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PAL youth demonstrate committed citizenship

People who think that young people are disinterested and disengaged haven’t met some of the students participating in the PAL Coalition program. The youth, who all live in the 7th Street corridor – Park Hill, Algonquin and Old Louisville – are very interested and engaged, and fully committed to improving their lives, neighborhoods and community.

At a mid-day presentation Wednesday, several of the youth – some of them refugee students from Africa – spoke about their concerns and commitment. Topics included beautification, poverty, food deserts and access to healthy and wholesome food, substance and alcohol abuse, education, jobs and opportunity.

Community leaders could learn a lot from them.

PAL, a program of Family & Children’s Place, is a community-based coalition of individuals, businesses, organizations, faith, schools and others working to reduce substance abuse by young people who live in the 7th Street corridor. It connects and engages young people in the prevention efforts to bridge gaps between community, school and home life.

Youth come together with PAL leaders and volunteers, like state Rep. Joni Jenkins and Darryl Turpin, a principal at The Pinwheel Group, which works with African American males, at the PAL Center, an after-school program at Lynnhurst United Church of Christ on Taylor Boulevard. There they get homework help, learn about advocacy, play games and basketball – have a place to go to be kids and see old and make new friends.

And they are using what they learn.

In the spring, students performed community assessments. They walked their neighborhoods, taking notice of the overall environment. Of the condition of streets and sidewalks – if there were sidewalks. Of the number of liquor stores and the overwhelming advertising of alcohol, noting that in some places, the price of beer was less than the price of water. Of trash and debris, abandoned houses, empty and cluttered lots, etc.

The students get that their environment affects their lives in ways large and small. So they took what they saw – and photographed – and turned it into a PhotoVoice project to represent “My Normal,” the things they witness and experience every day. They’re using the posters and information to drive change to clean up and improve their community.

“PhotoVoice isn’t an art project, said Turpin Wednesday. “It’s an advocacy tool that gives young people the voice to influence their community, institutions and policymakers. It lets them use their community’s to help identify the root causes of social determinants such as poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, trash and unsafe conditions.

“It’s a vehicle for change,” he said.

The goals, the students say, is a better community. Access to good and healthy food, the chance for a good education, a good job, a safe neighborhood – the same things all children and families aspire to.

And they’re already making a difference. One community store frequented by young people prominently featured an overwhelming amount of advertising about alcohol in front of, around and in the store. The alcohol also was present throughout the store, not in a single designated area, so they spoke with city officials who spoke with the store, which has agreed to reduce the promotion and presence of alcohol.

That’s a big win for the kids and a community where alcohol is a significant contributor to poverty, violence, child abuse and other issues.

Students talked about the need for healthy food, too, noting that fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by in their neighborhoods. “We need these foods to be healthy,” said one student, “and we have little to no way to get it.”

“Here in Louisville, in this area, is a food desert,” said another, an area where there is limited access to healthy, wholesome food. “Processed foods contribute to obesity, diabetes and other major health issues. We all need to be able to enjoy foods that are good and good for us.”

One of the students worked this summer at Oxmoor Farms, and said that it really opened her eyes about the foods she should eat. The experience has led her to consider farming as a future. Another student who is interested in pursuing engineering is considering agricultural engineering – all results of their PAL experience.

The youth also said they wanted to use their experience to help others.

“We need to educate ourselves first so that we can better educate others,” he said. “We need to encourage and equip people to get involved and active, and to help the next generation behind us.”

A refugee student from Zaire said he wanted to volunteer to help others like himself – to mentor and work with immigrant families, with young refugees as they come into the community.

“I want to help people from other countries and cultures, to use my experiences to help them as they make their way through the system. To help with their transition and progress, he said.

For more information about the PAL Coalition, visit this link or the group’s Facebook page.

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