Nature in the Neighborhood
Program: The goal of the Nature in the Neighborhood program is to give children in the Iron Triangle a portal to the natural world. There are three different aspects to the program. 1: To provide a safe, natural, outdoor public space that encourages and enables 5,000 Iron Triangle children and youth to connect with nature in their own neighborhood. 2: To transform Elm Playlot into a portal to the natural world, a place where urban children can access hands-on and meaningful experiences with nature everyday in their own neighborhood. And 3: To bring skilled naturalists to the park to act as translators to guide children how to see and deepen their understanding of the living world. Pogo Park partners with other nature-based organizations to provide opportunities for local children to connect with nature. Our partners include the National Park Service, East Bay Regional Parks as well as YES! Nature in the Neighborhood. Trained naturalists include rangers from the East Bay Regional Parks and the NPS, interpretive naturalists from Audubon and science teachers.
Need: Iron Triangle youth live in a neighborhood known as an “asphalt jungle” and lack meaningful contact with nature. It is our intention to help children fulfill the human tendency to seek connection with nature. As conservationist E.O. Wilson described in Biophilia, “humans are hardwired to need connection with nature.” Research shows that simply being in nature can positively impact one’s overall health and well-being including: reducing blood pressure, decreasing stress, improving mood, and relieving the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders. In addition to nature deficit disorder, being alienated from green space and nature is shown as a cause of diabetes, obesity, malnutrition, near-sightedness, asthma, depression, and anxiety.
Impact: Our program is enormously popular. During the past two years we’ve brought groups of local children from Richmond to Yosemite, Muir Woods, and Muir Beach. For many children, it was their first time visiting the ocean and forest, and their first time experiencing the wide expanse of nature in its primal and raw state. These trips have provided monumental opportunities for growth, learning, and connection to children who have had no access to the healing properties of nature.
Program: The goal of the Healthy Eating program is to make our parks into places that encourage people in the Iron Triangle to access healthy food. There are two different aspects to our healthy food program. 1: We provide free meals to children in the summer as an official distributor of the Contra Costa County Summer Food Service program. 2: We are developing our community gardens and a system to distribute healthy food to the public and educate the public about healthy food and eating practices.
Need: There are a confluence of factors that contribute to the need for healthy food in the Iron Triangle. 1: The Iron Triangle is a federally recognized “food desert,” meaning that there is little access to healthy food in this neighborhood. Instead of shopping at markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables, residents are forced to purchase meals from fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and corner markets that provide poor-quality options for healthy, affordable food. 2. Because residents lack safe, green, outdoor spaces to walk, ride a bike, or play, adults and youth are trapped inside their homes, watching screens and leading sedentary lives. The sedentary lifestyle has taken its toll: in 2010 Richmond ranked #5 in all California cities for obesity (51% of Richmond children are considered overweight or obese; in local schools, over 50% of 5th grade students fail to meet basic physical fitness standards.)
Impact: Our healthy food program has been very successful. Pogo Park served 9,585 meals to hungry children at Elm Playlot in 2017. We plan to expand our food program, because the need is so high. Our long term plan is have a full kitchen and to provide cooking classes and education to teach residents to learn to cook in healthy ways.
Program: The goal of Active Living is to provide activities to residents of the Iron Triangle that encourage people to be physically active at no charge. We do this by providing free drop-in daily activities at Elm Playlot. These programs include: the daily Zumba class; walking/biking on the circular trike path; ball games (e.g. basketball, tetherball, soccer, baseball); and dance (e.g. organized hip-hop and capoeira classes).
Need: There is a high need for free drop-in exercise activities in the Iron Triangle. Two factors contribute to this need: 1. A lack of safe outdoor space in the Iron Triangle to exercise leads to obesity. 2. A staggering 6,620 children in Richmond lack access to quality “out-of-school” summer programs (source: West Contra Costa County’s “Ed Fund”) Demand for programs that help Richmond’s children grow and thrive far outstrips supply. In the words of one community resident, the main challenge that thousands of Richmond children face is that they have, “nowhere to go, nothing to do.”
Impact: Our Active Living program has been very popular. There were 1,800 sign-ins for attendance to our one hour afternoon Zumba class in 2017. Upcoming programs for adults and youth include: Tai Chi for seniors, “Baby and Me” exercise classes for parents with infants, Youth Hip-Hop.
We hire local art teachers to provide free art classes from 3pm to 5pm Tuesday-Friday to children and their caretakers. This multi-age class is a HUGE hit.
STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math
Pogo Park emphasizes enriched programming at Elm Playlot that helps teach the critical skills needed in today’s world: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.
During the school months, Pogo Park offers free homework help in a safe environment after school.
Chess Master TC Ball (aka “The Black Knight”) sets up an area to play chess and instructs children and adults on strategies and skills for playing chess.
Eco-Village Farm and Learning Center bring their mobile petting zoo to the park for children to play and care for a variety of farm animals including rabbits, chickens, pigs, and goats.
Additional Resources Community Resource Station
On Friday’s Pogo Park staffs a Resource Station at Elm Playlot (Pogo Park #1) where our community connector, Lupe Pulido provides free information to community members to inform them about health and social services available in Richmond. The goal of the Resource Station is to support residents to sign up to receive any services they may need.
Community Resource Station
Pogo Park hires youth, ages 14-18, to work in the summer as a Pogo Park All-Star, a youth development and leadership training program. Pogo Park All-Stars are assigned to work in different trades related to the park, and learn real world skills, such as assisting with daily operations at the park, helping design research projects or building park products in our social enterprise.
Golden Temple Fund
Pogo Park has a fund for residents of the Iron Triangle. Our Golden Temple fund is based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect toward others.