Growing communities, healthier kids

Moderated by Rick Badie

Countless residents and public servants contribute and volunteer time to make pockets of this city and region better places. Today, I write about an operation that teaches West End kids how to repair bikes while using cycling to create healthy, sustainable lifestyles. Also, an Atlanta city councilman writes about the “Year of Boulevard,” a neighborhood trust-building effort in the Old Fourth Ward that has continued to grow since its 2012 debut.

Children bicycling to better health

By Rick Badie

Some days, Holderness Street in Southwest Atlanta gets flooded with so many kids riding bikes that it reminds Shawn Deangelo Walton of a “mini Singapore.”

He’s partly to blame for the popularity of the two-wheeled activity, thanks to a civic-minded small business he started to introduce youngsters to the joy of cycling and gardening. Walton is the founder of WeCycle Atlanta, an operation that stresses WHEELS: Work Ethic, Health, Environment, Economics, Leadership and Sustainability. It does so by giving young people in the West End access to bikes, fresh produce and, of course, cycling.

WeCycle Atlanta, with hundreds of volunteers, primarily serves the low-income neighborhood of Ashview Heights where Walton, a Morehouse Man, lives. The organization hosts projects, from block parties and clean-up projects to gardening. It has given away more than 100 bicycles and organizes bike rides throughout the year. New and refurbished bikes are donated to the cause.

This summer, about 25 youths took part in a program that educated them on bike maintenance, cycling, gardening and community service. This summer also marked the first time participants worked in community gardens throughout the West End, learning about growing food and eating a proper diet.

“Garden work is hot and sweaty,” said Ebony Blanding, a volunteer who graduated with Walton from Tri-Cities High. “To have kids come up here and ask for something to do is empowering. To see it in person is moving. (WeCycle) teaches work ethics, and it brings the community together.”

For Walton, 28, WeCycle Atlanta is a full-time job, a mechanism for change.

“I’m a state-certified educator, but I am putting all of my effort into sustaining this social venture,” he said. “I believe it can be the stabilizing and sustaining praxis of communities around the world. We believe that cycling and urban agriculture can help stabilize and sustain a community, and we are working to create a foundation here in Atlanta. Our long-term goal is to apply the WeCycle WHEELS model throughout greater Atlanta.”

Walton started riding bicycles at a young age, naturally drawn to the mobility and freedom two wheels provide — never mind the creativity and ideas that can pop up while cruising. He commuted from East Atlanta to Morehouse College as a sophomore, a trip that gave the early childhood development student time to ponder how he wanted to invest in his life and community.

His vision: To open a bike repair shop in the West End that would also serve as a community center. A campaign is under way to raise money for the project; a block party/fundraiser was held Saturday at the corner of Fenwood and Holderness streets. Kids cycled, skated and played hop-scotch.

“It was a very beautiful scene,” Walton said.

Shawn Angelo Walton is founder of WeCycle Atlanta.

“Year of Boulevard” builds people – and trust

By Kwanza Hall

was during our first back-to-school block party in July 2012 that I realized the “Year of Boulevard” was going to last more than 365 days.

Families with annual median incomes of $3,000 watched the event from their front porches. I asked a young mother why she and her children were not out on the street having fun. “We didn’t think the party was for us,” she said. “We thought it was for someone else.”

Two years later, Boulevard residents seem to know the party is for them. On a recent Saturday, despite rain, more than 1,000 children, family members and seniors showed up for our third back-to-school block party and cookout.How are we getting people to believe in what we are doing? Among other things, by building trust, leveraging resources, showing that we are in this for the long haul and having fun along the way.

We placed a high priority on tangible projects that mattered to residents. In 2012, thanks to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Chief George Turner, we opened a police precinct on Boulevard in partnership with the Atlanta Medical Center.

Since then, Boulevard beat officers have worked with the community to reduce Part 1 crimes by 24 percent. The area’s first off-leash dog park opened in 2013. This fall, a city playground will open next to an elementary school that never had one. Next year, a $1 million Atlanta Regional Commission grant will add crosswalks and medians to Boulevard.

Atlanta has been good at building buildings. The Year of Boulevard builds people. Since 2012, we have increased the number of summer camps from two to seven. The camps provide healthy meals and activities and introduces kids to career options.

The Year of Boulevard offers opportunities to experience an Atlanta where people of diverse backgrounds work together to make our city a better place. Through our community cleanups and other activities, we are developing unique relationships and skill sets that will serve the city well.

It is the unexpected remarks, like those by a young mother observing a block party, that keep the Year of Boulevard fresh for us.

This year, two new groups are helping us delve deeper into the needs of the community. One addresses public safety and quality of life on the northern end of the neighborhood. The other looks at hunger and food insecurity. Before the end of 2014, we will open a resident-run food cooperative in the Village of Bedford Pines. Our partners include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Americorps VISTA and Truly Living Well Urban Farm.

Finally, we are excited to have launched three pilot workforce development programs this year, led by our friends at Ponce City Market, Year Up Atlanta and the Greening Youth Foundation.

We welcome your participation in the Year of Boulevard, an initiative recognized by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2013. This is one block party that benefits all Atlantans.

Kwanza Hall is District 2 Atlanta City Councilman.

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