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By Brent Jensen and Kiran Mehta, AJA Project
On Saturday afternoons at Skate 4185!, a free youth program at the City Heights La Maestra Foundation on Fairmount Ave, kids utilize their skateboarding prowess while participating in trash cleanups. The community-based Skate 4185! program gives local youth the opportunity to explore their interests, express their individuality and leave a positive impact on the community.
Youth from the City Heights area meet at 12 pm every Saturday at the main building of the La Maestra Foundation, located at 4185 Fairmount Ave, to fill trash bags with the litter that persistently occupies the streets of their neighborhoods.
The old Foundation building was transformed from residential housing to a community center ten years ago. Smiles, positivity and a sense of family resonate through activities at the Foundation such as cooking, gardening and hanging out with peers.
Matt Eaton, Youth Programs Coordinator for the La Maestra Foundation and lead instructor of Skate 4185!, focuses on keeping youth safe, positive and on task. Eaton accompanies his students on their skating excursions and provides encouragement and positive feedback for their dedication and community service – which despite the rubber gloves and dutiful cause, always resembles play.
Youth have the opportunity to earn a new skateboard for ten days of participation in the program. The system of positive reinforcement serves to encourage and reward honest behavior and investment in the program.
Eaton, resident of San Diego and graduate from Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, describes the program as having the opportunity to “redefine the subculture of skateboarding” and “show the community that (skateboarding) youth can be positive members of society.”
Board Rescue, a nonprofit organization based in California providing skateboarding supplies to low-income and at-risk youth, donates new skateboards and skateboard parts to Skate 4185!. SkateWarhouse.com also provides Skate 4185! with skateboard part donations.
“My favorite thing about the program is when the gardening and skateboarding classes start,” says Laura, 18-year-old City Heights resident. “I love plants and helping the environment, so I spend my Saturdays weeding and picking up trash in the community.” Laura is a member of Skate 4185! who often participates in the program even though she prefers scooters over skateboards.
Thanks to Laura and the other program participants, the garden in the rear of the main La Maestra Foundation building is full of edible greens such as spinach, carrots, broccoli, kale and lettuce. Their efforts leave the streets cleaner and greener than before.
Programs at the La Maestra Foundation include Skate 4185!, Beginning Gardening, Ceramics, Beginning Guitar and Small Engine Repair. La Maestra’s free programs are available and accessible to both youth and adults in the community and are intended to provide an educational, fun environment for hands-on learning experiences.
“What I like about this program is that you get along with people you don’t know, meet new people, and go on field trips,” said Arthur, 13-year-old City Heights resident and active member of Skate 4185!. “I like when we pick up trash because we set an example for the community. Skating is fun!”
According to Eaton, the La Maestra Health Center, also on Fairmount Ave, is a separate entity from the Foundation. The Health Center provides low-income residents of City Heights with affordable health care. La Maestra also operates health centers in National City, El Cajon and Lemon Grove.
Donations and grants support the La Maestra Foundation and all of the programs offered under its Generations Division. According to Eaton, the money the Foundation receives is sufficient, but the agency expresses a strong desire to become self-sustainable. This is especially important with the recent growing interest and expansion of La Maestra Foundation’s free programs and courses.
In addition to leading Skate 4185! and other after school programs at the Foundation, Eaton facilitates the La Maestra Community Garden and the La Maestra Blossoms program.
The Community Garden, only a few buildings down from the Foundation, occupies an area of a two-story transitional housing structure where homeless and underprivileged people seek temporary shelter. The garden is eager to rent plots of gardening soil to members of the community who would like to have a safe and fertile place to grow produce.
The Blossoms program creates contracts with women whose local flower stands need money to be sustained.
“Anyone interested in our programs are welcome to join at any time,” says Eaton, who has had experience working with youth from his time spent as a lifeguard and a youth pastor. “If you need skateboard parts, come find me!”