When 10-year-old Lue Vue took a close look at his corner of the Washington Park neighborhood recently, he saw graffiti, vandalized garages and a lot of garbage. Vue, the youngest member of the 27th Street West Drug Free Coalition’s Youth Council, had carefully examined the area as part of a special Youth Council project.
This summer, 20 council members from Hmong American Friendship Association (HAFA), 3824 West Vliet St., and Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, 2819 W. Richardson Place, learned to use the PhotoVoice process to work for change in their communities, according to Safe & Sound Executive Director Barbara Notestein. In 2011, Safe & Sound won a five-year Drug Free Communities Support grant that is funding the coalition.
The Drug Free Communities program is directed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“We had talked to [the Youth Council] about what neighborhood assets are and what neighborhood liabilities are and how those affect safety. [The youth] then went out and took pictures of what they thought were the positives and negatives about the neighborhood. Now they’re going to work on what they think they can do to change some of the liabilities to turn them into assets,” Notestein said. Council members also created a photo exhibit at HAFA.
Some of the assets photographed in the blocks around HAFA and Neighborhood House include a neighborhood garden constructed on a vacant lot at 35th and Galena streets and a mural depicting a phoenix rising from ashes on North 27th Street. Liabilities include boarded-up houses, debris-filled vacant lots and store signs promoting alcohol and tobacco use.
The young people invited Mayor Tom Barrett, County Supervisor Russell Stamper, community partners and area residents on a walking tour of the sites they photographed in Washington Park. Photos taken in the Concordia neighborhood by Neighborhood House Youth Council members also were included in the exhibit.
The Youth Council’s first project last April was to write and perform a play about the pressures teens face to drink alcohol. Their next goal, according to coalition manager Claire Woodall of Safe & Sound, is to implement a program called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Council members will survey and document signage, lighting, blocked visibility for the cashier and the like, as well as product placement. Woodall plans to have the youth approach storeowners to request the changes they think should be made to reduce crime and substance abuse.
“We think it will be a lot more powerful and from what we’ve seen so far, a lot more impactful for [the young people] to make the request of the storeowners, ” Woodall said.
An additional goal of the program is to give youth from different ethnic and cultural communities opportunities to work together to reduce fear and negative stereotypes.
“Ideally we’d like to include all the youth-serving agencies in the neighborhood,” said Woodall.
Barrett said he loves the depth of the project. The photos “allow us to see the community as [the youth] see it, both from a positive standpoint and a negative standpoint. It gives us a challenge, as the leaders of the community, to do what we can to make it a better neighborhood for them to live in.”