February 5 2018

Merced youth create clay molds of skatepark features they would like incorporated into the final design.

 

Like many in Merced, Damon Ramirez has felt “there’s not enough to do here”, and while advocates and youth leaders have made considerable strides to change the odds and create more healthy activities in their neighborhoods, Damon would be the first to admit more is needed, and he couldn’t be more right.

Instead of hoping something happens, Damon and other youth made something happen. This past December, their hard work paid off, and south Merced youth were thrilled by an incredible holiday surprise: approval of a state-of-the art skatepark that will bring endless hours of recreation, smiles and joy. But beyond the immediate benefits, this skatepark means so much more.

From the beginning Building Healthy Communities Merced has supported youth so that, far from being left behind, they are leading the pack. Merced young people have advocated for investments into their futures—increased services, funding, facilities, having a voice at city hall through a Youth Council.

The new skatepark is tangible evidence by a community that the voices of its youth are indeed powerful and worth the investment. That young people themselves are truly valued. We need more of this, and we need to keep following their lead.

This is particularly true in south Merced where opportunities have been severely limited since city growth has crept steadily northward. Residents feel left behind. The new hospital and high school, as well as recent housing and retail developments, have all been built in north Merced, adding to years of disinvestment in the south. UC Merced, for all the opportunity it represents, exists far north of the city, symbolizing the considerable distance south Merced residents feel since many view attending the UC as unrealistic. A skatepark in south Merced is but one marker against this grain, but a meaningful one.

To design the skatepark, Merced youth sat with architects and told them what they want. They designed the exact features into moldable clay, literally a hands-on opportunity for them to shape real improvement in their community. Adults too came together, at times putting aside differences, to focus on what matters most for their families and neighborhoods well beyond the skatepark. The California Endowment is proud of this community building going on in Merced, instilling a true sense of belonging and power. Ground will be broken soon to initiate construction of the skatepark but its ground-breaking impacts are already far along.

 

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