Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Diana is a Rockstar!

Cultivating change
Web Posted: 08/13/2007 12:53 PM CDT
Michelle Mondo
Express-News


Diana Lopez wants young people to get involved in their communities.

The 18-year-old is leading by example — helping to start a community garden, becoming an environmental justice coordinator for the Southwest Workers' Union and riding her bike for charity.

Manhattan-based nonprofit organization Do Something recently recognized her efforts and awarded her a national Plum Grant for $500. The grant was in response to Lopez's efforts to start the Roots of Change Community Garden on the East Side.

Plum is a television network that produces shows on American cities, according to a Do Something spokeswoman and the Web site.

"We give out two grants every week in the amount of $500 to young people who are making a change in their communities," said Emily Luke, coordinator of grants and the BRICK Awards at Do Something.

Luke said she considered the community garden "an amazing project."

"Her project embodies the sense of bringing the community together for education and an enriching experience and providing the community with something — food and a beautiful space."

The garden is located behind the Southwest Workers offices on East Commerce.

"We just had an empty piece of land back there," Lopez said. "We knew we wanted to do something, so in February of this year we pushed this project of a garden for the East Side community because there are no groceries (stores) for folks to get organic vegetables or fruit. There just aren't that many around here."

The garden is filled with vegetables, fruits and herbs. During a special "garden time" 4-6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, the community is invited to help work in the garden and share the bounty.

But providing fresh fruits and vegetables wasn't Lopez's only goal. She also wants to educate the public about nutrition and hopes to give young people a place to gather. And she especially wants them to get in touch with their surroundings to learn more about how people's actions affect their community.

The garden has inspired Lopez to take on something new. When she attends St. Philip's College this fall to study aviation, she has decided to take some biology courses as well.

For Lopez, the journey to environmental awareness began with her interest in biking. While riding her bike, she often would see garbage that had been tossed on the side of the road. She realized the impact it made, and not just on the beauty of her surroundings.

The Lopez family also started hearing about contamination at Leon Creek, where she and her five siblings used to swim and her father used to fish.

The creek flows close to her house on Somerset Road.

"It's my area, so I'm emotionally connected to it. It means a lot," she said about previous testing that has shown contamination in the creek caused by pollutants from the former Kelly AFB.

When she attended a variety of conferences, Lopez said she began to hear about urban gardens and how they can be used to bring communities together. She and the rest of the staff at SWU began to look into it. When she learned about the Plum Grant at Do Something, she sent in her application.

As the garden grows, Lopez hopes interest in the environment will as well.

"Organizing directly in my community and living near Kelly AFB has taught me how to develop and strategize towards the issues that I am most concerned about," she wrote in an e-mail. "I want to change the view of young people and teach them to have courage and not to be afraid to speak up and say what's on their mind."

For more information, contact the Southwest Workers Union at (210) 299-2666.

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