Hunting Park: Education Outside the Classroom]

Joey Fisher, Daquan and Jermayne Jones, and Robert Sample talk about the park clean-up.

Michele Holloway asked the question, “What don’t you like about the park?” to a group of 30 youth from Hunting Park on Friday night. A hand shot into the air, “Trash.” And another, “Violence.” And another, “Drugs.” And then one more, “Dog poop.”

With a chuckle, Holloway corralled the group back to the reason they were gathered: to educate and empower these young people. Holloway is the director of special projects at Nu Sigma Youth Services. Nu Sigma was asked to come promote youth activity because of a new project going on in Hunting Park: Healthy Eating and Active Living {HEAL). It is just one of many organizations coming together for this initiative.

Two young men focus on Rudy Johnson as he speaks about violence prevention in Hunting Park.

HEAL was a grant given to Hunting Park by the Convergence Partnership Fund of the Tides Foundation. The grant provides funding for five cities in the nation. It asks these cities to focus on three main goals: healthy eating, active living and violence prevention. This is a collaborative effort, using different organizations throughout the city, including the Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Meg Holscher, director of development for the Fairmount Park Conservancy, has big ideas for the park, one of them being a community garden and farmer’s market. “Engaging the local youth, the next generation of park stewards and neighborhood leaders, is crucial to sustaining the community’s long-term investment in public space and fostering the community’s sense of ownership of the park,” says Holscher. She believes that the youth are the key to make Hunting Park a “safer and healthier community.” Friday night’s meeting was the first one for what will hopefully become the Youth Engagement Committee.

“I’m excited to give the young people in this neighborhood a new view.  It’s always exciting to educate and to watch people learn,” says Holloway. The meeting ended on a positive. She asked, “What excites you about your park?” There were no raised hands this time. “The pool.” “The rec center.” “The basketball courts.” “The open space.” These kids see what they like and what they don’t; they just don’t know how to change it. Programs like HEAL and the organizations supporting it may show them how.

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