A Charlestown youth working as a Waterfront Ambassadors has been participating all summer in a nature-inspired art project in the neighborhood.
The Waterfront Ambassadors, a summer youth employment program run by the Trustees Boston Waterfront is a summer team that consists of 11 Ambassadors.
Among these 11 Ambassadors is the Charlestown teen, Emily H., who has spent her summer documenting some of her favorite places in and around Charlestown.
Emily’s photos have been aimed at capturing some of Charlestown’s unique and beautiful spaces.
Running through August, Emily is collaborating with and learning from a variety of partner organizations doing work across Boston, exposing the teens to a variety of potential career paths.
“Our Waterfront Ambassadors are an engaged group of local high school students, who are finding unique ways to explore and learn about the power of open space planning and development around the city,” says Managing Director of the Boston Waterfront Initiative Nick Black. “They are focused on what it means to design with access and equity front-of-mind, and are learning from landscape architects, artists, and community members from around the City.”
In early August teens had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Moon and landscape architect María de la Luz Lobos Martínez to learn about the benefits—and challenges—of building open, green space in a developed area.
“We focused on the Winthrop (greenway) extension,” explained Program Manager Sarah Plotkin. “The Ambassadors were then tasked with creating their own surveys for the Greenway and to share them with friends to see what feedback they might get, which they really enjoyed.”
Other guest speakers this week included Jason L. Burrell, a local resident and associate at the law firm Mintz, who spoke with the teens about setting goals, and his career journey; Trustees Director of Coast Tom O’Shea who detailed the organization’s coastal strategy and resilience projects underway; and Trustees Boston Community Gardens Engagement Manager Michelle de Lima, who gave the group a virtual tour of the Nightingale Community Gardens in Dorchester.
“The Ambassadors enjoyed learning about the different plants that were being grown and how community gardens operate,” said Plotkin. “A high point was getting to talk to one of the local gardeners who was working her plot at the time, and learning about her creative way of using shredded paper to help her plants grow instead of mulch.”
Recently Emily took part in a rock painting beautification project in the area.
“I haven’t painted rocks in a long time, so this outside activity brought back a lot of memories from when I was a little kid,” said Emily. “It was a relaxing activity, but I was really excited to create some cute rocks. We shared our designs with each other, and I enjoyed listening to everyone’s enjoyment of the activity. I think having painted rocks is such a cool addition on the streets to make someone’s day.”
Black explained that the program had to sort of reinvent itself as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country.
Black said in Summer 2019, the Waterfront Ambassadors worked with key grassroots and non-profit partners, lending a hand with local cleanups and stewardship projects.
However, the 2020 program, supported for a second summer by TD Bank’s Ready Commitment, has presented new challenges and necessitated converting to a virtual/remote work-learn structure to comply with social distancing measures.
Even with those restrictions Emily is still meeting with and learning from—virtually—a variety of partner organizations including representatives from the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway, Harborkeepers, the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, and other local artists, organizers, and educators.
“Getting outside and into the community was still a big focus for this year and finding a way to safely step away from the computer screen while social distancing was a challenge, but our Ambassadors have certainly risen to the occasion,” added Black. “Their projects this summer include regular, independent exploration of nearby public gardens and parks, to assess and think about what makes these places welcoming, valued spaces for the communities that surround them. Documenting their findings with photos, the teens are creating a postcard series to share their observations called ‘Greetings from my Boston’.”
As a 2020 Ambassadors Emily is also engaging with the Boston Waterfront Initiative team to learn about the Trustees-led project to create a series of resilient, equitable parks around the City’s vulnerable waterfront. To help inform this work as part of a robust community engagement process beginning in the fall, the Ambassadors will gather open space design ideas and input from the community, with a focus on Boston youth. “The engagement projects are the Ambassadors’ main focus of the summer,” said Black. “The goal is for each of the Ambassadors to explore their own communities with fresh eyes and learn from the many organizations and partners actively engaged with open space planning and community engagement work around our waterfront city.”