Student Ambassadors for Community Health (SACH) is a group of Bound Brook youth learning leadership through self-designed projects in partnership with Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Somerset County 4-H, Middle Earth (an at-risk youth service provider), and New Jersey Health Initiatives’ (NJHI) Next Generation Community Leaders initiative.
Leigh Ann Von Hagen PP, AICP, of the Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy invited the SACH youth to present their work at the New Jersey Planning Conference held this January in New Brunswick.
Lisa Rothenberger, a 4-H Agent, and Hailey Thompson, the SACH team’s coach from Middle Earth, joined student Julissa Tonche to reflect on the 2018 project. Their panel focused on youth involvement in planning. Young people are frequent users of public spaces, but their unique perspective is often overlooked.
Tonche shared the intensive process of choosing and planning a project that would best fit the health needs of people in Bound Brook. The youth opted to improve street safety and revitalize their walkable community through creative placemaking.
You can make a change within your community, no matter your age. Many people came to thank us for our work,” she said. “We did it with our whole hearts. We wanted children and families to feel safe and proud of their town.
The youth referenced the Blueprint for Action from the Building Bridges to Better Health initiative to develop their initial ideas and worked them out from there. That grant was also funded through NJHI and is what led the youth to connect with Von Hagen, and ultimately the graduate students from the Bloustein School. Read more about how Bloustein graduate students are partnering in this work.
The SACH team and the graduate students surveyed and collected data to determine locations in need of intervention. The findings revealed unfriendly crosswalk locations, a lack of pedestrian access around schools, and isolated benches with no shade.
The SACH team painted crosswalks to slow drivers, and also painted beautiful street murals outside schools and downtown areas. They also built a parklet, a structure for the public to gather and rest at township events.
Tonche and other alumni remain involved with SACH as junior coaches. Be it presenting at a professional conference, or offering advice and support at team meetings, Tonche models leadership for the current members. This project made a mark on the community, and on Tonche as well.
“You can make a change within your community, no matter your age. Many people came to thank us for our work,” she said. “We did it with our whole hearts. We wanted children and families to feel safe and proud of their town.”
Connect with the Student Ambassadors for Community Health alumni and follow the newest team’s progress on Twitter. Track all of the Next Generation Community Leaders teams through the hashtag #NJLeaders2030.