation high school who have all dropped out of school at some point. We live in this community. Part of our Advisory Life Skills class is to work together to create and implement a community-based project aimed at improving the world around us.
When we did the community mapping and survey of our community, we realized that our surrounding area lacks safe spaces for high school students. We have our schools but they don’t all offer open spaces beyond the regular school day. At our school we have an evening credit recovery program open to all surrounding high schools. There are plans to create a space which would be open at the same time as the evening program but we would like to also take an active part in creating and building this space. In our Advisory Life Skills class we are learning about the importance of ownership in building and improving community. We want to take an active role in being a part of this project.
Our community has a lack of services and resources for teens. In particular, there are no spaces available for teens to go after school. As a result, teens engage in at-risk behavior such as gang affiliation, substance abuse, and vandalism. It has left the community looking unsanitary, unsafe, and unwanted. To address the problem, we would like to participate in efforts to create a space at our school open to the community.
With the grant we would like to help provide resources for the center. This would include furniture, school supplies, and resources for high school students to be able to use when they visit the center. Our school is small with a limited budget and while there are some resources available to make the center happen, we know that without community involvement, centers such as this will not succeed. With any remaining money we would like to help replenish our school’s community garden. The garden has helped create a communal feeling among our classmates because it is a group effort to create and maintain. Both the garden and the center are things that we believe are important to bringing change to our community because if we (teenagers) take pride in our communities it will get better because many of the problems we have identified involve teenagers and a lack of resources and opportunities.
As a result, we would have a space welcoming to all students wanting to use it. More students would be improving in their school work and the number of students graduating would increase. Also, there would be less behavior issues during the school day. We believe all of this will happen because if students feel welcomed and a part of a community they are more likely to show respect for others and the area around them. It would also help our community beyond the Center because each of the students taking advantage of the Center will share with and influence other people around them who are not using the center. Change happens when someone takes action. By beginning to create space such as these, other spaces will eventually emerge at other locations but someone has to take the first step and we have decided that each of us wants to be that person.