youth gardening

Youth Ambassador 


June 5, 2021–August 28, 2021


38th St. and Melon St.


Mantua Civic Association


Leo Model Foundation

Emily & Mike Cavanagh 


Philadelphia Contemporary, in partnership with the Mantua Civic Association (MCA), is piloting a dynamic and multifaceted Youth Ambassador program. The program provides a hands-on approach of engaging youth ages 11-14 years old to work together in a meaningful way to shape their environment by utilizing the power of the arts. By harnessing the arts to address environmental justice on a personal level, the program also seeks to increase critical thinking skills and creative expressions. 

The program is centered at the pocket park located at the corner of 38th and Melon Streets. The park was founded in 2019, when the Mantua community came together to work with Kim Douglas, Director of Jefferson University’s Landscape Architecture Department, to transform a vacant lot. The community recognized that the park provided an opportunity to inspire a group of young people to participate in the care of their neighborhood and embrace the notion of civic and environmental responsibility. 

The Youth Ambassador program is led by two teaching artists who have developed a creative, place-based curriculum centered around art and environmental justice. Topics include studying the heat island effect, soil contamination, native plants and its relationship to pollinators such as butterflies, birds, and bees, urban agriculture and food justice, and stormwater management. 

The pilot program is active from June 5 to August 28, 2021, with the Youth Ambassadors meeting for three hours every Saturday morning. Participation by the Youth Ambassadors is presented as a paid job and focuses on important 21st-century workplace skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and understanding the importance of civic engagement. 

Currently, there are 384 vacant lots in Mantua similar to the one at Melon Street Pocket Park. There is an opportunity to transform these vacant lots into a block-by-block network of green spaces where residents can come together and enjoy nature in an urban environment. We hope that this Youth Ambassador pilot program will become a significant long-term project to support a green network of pocket parks.

“I learned environmental justice is something everybody can take part in no matter how big or small.”


teaching artists

melon street pocket park


An empty lot on the corner of a block of row homes


about mantua civic association (MCA)

MCA was established in 2012 by the community to organize and take action around issues of housing, education, safety, and employment affecting the neighborhood. MCA’s mission is to advocate for and represent the community’s concerns, increase resident civic engagement, share the area's vibrant history, and set a collective vision for the neighborhood. MCA’s Education Advisory Committee is an active group of residents, educational leaders at Morton McMichael Public School, Drexel University and West Philadelphia Promise Neighborhood program. Over the past two years, PC has actively worked with MCA and its Education Advisory Committee and consistently participates in the monthly Committee meetings.