SBCC Thrive LA is the convening organization for our Wilmington design team working to develop community-driven solutions near the Port of Los Angeles in Southern California. For the last 40 years, SBCC Thrive LA has worked with children, youth and families in the Wilmington community to support resident empowerment and organizing.

Wilmington is rich with history and its streets are lined with beautifully colorful homes – it is a place where residents care deeply for their community. The Wilmington design team identified local challenges such as the need for youth empowerment, breaking the cycle of poverty and dramatically improving the air quality due to extreme air pollution from the trucks carrying shipping containers to and from the Port of LA.

The Wilmington community is full of examples showcasing how youth are vital in cultivating and sustaining the health of a thriving community.

1. Co-creating with youth can build community ownership.

The Wilmington kickoff lab wrapped at the end of September. At the lab, some team members formed a small group around the need for increased youth empowerment in the community. While brainstorming possible assumptions as to why youth in the community experience disempowerment, the group focused on a “lack of opportunities to engage to find their true self-love.”

Ely Fournier is a member of the small group focused on youth empowerment. He moved to Wilmington at about 11 years old with his parents and has lived there for the past 20 years. The son of missionaries, Ely is now an artist and youth pastor at a church in the Wilmington community.  

When asked what Wilmington means to him, Ely replied, "It’s home. I would consider it the city where I was raised. Pride. Definitely pride and sort of a connection to my ethnicity – a connection to my culture.”

Urban Arts Crew is a project that grew from Ely’s passion for artistic expression and supporting young people to fulfill their dreams through inspiration and motivation. By co-creating artistic projects and shows with youth, the group offers young street artists in Southern California an organized way to grow their artistic and social enterprising skills within a safe environment.

When speaking more in depth at the end of the kickoff lab, Ely shared a story about a young man who was a “notorious tagger” in 2009. When the Urban Arts Crew grew a relationship with him, it sparked the group’s growth by truly giving it credibility amongst other street artists.

"It turned into something bigger with grants as I worked with SBCC. Now he has his own studio, he teaches art,” Ely said. "To see him totally shift his life – that was life-changing for me. Sometimes simple ideas can really create something that helps people."

During the kickoff lab, Ely’s small group ultimately developed this positive goal statement: I want existing youth organizations to co-create with youth.

This positive goal now drives the group’s discovery work to engage community members and develop solutions which accomplish co-creation with youth with an emphasis on empowerment.

2. Youth can become advocates through pathways for community participation.

Liza Rivera has served as a community organizer for 6 years and is currently a program director at SBCC Thrive LA. During her time as a community organizer, she oversaw five Neighborhood Action Councils, or NACs. NACs mobilize over 1,500 community members throughout Los Angeles County who collectively design and organize initiatives focusing on health, education, safety and economic development.

One of the most insightful bits of information Liza shared is that the Neighborhood Action Councils offer parents childcare resources so that they may participate in meetings while knowing their children are safe and cared for properly. Having organized the resident meetings for six years, Liza had the pleasure of witnessing the growth of children who are now active in the NACs themselves as teenagers.

"This was six  years ago, now these children are teenagers. Now they are actually in NACs themselves. Rudy is part of the iHeart Youth movement here. He participates in almost everything and so does his mother… It’s full circle. It started with a parent and a child who was in child-watch and now he’s involved.” 

–Liza Rivera

3. Youth can cultivate skills to act as community leaders.

At SBCC Thrive LA, the team is led by Executive Director Colleen Mooney who oversees all organizational programs and coordinates the Wilmington design team for Raising Places.

As a long-time resident, anyone who meets Colleen instantly sees her passion for the Wilmington community. She speaks particularly highly of the iHeart Wilmington program which started as a small group and now includes hundreds of community members, business owners, elected officials and organizational partners. It consists of community-led projects including advocacy on issues of safety, voter registration, equitable discipline policies in neighborhood schools, neighbor-to-neighbor education aimed to prevent child abuse and neglect as well as reducing pollution from the Los Angeles Port and related transportation activity.

iHeart Wilmington has a special cohort of youth known as iHeart Wilmington Youth who are the leaders of their own group. They act as decision-makers in determining which projects and issues they want to address. iHeart Wilmington Youth also develop and implement the projects while controlling their own budget and evaluating their own work.

“iHeart Wilmington Youth designed, planned and implemented a project designed to bring awareness of the homeless population in Wilmington. They collected clothes, soap, wash cloths, blankets, snacks, bottled water and distributed these articles to homeless folks. They spent time talking to folks about their history and how they saw their future. They invited the folks to come to SBCC's community garden and work and share lunch on Saturdays. They also gave folks information about the nearest shelter and offered to go with them to tour the shelter and determine if that might be a place they would like to move to. They will be visiting the homeless weekly to offer companionship and support.” 

–Colleen Mooney

Wilmington is an example of a community that sees children and youth as resources in its continual development and advocacy. Between co-creating projects with youth, developing pathways for them to become advocates and empowering youth to be leaders in the community, Wilmington opens itself up for inter-generational community ownership and actively works to stimulate future community business leaders.

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