Youth Change Their Community

Christine Green

I recently attended a presentation by some very impressive youth from the Port Towns in Prince George's County, Maryland. The Port Towns include the communities of Bladensburg, Colmar Manor, Cottage City and Edmonston. End Times Harvest Ministries, a local church, hosted the second annual Youth Wellness Leadership Institute's Wellness Ambassadors Leadership Program Summer Camp finale at Port Towns Elementary School in Bladensburg.

During the presentation, 30 youth ages 10 to 17 taught the community about healthy eating, BMI, muscle groups and presented their findings from a community assessment of Route 450 in the Town of Bladensburg. Route 450 is a 4-6 lane divided roadway that runs through the community. It is heavily traveled and provides access to highways. It is also one block from the high school and some students must cross Route 450 every day to get to school.

I was able to join the wellness ambassadors on one of their many Friday community assessments. The youth use a comprehensive assessment tool to audit Route 450 in sections. The tool includes all aspects of walking and bicycling, storm water drainage, green roofs and the number of people using the street. Photos from the walk are on the Greater Washington, DC region Facebook page.

After an extensive audit of Route 450, the wellness ambassadors compiled a SWOT-strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats- analysis and wrote recommendations. Recommendations from the community assessment include installing bike lanes and bike racks along Route 450, improving crosswalks and lighting, increasing fresh and organic food options, incorporating green roofs into existing buildings, improving bus stops and installing signage which would direct people to historic places and the waterfront.

Town of Bladensburg Mayor Walter James attended the presentation and was adamant that the report would not sit on a shelf but would be rolled into the Bladensburg Green Street initiative. The wellness ambassadors were invited to present at the next Bladensburg Council work session and at Prince George's County Council. I was able to meet Mayor James after the meeting and pledged the support of the Greater Washington, DC regional network in implementing the recommendations.

Youth are part of the community and often use the streets as pedestrians and bicyclists. After working with this group on the community assessment and seeing their flawless presentations, it is obvious why youth should be at the table. They provide a valuable perspective and their excitement is contagious. There is something very powerful about youth taking a real interest in their community and making policy recommendations. I know I left re-energized and ready to take on the world-or the Greater Washington, DC region.

Update: The community assessment is now released and the Town of Bladensburg adopted the recommendations. More information in the Greater Washington regional website.