by John Hernandez

Special to via

As the sunlight crept through the thick leaves of Curtis Park Saturday morning, the sight of youth volunteers cleaning up dried leaves welcomed joggers and dog-walkers on the park.

Twelve youth volunteers cleaned up Curtis Park from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. as part of the youth programs provided by the La Familia Counseling Family Resource Center and Hmong Women’s Heritage Association. Staffers of the two associations supervised the youth volunteers.

“It has given us the motivation to come together and focus to work with youths at risk that are living in the same communities,” La Familia youth specialist Vidal Gonzalez said about the two groups collaborating. “Why don’t we go ahead have activities where everybody can come in, rather than focusing on one specific ethnic community at a time, since we’re all living in the same space and share the same parks too?”

Cristo Rey High School student Bryan Maldonado,14, and The Met High School student Martin Ochoa,15, joked around while shoveling leaves into a wheelbarrow, while Juan Maldonado,18, brother of Bryan and also a student of Cristo Rey, just finished piling up leaves.

“It’s pretty fun,” Ochoa said. “You actually feel like you really have a voice, and you get to help the community.” He learned of the program from his sister who invited him to join. He has been with the group for three months.

Gonzalez said the youths are volunteers and are given a $100 stipend after completing the three-month community service. They are also required to be present on weekly meetings and program events.

“It’s great to see community service in action,” Curtis Park resident Carmel Brown said. “I wish more of our residents are doing this work.”

Hmong Women’s Heritage youth advocate Nai Saechao said this is the first time the two organizations worked together for a community service program. In the past they have had youths come together from different groups to network and get to know each other.

Curtis Park is the second park the La Familia volunteers have cleaned up this year and first with Hmong Women’s Heritage. They had their first cleanup at Tahoe Park two months ago. Gonzalez added that Curtis Park was chosen for the cleanup because of its close proximity to their youth center, which is located at 34th Street and Fruitridge Road.

“We take requests, too,” Gonzalez said. “If someone knows of a good park that they they feel is being neglected, we’re more than willing to look into it and see if our kids can go out there to clean it up a little bit.”

Click here for more pictures and an audio slideshow of the event.