Written by NVR Fellow Angela Pineda
On February 19, 2023, I hosted a cleanup event at Lake Merritt with the Rotary Nature Center Friends (RNCF). The event was from 2pm to 4pm, and we had 13 participants! Most of them were youth from my school, Skyline High, in Oakland. The other youth were from New Voices are Rising’s (NVR) Fellowship Program that I am a part of, which brings together youth all across the Bay Area to learn about and advocate for environmental justice. To gather participants for the event, we advertised through social media and flyers to youth who had interests in water justice and doing research about their community!
The idea of planning this event came from my school’s senior research capstone project, where every senior picks a topic related to social or environmental justice to research for the entire year. My project is related to youth in environmental justice, and I was paired with two other seniors who had topics relating to water pollution and youth. This event is a part of our capstone project. My group mates had the task of providing food for the event, and they got a local restaurant called Arizmendi Bakery to donate pizza! My job was focused on collaborating with a partner organization and planning the actual event. I was introduced to RNCF by NVR Youth Coordinators Mars and Mykela, who have worked with the organization during the NVR Summer Program. Thanks to their introduction, we were able to host a successful cleanup under the guidance of the RNCF.
For the first half of the event, we studied the water and the living organisms of the lake. We split the participants into two groups with one group testing the water quality while the other collected and studied plankton to submit to the California Department of Public Health to check for any abnormalities in the water! The youth learned about and used different tools while conducting their samples. In the second half of the event, participants picked up trash around the lake. The youth broke off into pairs collecting as much trash as they could find, and sorted it into 3 piles: recycling, compost, and landfill. Lots of trash was collected, and the participants were able to discuss and learn about what trash ends up in our communities and where it goes. Thanks to NVR and Katie Noonan of the RNCF, the event was a success!
Reflecting back on the cleanup, I am proud of what I accomplished and I learned a lot from the experience. If I could change one thing about the event it would be the timing. We had a lot to do in 2 hours, and while I think we did all we needed to do within that time frame, it would’ve been better if we had more time to discuss and reflect more on the samples we collected. This event was a learning experience for me, and I’m looking forward to hopefully hosting another one in the future!