Victor Davila, 18, hops on his skateboard and rolls down a cracked sidewalk. The air is filled with exhaust from cars and trucks. That’s because giant highways crisscross the neighborhood. There are also huge garbage dumps. Plus, factories often leave a stinky smell in the air. Welcome to Hunts Point, a poor community in the Bronx in New York City.
“In Hunts Point, we have a slew of environmental problems,” says Victor. He wants to fix those problems, because he loves his neighborhood. To get other teens involved, Victor is giving away something else he loves: skateboards.
Last year, Victor started a group called Eco Ryders. The group meets during the summer at The Point, a community center. There, Victor and two of his friends teach kids how to design and build skateboards. When they are done, the kids get to keep the skateboards. But they have to earn them.
“To receive those skateboards, they have to go through all of our environmental workshops,” Victor explains.
In the workshops, kids learn about the local environment. For example, “we talk about different animals that live in the Bronx River,” says Victor. He also explains how pollution affects the community.
Hunts Point has one of the highest asthma rates in the country. “That’s largely due to the trucks,” says Victor. “We have about 15,000 trucks driving in and out of the area every day.” Those trucks spew fumes into the air.
BACK TO NATURE
Kids who live in Hunts Point spend most of their time surrounded by concrete. They may not often think about animals and plants.
“A big thing we teach about in Eco Ryders is the connection to nature,” says Victor. “Just because you live in a city doesn’t mean you can’t have that connection. There is nature all around!”
Victor takes his students to a park that borders the Bronx River. There, just offshore, they can see an island that is a bird sanctuary. Many types of birds nest there.
The Eco Ryders also go to a community garden. They dig, plant, and trim plants to keep them healthy.
“When we’re gardening, there are so many trees that you can’t really see the buildings,” says Victor. “The kids can just get lost in the work with nature that they have to do.”
LEARNING TO CARE
Victor hopes that kids who go through the Eco Ryders program will start to care about the environment. He hopes that once that happens, they will go on to become environmental activists.
At The Point, there is another group for teens who work to make changes in the community. That’s where Victor started learning about the environment, when he was 13. So far, five Eco Ryders have joined that activist group too.
What’s next for Victor? He’d like to create New York City’s first environmentally friendly skate park. It would have ramps made of recycled wood.
His biggest dream is to set up more Eco Ryder groups across the country. He wants kids to get involved in their communities, no matter where they live.
Victor knows that when an area has problems, some people want to leave. But he would rather work on fixing the problems, even when it’s hard.
“I don’t have to move out of my neighborhood to live in a better neighborhood,” says Victor. “I can make my neighborhood better.”