Some Prince George’s County teenagers say their community centers are fraught with challenges and are hoping a new photography initiative will help community members get the picture.
A free program, PhotoVoice, launched Oct. 17 to give students a voice through photography in determining how to improve access to community centers. A total of 61 students from three community centers — Langley Park, Suitland and Bladensburg — participated in the program, run by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Institute for Public Health Innovation and the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation.
After an orientation session, teenagers participated in photography sessions near their community centers. Using disposable cameras, they photographed various aspects of the communities, including graffiti, makeshift footpaths and litter, said Evelyn Kelly, program manager at the institute. Selected participants will present their findings and propose solutions to community leaders and county government officials over the next several months.
“The whole idea is for the youth to become empowered,” said John Henderson, research and evaluation manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Kemberly Torres, 17, of Adelphi said she planned on taking photos of residents crossing streets. She said she walks about 30 minutes from the Langley Park Community Center to her home and is worried about pedestrian safety.
“You try to pass through from one side to the another, and some cars don’t let you,” Torres said.
Washington Guelade, 13, said he avoids some Langley Park facilities, such as the basketball court, because of gang activity. He said the community center is “the only safe place” in town.
“It’s kind of scary how you always have to watch your back,” Guelade said.
PhotoVoice is part of Safe Access to Recreational Opportunities, an institute-funded initiative focused on improving access to recreational opportunities for children and families, said Catherine Diamante, assistant program manager at the institute. Diamante said the institute is using about $237,000 of a $2 million Community Transformation Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund SARO.
Catherine Sorto, 16, of Langley Park is one of the 22 participants. She said crime and dangerous drivers make it unsafe to walk home at night.
“Some of us, we stay here and just play until closing time, and it’s already dark,” she said.
Sorto said she is optimistic about PhotoVoice because it gives teenagers an opportunity to share their perspectives with community leaders.
“We might be little, but we can do some really big things,” Sorto said.