California Greenworks: Greening South Los Angeles, One Neighborhood at a Time

At the dawn of the new millennium, Mike Meador found himself off the coast of Long Beach, Ca., sailing with a friend from Nairobi, Kenya who had served under Dr. Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmental and political activist who founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM). GBM is a non-governmental organization that focuses on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and the promotion of women’s rights in Kenya.

As they boated, the two friends – one a native of south Texas, the other from halfway across the planet – were shocked and saddened by the amount of trash floating in the water. This observation led them to realize the need for an organization promoting environmental awareness in L.A.’s urban communities. Meador especially recognized the key role that urban communities play in the health of the ocean, as urban areas are typically the last threshold in the watershed, and therefore the last lines of defense, before water – and all refuse thrown into it – reaches the ocean.

Hence, California Greenworks, Inc. was born, a non-profit organization founded by Meador dedicated to implementing a series of environmental projects that focus on watershed protection. In 2006, in order to draw attention to important watershed issues as well as to highlight its own role in water quality protection efforts, the organization hosted an environmental awareness event called GreenFest Concerts in honor of Earth Day. The first year music festival proved tremendously popular, encouraging citizens to become environmentally active, promoting partnerships between California Greenworks and other like-minded local organizations, while also raising critical funds for the organization. The concerts have become an annual event known as EarthFest Los Angeles.

The 7th annual Earthfest, held this year on September 15, included not only the traditional Jazz Concert for the Environment, an evening of music with the goal of securing funds for another year of California Greenworks projects, but also a free Environmental Expo, documentary screenings, guest speakers, and a children’s camp to inspire young people to care about their natural world.

But there’s more to California Greenworks than concerts. Their motto is “Greening Communities One Neighborhood at a Time.” According to Meador, the mission

of the organization is to “revitalize open space, reduce urban blight, build projects and programs that educate communities environmentally, and promote green jobs and economic development.” To that end, the organization collaborates on projects with a diversity of partners including individuals, organizations, and colleges. Significant among its partners are the City of Los Angeles, West Los Angeles College, which provided the venue for this year’s EarthFest LA, and State Senator Roderick D. Wright, who is extremely supportive of California Greenworks’ initiatives.

While EarthFest LA is probably the most well known of the organization’s many projects and awareness programs, it is by no means the only one. California Greenworks is currently invested in watershed education and tree beautification projects, including an urban forestry program called Trees 4 Schools, and the urban watershed education program Water Links!, in which fifth-grade students complete a three-week, science-based class on watersheds, environmental stewardship, and the hazards of polluting urban streams. The course fits into the California’s state science curriculum standards, culminating in a bus trip to the marina where the curious and excited students take water samples, learn how to test the pH of the water, and become acquainted with sea life face-to-face. The experience instills a genuine love of the marine environment within participants as well as the knowledge and skills to protect it.

California Greenworks primarily focuses on communities in South Los Angeles, where Meador sees a “major need…and lots of opportunity also.” The average household income in the area falls below $50,000 annually, and the area is known for having an extremely high crime rate. The opportunities for improvement that Meador speaks of are self-evident. By creating programs and projects like Water Links!, the MLK Greenstreets Beautification Project, and the Trees 4 Schools program, members of urban areas in south L.A. not only improve their neighborhoods and the health of their environment, but also develop leadership skills and explore new concepts and ideas.

The process of actively working to create a closer, more unified community empowers residents to take charge of their own future whilesimultaneously reducing the risk of crime and engaging children and adults alike. Indeed, the elementary school students who participate in Water Links! are extremely involved in the classes, embracing the chance to look at life from a different perspective. After completing the course and the field trip to the marina, many of the fifth-graders remark that they will never forget the unique experience.

California Greenworks welcomes volunteers and donors interested in supporting urban environmental development. Fill out a volunteer application to learn how to get involved, go to the volunteer page on the Greenworks website, or send them a message on their Facebook page.

Written by Jennifer L. Neczypor, LoaTree team writer; Photos by California Greenworks

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