WASHINGTON, D.C.–On Friday, Oct. 22, over 70 environmentally concerned youth from Elizabeth and other urban communities in the continental U.S. will join together at a Youth Service project at Kenilworth Park, in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington D.C.
Organized by Groundwork USA, a non-profit organization which “changes places, changes lives”, the service project engages the participants and dozens more adult leaders in the four task areas of planting, cleaning, checking water quality, and trail work. And while the environment, specifically urban waters, is the target service project, it is the ultimate aim of Groundwork to build a constituency interested in taking ownership for their communities, as they build a better future.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who has initiated the unprecedented multi-agency Urban Waters Partnership Initiative, and National Park Service Deputy Director Mickey Fearn, a longtime champion of meaningful youth environmental engagement and hands-on learning have been invited and are expected to speak prior to the 1 p.m. event. The EPA is celebrating its 40th Anniversary and EPA’s launch of the inter-agency Urban Waters Partnership Initiative. Cooperative, partnership-driven efforts on the ground like Groundwork USA that are improving the environment and quality of life by directly engaging youth and residents in the planning, transformation, and stewardship of their own communities across the country contribute to the success of EPA led programming.
Fatimah Raymond, who works for the Elizabeth Development Company as the Director of Neighborhood Revitalization, has served as Secretary of the Elizabeth based Groundwork program since 2003. “Through engaging youth in decision making practices and in community service projects, Groundwork Elizabeth has shown that by working together with a targeted mission and goal, everyone has a change to participate in the restoration and health of their community”.
Groundwork USA is an independent non-profit organization that coordinates the Groundwork network of twenty on-the-ground “trusts” across the United States. Based on a model developed in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, the Groundwork USA Initiative was adapted and established by leaders at the National Park Service as a strategy for engaging urban populations in conservation and environmental initiatives that increased access to parks and other recreational amenities.
To date, NPS staff Doug Evans, Steve Golden, Jerry Willis, and others have provided ongoing technical assistance and program support, while EPA has provided funds and technical assistance through its Brownfields Program, to support the establishment of new trusts in distressed environmental justice communities across the country, all of which face a preponderance of overlapping challenges including environmental, economic, and social justice issues.
This year, for the first time, EPA’s Office of Water is also contributing to the interagency agreement to advance Groundwork USA’s activities reconnecting communities to their urban waters. With this support, Groundwork USA will share examples of challenges and successes from its urban rivers work across the country. Groundwork Elizabeth’s efforts towards the design and construction of the Elizabeth River Trail, through a partnership of the City of Elizabeth, Union County, the NJ DEP Green Acres Program, and the Federal Transportation Act are to be highlighted on the EPA website shortly.
This unique event is part of the larger annual National Assembly and Youth Summit held by Groundwork USA each year. The gathering is meant to provide an opportunity for Groundwork practitioners and youth from across the network to learn from one another and share strategies for addressing issues common to the distressed communities in which our trusts are located, including brownfields and abandoned vacant lots, unemployment, food insecurity, and limited access to quality parks and open space.
Jonathan Phillips, the executive director of Groundwork Elizabeth, also serves on the Groundwork USA Board, and notes that in its efforts to engage the public in each of its challenged communities, the Groundwork program has a documented history of success in leveraging funding from government and private sources. “All of our Trusts are required to document the value of their improvements, “ says Phillips, “and it is one of the reasons that the EPA looks at our organization as an example of what can be done with good management and the dedication of staff and volunteers in the non-profit world”.
To learn more about the local Groundwork Elizabeth Trust, its new exciting role in the “Come Grow With Us” UC Community Gardening Program, to volunteer, or for information on its upcoming Cocktail party fundraiser, call Jonathan Phillips at 1-908-289-0262, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Youth participate in a similar service project during last year’s conference in New Orleans
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