The young people living in Central, North and West Long Beach have grown up learning about how their communities have been affected by crime and gang violence, pollution, health inequity and poverty, and many saw first-hand how their families were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now they’ll get  a chance to tell their own stories. In an effort to “raise awareness, pride and knowledge regarding the cultural and structural makeup of their neighborhoods,” the Youth Leadership Institute is recruiting dozens of young people from these areas ages 14 to 24 to tell about the place where they grew up, highlighting their community’s biggest assets and its greatest needs.

“If we provide young people with the opportunity to be civically engaged, to build meaningful connections to their community, to have a safe space to be themselves, we know that will have a long term impact on their future,” said Montzerrat Garcia Bedolla, the Southern California director of programs for the YLI Long Beach office.

The program, My Hood, My City, will engage Long Beach youth through civics education and leadership development, with at least 10 young to be chosen to represent each neighborhood.

Throughout the summer, they will learn about their neighborhood’s history through the lens of community leaders and work with the YLI to develop neighborhood storytelling tours and multimedia projects in the form of a video, podcast or photo gallery, to share their findings with the public in early fall.

The North and West Long Beach projects will cover those communities as a whole, whereas the Central Long Beach project will specifically focus on the Washington neighborhood, the city’s poorest area that has been affected by violence and health inequity for years, often relying on neighborhood groups to host street cleanups and open food pantries. At times, the neighborhood has come together to rally for pedestrian safety near their homes and protest against violence toward street vendors.

“The needs of these communities are still going to be there but this project will shed light on them and hopefully change them,” said Garcia Bedolla.

The program is funded through the Long Beach Recovery Act, a plan to fund economic and public health initiatives for Long Beach residents and those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Interested participants are encouraged to apply by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12.

Applications are open to anyone ages 14 to 24 that lives in the targeted communities and has any interest in multimedia storytelling, no experience is needed to participate. Application instructions and eligibility requirements are available through the Youth Leadership Institute’s My Hood, My City webpage. All eligible applicants will be invited to attend the first orientation and launch meeting to learn about the project from YLI staff.

The hope is, according to Garcia, that participants will be inspired to make a change in their community and create something that will be passed down to future generations.