Youth ambassadors beautify downtown Richmond while gaining real-world experience

Youth ambassadors beautify Richmond's downtown while gaining real-world experience
About 15 youth ambassadors descended upon the area of 15th and Macdonald in downtown Richmond Friday morning to work on a beautification project. (All photos by Kathy Chouteau)

Kathy Chouteau

With shovels in hand, a group of local teens got to work Friday morning rehabilitating large planters along the Richmond BART station’s exterior, in addition to nearby tree wells that were overgrown with weeds. Then came the planting of trees and native plants such as Cleveland Sage and Lippia, which when they bloom, will create a red, white and blue effect.

About 15 teen youth ambassadors descended upon the area of 15th and Macdonald in downtown Richmond to work on a beautification project that was a collaboration between Groundwork Richmond, Richmond PAL (Police Activities League), Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI) and the City of Richmond.

About half of the youth ambassadors are from a program by RPAL, while the other half came from Groundwork Richmond under the leadership of Executive Director Matt Holmes, according to RPAL’s Brandon Evans.

Both programs are similar in that they provide youth with work that benefits the community and provides them with real-world work experience.

“A lot of most of them are either rising seniors, or have recently graduated,” said Evans.

RPAL’s summertime work with them is about cultivating life skill and leadership development while preparing them for the real world, Evans added.

RPAL youth ambassador Maria Avalos, a recent graduate of Leadership High School, reflected on what being involved with the organization and projects like downtown beautification have meant to her.

“I’ve learned a lot…I’ve met so many people through Brandon that provide me with new opportunities and [knowledge] in general. It’s just given me more opportunities to get more involved in the community. Because I never used to get involved in anything…for me, it’s been so great.”

Meanwhile, youth from Groundwork Richmond are participating in the Green Team Program that’s part of a Summer Youth Employment Program that Groundwork Richmond runs for the City’s Employment & Training Department.

It’s “a high school age pre-employment training program where we provide work experience, career awareness, STEM education and community service opportunities,” said Holmes.

The youth from Groundwork Richmond are paid to “[improve] their own hometown or own home neighborhoods,” added Holmes. “We’re teaching them and really giving them something hands-on where they can see something accomplished over the course of the day and be proud of their work. But [we’re] also teaching them about structural issues that, you know, that require them to do this right.”

As part of the downtown collaboration, RMSI made three of its staff members available to pitch in on the beautification project. According Alicia Gallo, the program and communications manager for RSMI, Friday’s project stemmed from a conversation she initially had with Evans more than a year ago, when he was seeking community engagement projects for RPAL youth and they collectively identified the 15th Street spot. With the project coming to fruition in 2020, Gallo said that “COVID was at the top of the discussion in terms of planning…to ensure public health and the safety of the participants.”

Gallo also highlighted that Richmond restaurant, Roux, catered lunch for the workers and the City’s Public Works Department was “a great partner in providing the plants” for the beautification project, which was completed over the course of several hours Friday.

“I’m just really thrilled about the partnership,” said RMSI Executive Director Vivian Wong about the beautification project. “It’s amazing to see young people actively engaged in cleaning and beautifying and creating that neighborhood community pride and I just really appreciate everyone coming out.”

“It’s just a really beautiful thing to see our young people being willing, able and excited to work.”