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Dr. George McKenna, LAUSD District 7 Superintendent
Rafael Balderas, principal, Fremont High School
Dr. Yasser Aman, president & CEO of UMMA
(All Photos by SABIR MAJEED)
A JOINT EFFORT BETWEEN LAUSD, THE NEIGHBORHOOD LAND TRUST & THE UMMA COMMUNITY CLINIC WILL RESULT IN THE WELLNESS CENTER & COMMUNITY GARDEN FOR FREMONT
LOS ANGELES - Fremont High School (FHS) in South Los Angeles was the scene today of a groundbreaking ceremony for an exciting joint venture between the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and two community-based non-profits, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust (NLT) and the University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic (UMMA). The 11/2-acre project will include a Wellness Center and Community Garden on a vacant site on the corner of Avalon Boulevard and 79th street on the high school campus.
Among the dignitaries who joined in the celebration with Fremont students and local community members from the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles were Local District 7 Superintendent, Dr. George McKenna; Former Lt. Governor, and Congressman, Mervyn Dymally; Dr. Mark Perrault; Rafael Balderas, principal of FHS; Khalid Shah, founder of Stop the Violence Increase the Peace (STVIP) Foundation; UMMA board member, Na'im Shah; La Wanda West, executive director of STVIP; Dr. Yasser Aman, president and CEO of UMMA; LA Care Health Plan's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Elaine Batchlor; April Lawrence, field representative for Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and many others.
"We're so delighted to see this long planned project come to life," said Dr. McKenna. "This wellness center and community garden will provide Fremont High's 3,200 students and the surrounding community with accessible high quality healthcare in addition to providing sorely needed open space." In addition, Dr. McKenna also emphasized " ... we cannot educate children in isolation ..." and " ... the greatest crop we have is our children ... we have to be loving to them..."
Speaking on behalf of NLT, Alina Bokde, the organization's executive director, noted that the community garden will also provide students, their families and other local residents with a nutritional and healing garden, including the opportunity for some to grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables. "We know that many areas of Los Angeles such as this have little if any access to the type of food that's important for good health and nutrition. This is leading to increased obesity and a range of negative health issues, such as diabetes. The Wellness Community Garden will provide this opportunity, while simultaneously offering an outdoor environment promoting physical activity and an area for respite."
Also included in the garden is a 1,500 square-foot greenhouse which will not only be a haven for plants, but serve as an indoor classroom, a community gathering space and an area for a weekly farmer's market. "We will also be developing a curriculum to educate our students about healthy eating and both the traditional and eastern approaches to medicine," said Rafael Balderas, Fremont's principal. "We also envision this project providing job skills and sustainable employment opportunities to students and the community alike." Besides the greenhouse, the garden will have picnic tables, walking paths, a shade structure and 20 raised beds for community gardeners.
The UMMA clinic will incorporate 2,800 square feet under one roof with separate entrances and waiting rooms for students and community members. It will provide a full range of medical services, including counseling. "It's both an honor and privilege to partner with the community to help students reach their potential in a healthy and safe environment," said Yasser Aman, president and CEO of UMMA. "This is a public -private investment in the future of South Los Angeles, where young bright minds are given opportunities to make healthier choices and impact change in their own communities."
"This project is going to be a tremendous asset to this school and surrounding community," said Community Coalition President & CEO Marqueece Harris-Dawson. "Parents and students have vocalized for years that more wellness services are needed to cope with the stresses and rigors of making it day-to-day in South L.A. We hope that with continued community involvement this project will serve as a cornerstone for revitalization."
The Fremont Wellness Center and Garden is being financed with a $3.4 million joint-use grant from LAUSD, $350,000 to NLT from the state of California through a Cal Fire grant, and $200,000 in initial funding from LA Care Health Plan. NLT expects to invest over $500,000 in the next five years in personnel, programming and material support for the garden. Likewise, UMMA estimates an operational investment of over $800,000 annually. The project will be completed in November, 2012.
The Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust is the leading non-profit organization working to grow healthier communities through urban parks and gardens in Los Angeles City and County. Founded in 2002 NLT has played an important role in the creation, renovation and opening of nine parks and gardens, seven of which it currently manages and programs. NLT is also in the process of planning and developing 25 additional projects which will come on-line in the next three years.
UMMA is redefining healthcare for the people of South Los Angeles by applying the ethical, financial, and social teachings of Islam to the problems of caring for the underserved. Our Federally Qualified Health Center provides comprehensive family care that rivals the best private care in Los Angeles, and we do it for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.