Millhill Child & Family Development’s Next Generation Community Leaders (NGCL) are reactivating community parks by promoting resident engagement to encourage recreation, exercise, and overall healthy living. Beginning by looking within their own neighborhoods, the youth leaders have decided to revitalize several city parks – including Roberto Clemente Park and Columbus Park – through surveying, clean ups and other community engagement work. The NGCL youth team will also collaborate with the City of Trenton’s “Taking it to the Streets” — a summer-long program that brings recreational activities into accessible, free, sanitary and safe locations in the Trenton community.

“We will be observing, surveying and initiating clean up efforts, leading up to a day of community engagement on July 18th at Roberto Clemente Park hosted by our youth team,” states NGCL Coach Tamarra Causley Robinson. In addition, she explains the significance of the team’s collaboration with organizations working to promote health and well-being within Trenton. “‘Taking it To The Streets’ is a city program to help neighborhoods connect and help residents feel more comfortable, as well as bring fun activities to blocks within the city.”

New Jersey Health Initiatives (NJHI), the statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) awarded Millhill and nine other organizations across the state threeyear NGCL awards to harness the energy, knowledge, and idealism of young people ages 14-21 to prepare them to become future leaders. The Trenton NGCL Team is in its second year of NJHI’s award and consists of 12 young leaders from Trenton, and the team met on a bi-weekly basis throughout the year to learn from local experts about community health and to ultimately identify, develop and implement this community park-focused project.

The NGCL youth have worked to develop a civic engagement project for the summer that addresses a public health issue of their choosing. Last year, the Trenton NGCL team applied its first year of NJHI funding to host Embrace You!, a free community mental health festival. Interested in exploring different community-based health needs, the 2019 team discussed obesity, violence, homelessness and access to healthy foods. Inspired by a common desire to make their community a safer and more welcoming place for people to enjoy, the NGCL youth quickly became passionate about park reactivation.

“We have to have an open heart and a mindset that people living in Trenton have seen others coming to help, but to no avail, and we’re trying to make a difference,” said 18 year old NGCL member Henry Cua. On the subject of surveying park-goers to learn what changes the community would like to see, Cua affirmed the team’s driving principle that “an informed community is a better community.”

According to the Capital City Youth Violence Coalition’s Trenton Youth Safety Playbook, safe and sanitary parks were among Trenton City youth’s top concerns when asked what they would change about Trenton if they had unlimited resources. The playbook calls for an increased number of non-structured activities, such as maintaining accessible parks that youth can safely visit.

For each park and setting, the youth leaders have decided on specific levels of engagement to accommodate the best needs of the individual parks. At Columbus Park, they have engaged with community members by splitting into teams and cleaning the park, polling community needs, and offering fun activities like face painting and coloring. At Roberto Clemente Park, the youth leaders are inviting Trenton residents to join them July 18th for a day of cleaning, restoration and community engagement to spread the word about a park with great assets such as a basketball court and swimming pool.

At John Beech Playground, as well as at the intersection of South Walter Avenue and Greenwood Avenue, the youth leaders are partnering with the city’s “Taking it to the Streets” initiative to host events featuring street basketball, bowling, moon bounces, crafts, food, music and more activities for the whole family to enjoy