RVP Reflection Series: Ashley’s Experience

Author: Ashley Seiler

Upon entering the RVP convention I was blown away by the number of people that were in attendance. After mingling and a quick look at the art exhibit displayed, I headed to one of the many sessions.

The session that resonated with me the most was Community-Driven Visioning to Reclaim Vacant Properties in Fort Wayne and Philadelphia. The two presenters that stood out most to me during this session were Rena Bradley and Alexa Boss. I enjoyed their level of commitment and enthusiasm for youth engagement.

Rena’s experience working across the private, public and nonprofit sectors, has taught her that design is a tool to develop not only places but a sense of well-being, unity, joy, and agency in individuals and communities. She really made me feel the passion she has for her projects and community. Rena also focused on ways to teach her community about the process and having youth actively involved in the design process. By involving the youth, the project gave the youth pride in creating something. It gave them a safe space to hang out. The area was said to be used for healing, engagement for future youth ideas/creativity and empowerment. It humanized their perceptions of the space. Hearing her speak about her projects inspired me to engage youth in the same way as I continue my work at Grounded.

Rena used the phrase, “See it. Believe it. Achieve it!” She stated that your view can directly influence your outcome. She broke it down into four stages:
Stage 1: Demonstrate- I do, You watch.
Stage 2: Draw- I do, You help
Stage 3: Develop- You do, I help.
Stage 4: Dispatch- You do, I encourage.

Alexa Bosse was the next presenter in the same session. She presented with both grace and flair. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Hinge Collective is partnering with the New Kensington CDC to engage the community in creative visioning, to tackle a notorious vacant lot dubbed as the “Walmart of Heroin” by The New York Times Magazine. The transformation of this space over her timeline was nothing short of amazing. Her level of involvement with the community and commitment to really getting to know the people within it excited me. She told a story of how one of the local kids would only come outside when she was present at the site. As the materials for transforming the space arrived, the boy showed more and more. He laid in the dirt and played with mulch. He said he had never really been able to. He didn’t want to work on the space, but frequented it often during and after construction. Giving communities what they need is so important in this process of reclaiming the vacant properties. The story of this little boy touched my heart because he was given exactly what he needed through this process.

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