By Canopy Team on October 5, 2021
As the months of the pandemic shutdown wore on this past year, many of Canopy’s Teen Urban Foresters (TUFs) told us how much they were missing in-person and outdoor activities. The paid internship program is for high school students who work part-time during the school year and summer in every facet of Canopy’s tree planting and tree care programs. The internships are designed to connect high school students to urban forestry through an intersectional approach, prioritizing BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) applicants from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park. The teens learn marketable skills, gain job experience, and work together to improve their neighborhoods in tangible ways.
Hearing how the pandemic was affecting the teenagers, “we decided to add a wellness component to the TUF program,” says Juanita Ibarra, Canopy’s youth programs coordinator. After a successful wellness workshop in the spring with Jose Castro, a mural artist from North Fair Oaks, Canopy turned to Pedro Rivas Lopez to lead a summer workshop. Pedro is an artist who operates Arte Aqua Viva, a social justice art and theater community organization. He was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was five. His family established themselves in Mendota in rural Fresno County, California. Pedro founded Arte Aqua Viva in 2007 as a means of using art and creativity to create social change.
Much of Pedro’s work draws on culture, social justice movements, and storytelling, “themes that related perfectly with what the TUFs had been working on all summer,” Juanita says. The TUFs designed a Community Engagement Day event in East Palo Alto over the summer to answer questions including “how can we get the community involved?” and “how can we make sure the community feels heard and respected?”
During the workshops, “Pedro invited each TUF to think about an environmental justice issue they were passionate about, pick up a paintbrush, and bring the idea to life,” Juanita says.
“The pandemic made me feel detached from many things, and the wellness program opened me back into the world,” says Homero Equihua, a current TUF and senior at East Palo Alto Academy. During the hikes and art workshops, “we felt more motivated and connected with one another, we felt like Canopy was a second home where we could talk with friends and have fun,” add fellow TUFs Adrian Maciel and Jose Luis Flores.
The public can view the teens’ artwork on display at La Cazuela, a taqueria at 2390 Clarke Avenue in East Palo Alto, beginning November 4.