For youth, creating murals is a way to improve their community, build self-esteem and promote cultural awareness.
"This city is used to having taggers and gangs take over our streets with graffiti," says Nestor Garcia, 17, a junior at San Fernando Valley High School. "By replacing graffiti with murals that reflect our history and culture, we hope to improve our city and educate our community."
The mural project is one of seven service-learning components of a UCLA urban environmentalism class taught by Professor Carl Maida linking UCLA students and faculty with community members and San Fernando High students. The projects focus on environmental and safety issues affecting Pacoima.
Last fall, UCLA's relationship with Pacoima was further strengthened when the university established its newest Community Education Resource Center (CERC). The Northeast San Fernando Valley (NESFV) CERC, housed at the Pacoima Youth and Family Center, is one of six UCLA community centers located in low-income areas throughout Los Angeles. Other sites are located in Inglewood, downtown Los Angeles, East Los Angeles, Cudahy and Watts.
"Like all CERCs, the Northeast San Fernando Valley site has the mission of strengthening the college-going culture of a community, particularly one where few students go on to higher education," says CERC director Gayle Byock, special assistant in the office of UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale. "This particular site has a very strong community and higher education collaboration, partnering with community-based organizations to offer the best possible resources and programs to its residents and a wonderful learning location for UCLA students."
The Northeast San Fernando Valley CERC is engaged in a number of programs aimed at improving the educational outcomes of the area's children. VISTA volunteers, provided to UCLA by Americorps, work at the site daily to design programs to provide leadership and mentoring to youth. UCLA undergraduates tutor middle and high school students through the Work Force Initiative, a university work-study program. Beginning in May, UCLA will host a monthly literature night to promote literacy.
For many years, students from UCLA's Division of Public Health and Community Dentistry, led by faculty member Marvin Marcus, have offered preventive dental care clinics and workshops in the area. UCLA's Department of Family Medicine will soon establish a clinic in Sun Valley staffed by medical residents. Also being planned is a College and Career Center.
Partnering with community organizations, UCLA supports the center by conducting research studies and projects that affect underserved communities and offers faculty expertise to improve the environmental health of Pacoima.
"Our collaboration with UCLA allows us to expand both knowledge and services to our residents," says John Messina, director of the Pacoima Youth and Family Center. "At the same time, UCLA representatives obtain hands-on experience at the grassroots level in working with the community."
"Our goal," Byock says, "is to move youth toward greater opportunity for healthier and more productive lives."