Students from Ramona Gardens on Wednesday night presented a year’s worth of in-depth research on major problems affecting their community.
Local representatives and community leaders were on hand to listen to the students address the lack of access to healthy food, poor air quality, and the lack of safe passages for residents to access resourcesliving in the Ramona Gardens community.
Hosted by the community-based nonprofit Legacy LA, which focuses on youth development in Ramona Gardens, the largest housing project in Los Angeles, the town hall and open house event at Hazard Park Armory was a key opportunity for the youth to reach out to key shareholders to help make a difference in their efforts for change in their neighborhood.
Before Armando Gutierrez, 14, presented with his group on environmental justice, he was nervous to exercise his new public speaking skills but was clear on the objective.
“Tonight is about meeting with people we think can help change our community with the research we did,” said Gutierrez.
Each youth-led group presented on environmental justice, access to healthy food, and access to resources and the adult-led group known as the Promotoras presented on the need for more DASH buses to and from Ramona Gardens to access healthier food and resources not available in their community. Also, the Promotoras advocated for transportation specifically to the recently-opened Wellness Center at General Hospital.
The group on environmental justice addressed the problem of air pollution as a result of the multiple nearby freeways, scientifically evident by the high amount of particulate matter in the air compared to other communities of Los Angeles.
Students Michelle Benavides, Emily Torres and Jacquelyne Rodriquez led an interactive presentation by asking the town hall attendants to close their eyes and listen to the loud noises of traffic from freeways that they pre-recorded as an example of what they deal with on a daily basis.
After working with local organizations and groups such as the Department of Public Health, the LAC+USC Medical Center, and CalTrans, the students proposed solutions such as more air filters in local schools, green buffer zones with trees and plants between high traffic areas and the residential areas, and weatherization of housing units to ensure windows will protect from particulate matter.
Students from the access to healthy food group suggested new grocery stores, mobile markets in which fresh produce can move on trucks or carts similar to the “fruteros” available now, and more gardens in Ramona Gardens so that residents can learn to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables.
Lucy de Paz, Norma Galeas, Gutierrez, Karen Martinez, and Amairani Pineada pointed out that by implementing such solutions then Ramona Gardens can lower the higher rates of obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes prevalent in the community.
In addressing the access to resources, or lack thereof, the students Matthew Biera, Evelyn Castillo, Karina Licon, Eduardo Martinez, and Melissa Sosa focused on making the alleyways safer.
As the students pointed out, the Ramona Gardens housing project is extremely isolated geographically from the rest of Boyle Heights.
Both residents and visitors must walk up and down uneven and accident-prone alleyway hills in order to enter the apartment area.
To remedy the issue, the students suggested repaving the alleys with permeable cement and installing LED lighting, which are safer, brighter, and longer lasting.
According to Emily Torres, 15, she didn’t realize how problematic the conditions are until joining Legacy LA and the Ramona Gardens Youth Council.
“Everyday I passed by and didn’t even know these were considered problems. My eyes are open now and I can see that we don’t have any markets and are alleys are messed up,” says Torres.
Abraham Paez of the United Latino Fund, one of the organizations that funds Legacy LA and its youth programs and presentations, agreed with the students’ conclusions.
“These kids are right. These are problems that are going on and need to be addressed,” said Paez.
At the open house reception following the town hall, Maria “Lou” Calanche, the Executive Director of Legacy LA, announced that $15 million has been committed to implementing many of the solutions the students proposed with majority funding from State Senator Kevin de Leon (Senate District 22).
In addition, Susan Nakamua of the South Coast Air Quality District made an announcement that due to the students’ efforts, a new air filtration system will be implemented in Murchison Street Elementary School.
However, Gutierrez recognizes that Ramona Gardens needs more support, especially from Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA City Council before they can reach the goal vision for Ramona Gardens by the year 2020.
“It’ll be difficult. Money is a big issue,” said Gutierrez.
“But, today is the start of talking to people and working together to make [Ramona Gardens] safer and better for everyone.”
Tiffany Lam is a Community Contributor for Boyle Heights Beat. She is a lifelong resident of Boyle Heights and attending Wellesley College in Boston, Massachusetts. Her ambitions include engaging with her community through writing and organizing.