Youth-led project revitalizes Nicholl Park

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Youth-led project revitalizes Nicholl Park
Community members gather for the unveiling of a youth-led community garden and mural project at Nicholl Park on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. (All photos by Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney

Richmond has dozens of young people to thank for the bright new community garden and colorful mural at the southern end of Nicholl Park.

On Saturday, the Richmond-based nonprofit YES Nature to Neighborhoods unveiled the fruits of the youth-led project to revitalize a corner of the city’s largest park and make it safer and more accessible to the community. 

The nonprofit’s offices are directly across the street from the park. “We cast our eyes on it every day; our youth have spent many years in the park,” said Executive Director Eric Aaholm.

“So back in 2019, we asked our youth what they felt the needs of the park were, so more people would use it.”

Teenagers participating in a YES after-school program surveyed nearly 500 community members to come up with project ideas. Last year, the projects received funding via a Love Your Block mini-grant from the Richmond City Manager’s Office, Economic Development and Community Services Department.

Muralist Richard Muro-Salazar held six workshops and engaged 125 community members as part of an extensive effort to establish the community design for the mural, which wraps around the park restroom and snack shack, according to Joanna Pulido, YES Nature to Neighborhood youth engagement specialist. The mural was described as a “visual symbol of the interests, passions and history of Richmond residents and Nicholl Park users.”

For the community gardens, YES’ youth cohort built garden beds and stocked them with plants and herbs known for their medicinal properties.

“The building of the community gardens were done over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday of service back in January, and the painting of the murals was done earlier this month,” Aaholm said.

The youth-team isn’t finished with its project. It’s currently working with the city to install new water fountains and bottle-fill stations.

“Our goal is that by painting the restrooms and beautifying the surrounding area, this will allow people to use the restrooms more frequently, and motivate them to lengthen the time they spend at the park doing physical activity,” Pulido said. “The mural and the planter boxes will attract newcomers, and people will also learn about the importance and healing properties of pollinators and medicinal plants.”

Youth understandably take pride in their hard work.

“I asked our youth leaders during our most recent afterschool meeting how they have felt about being part of this and many of them expressed pride and joy to be involved in a project that makes a difference in their community,” Pulido said.

Along with Aaholm and Pulido, Saturday’s grand unveiling of the community garden and murals featured speakers including Robert Rogers from Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia’s Office, Councilmember Demnlus Johnson III, Muro-Salazar, and youth from YES’ Leaders cohort.