Urban Corps youth make a difference in Chicano Park

By Pablo J. Sáinz

Urban Corp member, Alfredo Silva on the BobCat
Urban Corp member, Alfredo Silva on the BobCat

For Alfredo Silva, Chicano Park represents community, family.

“It’s a place where my family gets together, for carne asada, for a good time,” said Silva, who grew up and lives in Barrio Logan, just a few blocks from the park.

So now that Silva is part of a group of Urban Corps of San Diego County students working on a Chicano Park recreation improvement project, the 21-year-old said it gives him pride to be involved.

“It feels good to help,” said Silva, who is working towards his high school diploma at the Urban Corps’ charter school. “I feel really excited about helping make these improvements at Chicano Park because I grew up around here.”

The improvement project at Chicano Park is funded through a $1.08 million state grant the City of San Diego received. The project broke ground in early May, and since then some 14 students from Urban Corps of San Diego County, a program that gives youth in San Diego an alternative to traditional education through work skills and hands-on training, have been working at the park.

Urban Corps students have installed a new handball court, begun construction of a skate area, and performed demo work on the existing playgrounds. Future improvements include installation of new play equipment, fountain repairs, and landscaping work. The project is to be completed by December.

“Chicano Park is the crown jewel of Barrio Logan and a region-wide attraction for its rich display of art and culture,” said Robert Chávez, Chief Executive Officer for Urban Corps. “Just as the mural themselves must be maintained, keeping the park’s amenities updated is an important aspect of its preservation. Urban Corps is honored to help provide this deserving neighborhood with much-anticipated recreational improvements for local residents and all visitors to enjoy.”

Julio Salas is an Urban Corps student who is working at Chicano Park. He said the Urban Corps program, in which students get paid-work several hours a week, has made a big change in his life.

“It’s given me the discipline I needed to focus on my education and on learning new skills,” said Salas, who is 19 and is completing high school through Urban Corps. “At the same time, we’re helping our community.”

For City of San Diego Principal Planner Brian Schoenfisch, the Chicano Park project is very inclusive.

“This project is an example of acknowledging the importance of local voices within the community and showcasing the creative energy of the Urban Corps in a unique partnership with the City,” he said. “This is a great way to place youth in positive working roles in the community and show that we can make a difference working together.”

Urban Corps has worked hand-in-hand with the Chicano Park Steering Committee and other community members to design the improvement plan, according to Klara T. Arter, Communications and Development manager for Urban Corps.

“I have been watching these Urban Corps students on a daily basis from the very beginning of construction of this project,” said Tommie Camarillo, chairperson of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, which manages the park. “I see excitement and pride in their work. The students are now not just working on the project, but they are feeling pride of being part of the community and Chicano Park.”

José Casillas, an Urban Corps student who is also learning English, said the program has helped him learned new job skills.

“Now I know how to use construction tools, and I learned how to operate machinery, which will help me get a job when I graduate,” Casillas said.

Chávez said that Chicano Park represents a great opportunity for Urban Corps.

“This is a landmark project for us and it’s thrilling to see Corpsmembers expand their skill sets by working on a major construction site,” he said.

Urban Corps currently has several open positions for young adults ages 18 to 25 who would like to join the program. Corpsmember trainees receive paid job skills training while helping their community and earning a high school diploma at Urban Corps Charter School.

Youth work in the community three days per week and attend school two days per week. If you or someone you know needs a job and a high school diploma, find out how to apply by calling (619) 235-6884, toll free (855) SD-CORPS or visit www.UrbanCorpsSD.org.

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