LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council has been recognized by WE Day Community Kentucky for its Urban Gardening BYSC Project Committee and its work with Town Branch Park. WE Day Community Kentucky will produce a student impact story about this project and its leaders for WE Day Community Kentucky 2020.
WE Day Community Kentucky connects more than 300 schools, representing two-thirds of all counties in the state of Kentucky. It celebrates the work of these students, who contribute more than 300,000 service hours annually, creating approximately $5 million in incremental social value for their communities and global projects. Internationally, WE Day reaches 18 major cities in three countries.
The three students who have spearheaded BYSC’s engagement with Town Branch Park are Valerie Newberg and Hart Hallos from Lafayette High School, and Anna Baskin from Henry Clay High School.
“The partnership with BYSC has been a valuable gift to the project,” said Allison Lankford, executive director of the Town Branch Fund. “The BYSC provides us with a diverse cross-section of youth who serve as a student focus group and provide feedback and insight on curriculum development, art installations, technology, and other features of the park.”
The BYSC students wrote a letter of support that helped LexArts and Town Branch Fund secure a $100,000 NEA InterACT grant, which will commission artists and designers to reinterpret the history and ecology of Town Branch. The winning design will use interactive artistic elements geared toward youth, making the park more accessible to all ages and elevating civic engagement in the space. Town Branch Fund has committed another $100,000 to bring the project total to $200,000.
“When BYSC started working with Town Branch, we believed we had one opportunity — one PowerPoint — to advocate for what teenagers want in parks,” said Anna Baskin, a Henry Clay High School student. “But we quickly realized that Town Branch Fund members weren’t looking for superficial engagement, the type that checks a box on a grant or proposal. When they graciously invited us to join the Town Branch Partners and the selection committee for the NEA InterAct grant, I understood that they recognize the power of ongoing commitment to Lexington’s youth. Town Branch will be successful because they continuously give voices to those who are often overlooked — including teenagers but extending to every walk of life in Lexington — and because they genuinely value the feedback they receive.”
The students researched similar projects in other cities and created two presentations for park staff on youth engagement and tech innovation in parks. During their research, they identified one of the artists who has been chosen as a finalist for the NEA project. The students met with the artist finalists during the recent site visits to Lexington, and they will participate in a May 17 Gallery Hop that will gather public input on the six finalists’ proposals. The students also will get feedback from middle school students who are the target audience for the art.
In addition to being active on the grant project, Baskin also serves on the Town Branch Park Partners, which has worked on developing an inclusion report that will help ensure that all members of the community feel welcome in the future park. BYSC hosted its own table of high school students at the Legends Ballpark Inclusion Gathering.
The partnership between BYSC and Town Branch Park continues to grow. BYSC recently voted to give a grant to the park to purchase two bikes for the Town Branch Park office to take interested community members out to the park site and onto Town Branch Trail to see the project for themselves using sustainable transportation.
Tresine T. Logsdon, energy & sustainability curriculum coordinator for Fayette County Public Schools, also serves as a Town Branch Park Partner. She worked with FCPS to have several classrooms complete the Inclusion Survey online.
“Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council is uniquely positioned to provide a critical youth perspective on Town Branch Park’s design and implementation,” Logsdon said. “BYSC students have offered insight on ways to reach youth through interactive art, how to effectively incorporate social media and technology into park features, and why sustainability is a top priority for their generation. BYSC student leaders understand how transformative Town Branch Park will be to their hometown, and we are infinitely grateful to LexArts, Town Branch Fund, and the Town Branch Park Partners for giving them a seat at the table. Town Branch Fund has inspired unprecedented leadership from BYSC students by not just inviting them to the conversation—but insisting they lead it.”