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A graduate of Chinatown CDC’s youth program herself, Jennifer Chan knows how empowering these projects can be. PHOTO BY GEORGE E. BAKER JR

The New Generation
Creating leaders of tomorrow who care about Chinatown today

For children and young adults who participate in Chinatown Community Development Center’s (Chinatown CDC) Youth Leadership Development, the experience can be life-changing.

“You see freshmen who are shy and quiet, and by the time they are graduating they’ve become president of the youth program or are going to City Hall to talk about pedestrian safety and how that’s affecting our community,” said Jennifer Chan, who is the RAD Resident Services Manager at Chinatown CDC and also an alumna of the youth program.

“The transformation over time as they become young men and women is amazing,” said Chan. “When you give kids ownership and an opportunity to learn, they will surprise you and devote a lot of time and energy to what they’re doing.”

Chinatown CDC’s youth program consists of three major projects, all youth-organized and youth-led. The oldest is the Adopt-an-Alleyway, which was started by Norman Fong in 1991 with eight students from Galileo High School. Chinatown’s 40 alleyways were in really bad shape: They were covered in graffiti, dumping grounds for trash and furniture, and home to rats and other vermin. They began regular clean ups and alleyway sweeps. Since most of Chinatown’s alleys were not considered city streets designated for cleaning, Chinatown CDC created the Chinatown Alleyway Master Plan to get the city to clean the alleyways. In addition to regular workathons and clean ups, AAA added a new program in 2000 called the Chinatown Alleyway Tours (CATs), which was initiated by former Supervisor Jane Kim.

“The kids decided to do the tours to give contemporary history and an understanding of why Chinatown was built the way it was,” Chan said.

The nonprofit’s Youth for Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) project puts youth in charge of social activities for the community’s SRO seniors, keeping these residents engaged and motivating them to get out of the house.

“The youth come up with cooking and crafting projects,” Chan said. “And they get to learn the history of their lives, especially from the seniors.”

The last project, Super Sundays, is the biggest. These town hall meetings are attended by more than 1,000 community members, and help from younger participants is key for a well-functioning event.

“While the adults are in the meeting, the youth team provides child care with activities,” she said. “In the past our youth have received a grant to conduct science experiments to do with the kids.”

Students who come to the youth program to fulfill a school requirement or spruce up their college application, end up staying for years or never end up leaving at all.

“Obviously I’m still here,” said Chan. “A lot of young people come back on staff. They believe in the heart and mission of Chinatown CDC.”

How is Chinatown CDC offering young people intensive involvement in community issues? Find out here.

Article by Thea Marie Rood. Published in What Does It Take to Save a Neighborhood?


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