Youth Ambassador Program

young people painting benches
a young person working in a garden
student volunteers in melon street park
young people meeting indoors for the youth ambassador program
two teenager paint and tend to benches in a park surrounded by a garden
the pocket park after the youth ambassador program, showing a new pergola and seating in a lush garden

Our Youth Ambassador program is a high-impact place-based education program centered on environmental justice, civic engagement and the arts for middle school youth with ties to the Mantua community in West Philadelphia. In partnership with Mantua Civic Association, Philadelphia Contemporary and The Academy of Natural Sciences the program provides a hands-on approach of engaging middle school youth to work together in a meaningful way to shape their environment by utilizing the power of the arts.

Participation by the Youth Ambassadors is presented as a paid job and focuses on important 21st-century workplace skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and understanding the importance of civic engagement. 

The program is centered at the pocket park located at the corner of 38th and Melon Streets. The park was founded in 2019, when the Mantua community came together to work with Kim Douglas, Director of Jefferson University’s Landscape Architecture Department, to transform a vacant lot. The transformation of this space included the creation of a canopy and area for gathering under the guidance of Tiny WPA. The community recognized that the park provided an opportunity to inspire a group of young people to participate in the care of their neighborhood and embrace the notion of civic and environmental responsibility. 

The Youth Ambassador Program was first piloted by the Mantua Civic Association and Philadelphia Contemporary in 2021 and expanded in 2022 through a partnership with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. In spring/summer 2023 the program will enter its third year with Youth Ambassadors meeting weekly to explore environmental justice through the power of the arts.

Program topics have included studying the heat island effect & native plants and their relationship to pollinators, planting and growing vegetables and flowers, learning about different types of energy through hands-on activities and creating haikus on environmental justice.

The program concludes with a culminating event for youth ambassadors to be seen as civically engaged young leaders in their own community. This final event is a lively activation that celebrates the accomplishments of youth in the program while providing a platform for others in their community to engage and create together at the Melon Street Pocket Park.

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young people working on a pergola

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young people painting benches

“I learned environmental justice is something everybody can take part in no matter how big or small.”

– Youth Ambassador Participant

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young people drawing and writing at a table

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a pergola with seating beneath it

When asked "what does community mean to you?" after participation in the program, youth responded with the following examples:

  • People that work together

  • A safe environment with other people

  • Happiness

  • Taken care of

  • A group of people with the same goals

  • A family

  • Helping kids

  • A group of people that get together and help out

  • It means a lot to me

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young people building a pergola for the park

About Mantua Civic Association (MCA)

MCA was established in 2012 by the community to organize and take action around issues of housing, education, safety, and employment affecting the neighborhood. MCA’s mission is to advocate for and represent the community’s concerns, increase resident civic engagement, share the area's vibrant history, and set a collective vision for the neighborhood. MCA’s Education Advisory Committee is an active group of residents, educational leaders at Morton McMichael Public School, Drexel University and West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood program. Over the past two years, PC has actively worked with MCA and its Education Advisory Committee and consistently participates in the monthly Committee meetings.