4-H/Middle Earth Student Ambassadors for Community Health (SACH)

Empower youth to identify issues in their community and create solutions to shape positive change.

In 2018 a RWJ-NJHI grant enabled SACH to create change in Bound Brook with a focus on street safety and walkability through creative placemaking. This year SACH will revitalize a park with an unsafe reputation that people are reluctant to frequent. By adding art, a free library, landscaping, seating, refinishing the basketball court, and donating garden produce to food banks, students believe the area can thrive again. SACH invited local artists to design butterfly sculptures leading to the park to symbolize the transformation of the town. As students gathered measurements of the park, a resident next door asked, “Why are you choosing this park? Nobody cares about us here.” This comment is a reflection of the unmet need that exists; a lack of pride in one’s community, and a feeling that no cares to devote time and resources to certain neighborhoods. The students hope that these changes will foster pride and prove that fellow residents as well as local government value the community.

This grant will allow SACH to continue to address needs in the community. This year SACH will help confront health issues created by a lack of fresh food, and validate respect for all citizens. This will be accomplished by: 1.Using a plot in the community garden to grow produce for food banks and partnering with Rutgers Cooperative Extension to offer cooking and nutrition classes. 2. Revitalizing the area around the park to include benches, picnic tables, street murals, landscaping, and a free library. 3. Building a storybook trail with a unique story written by the teens on podiums leading to the park. The story will highlight the theme of positive change as it traces the journey of a caterpillar evolving into a butterfly. Each podium will have a page of the story in English and Spanish to accommodate the bilingual population. 4. Installing butterfly sculptures next to each podium designed and painted by local artists.There are still a myriad of ways to help the community.

As our original grant is coming to an end, this award would allow us to address needs of underserved communities into the future. Student-led projects show youth perspective that is often overlooked. SACH is already having lasting influence on the community through improved safety and beautification in Bound Brook. We would be able to broaden our reach to more youth and other communities. Each year relationships are established with local politicians and organizations. This year SACH is collaborating with a newly formed community garden committee, recreation department, and town council members. This project offers teens the opportunity to make significant changes in their community while learning life skills that are transferable to college and jobs including public speaking, community service, mentoring, team-work, designing, and implementing projects in a timely fashion. They have received awards from the County Planning Commission, the County Arts and Heritage Commission, and 4-H.