RockCorps, Helping Clean Up Compton An innovative organization is trying to get young people involved in community projects, such as a recent effort to remove trash from Compton Creek in the Los Angeles area. RockCorps uses music to help keep participants interested.
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RockCorps, Helping Clean Up Compton

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RockCorps, Helping Clean Up Compton

RockCorps, Helping Clean Up Compton

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We decided to take NEWS & NOTES on the road and hang out with a bunch of teenagers and young adults who had come out to clean up Compton Creek in Compton, California, just outside of Los Angeles, on a cloudy weekend. Boost Mobile RockCorps was running this volunteer project. DJs were setting up in a big mobile van to keep everyone energized, and volunteers were putting on big yellow boots and gloves as they got ready to head on down to the creek to start getting rid of loads of debris. First, the message: To be careful in the small stream of water.

Unidentified Woman #1: Because it's not rainwater. This water is from people washing their cars, people hosing off their sidewalks instead of sweeping. This is just urban clutter.

CORLEY: I'm standing now at a very polluted section of Compton Creek in Compton, California, where about a hundred volunteers, mostly teenagers and young adults, have come to take part in Boost Mobile RockCorps' clean up event. Andrea Drumman(ph) is the program manager.

Ms. ANDREA DRUMMAN (Program Manager, Boost Mobile RockCorps): Boost Mobile RockCorps is an organization that empowers young people to just come out and volunteer and give back to their communities, and we just use the power of music in doing that. It's a four-hour experience but it's really about community and giving back. And for that four hours, you know, they get to come to an amazing concert. A lot of these kids have never had the opportunity to attend the concert of this caliber.

CORLEY: So tell me the logistics, a kid comes out and volunteers and after the four hours they get a ticket to a concert or how does it work?

Ms. DRUMMAN: Yeah, they sign in. We register them online. They come in, they see their name on the list. We check them off. We give them a fly t-shirt, some gloves, they come out and work, whether it's a food bank here - Compton Creek they'll clean up for four hours, we feed them. So the music is playing, a DJ comes out. KROQ is here today.

(Soundbite of music)

CORLEY: Kids out here at Compton Creek are finding just about everything.

Ms. MARY CHANDLER(ph) (Boost Mobile RockCorps): Yeah, let me drop this possum off really quickly and then I'll come back up.

CORLEY: Mary Chandler, a RockCorps staffer, is carrying a large garbage bag while she walks down an incline towards the creek.

I'm sorry, what's that?

Ms. CHANDLER: A possum.

CORLEY: A possum?


CORLEY: Okay, so those are the kinds of things you're finding here?

Ms. CHANDLER: Anything and everything. Anything and everything. Apparently there's some - there's a dog somewhere over there that we might come in contact with some puppies. Anything can be out here. There could be dirty instruments out here. There could be needles or syringes out here, just so that they know to let us know we'll take care of these things. We need to clear it out.

Also sometimes we do have homeless people that have created habitats underneath the underpasses and the bridges and what not, but that we're not to disturb those people. We're just here trying to create a better environment, make a clean environment, and just to let things be as they are. If they're already existing here, that's fine. We're just here to make a better place and a more beautiful place.

Ms. SHEILA HOOD(ph) (Volunteer, Boost Mobile RockCorps): My name is Sheila Hood.

Ms. COURTNEY WILLIAMS(ph) (Volunteer, Boost Mobile RockCorps): My name is Courtney Williams.

CORLEY: Now, how did you all find out about this event?

Ms. WILLIAMS: On a billboard.

Ms. HOOD: On a billboard.

Ms. WILLIAMS: And then we just called in, and I called back to see if they have any more community service available and they did and I…

Ms. HOOD: That's why we're here.

Ms. WILLIAMS: …got my boyfriend to do it, and then I called my cousin to do it, which is Sheila, and friends do it and everybody found it.

Ms. HOOD: Yeah.

CORLEY: Okay. So what made you interested? You saw it on the billboard but…

Ms. WILLIAMS: Well, I wanted to go to the concert.

Ms. HOOD: I came (unintelligible). I like him.

CORLEY: You talked about some of the people who are going to be at the concert.


CORLEY: So who are you looking forward to seeing?

Ms. WILLIAMS: Young Jesus(ph).

Ms. HOOD: The Game.

Ms. WILLIAMS: That's what (Unintelligible) he just don't know it yet.

(Soundbite of train whistle)

Ms. TRINY JORDAN(ph) (Volunteer, Boost Mobile RockCorps): My name is Triny.

CORLEY: Triny Jordan is an adult who's volunteering.

Ms. JORDAN: I'm from Long Beach. Not far.

CORLEY: You passed by this creek often then.

Ms. JORDAN: I do and I never realized. Once I'm over here it's overwhelming. It's so much. It's - I'm, like, ever - never ending trash. I teach my son. He's out here. He's volunteering too.

CORLEY: Are you going to be going to the concert as well?

Ms. JORDAN: Yes, I'm going to take him.

CORLEY: Do you think kids need a push to actually volunteer…

Ms. JORDAN: I do.

CORLEY: …and get interested in that idea?

Ms. JORDAN: Yes, I think they do. I think some of us, sometimes some adults we need that as well. We just need to be reminded there's more to life than just getting. We all should give more, I think.

Unidentified Woman #2: We're here to represent the Boys and Girls Club of Carson.

Unidentified Woman #3: Yup.

CORLEY: This is a group of 14 and 16 year olds. Mike and Jesse Nunez(ph), Francisco Cervantes(ph) and Ashley Talfaga(ph). Michael dropped a dirty sock he has pulled from the creek.

CORLEY: So what are finding out here?

Mr. MIKE NUNEZ (Volunteer, Boost Mobile RockCorps): Cans and everything, like, trash.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #4: Basically we're, like, finding, like, stuff we eat, like, you know, wrappers, you know, like, soda cans…

Unidentified Woman #5: Styrofoam cups.

Unidentified Woman #6: Yup.

Unidentified Woman #4: Like chip bags. They didn't tell us that we're getting anything. We thought we were just volunteering but then afterwards they told us that we're getting a ticket, we were all just yelling.

Unidentified Woman #5: Yeah, we got happy, we're so happy…

Unidentified Woman #4: They told us The Game is going to be there. We all started screaming.

Unidentified Woman #5: We want to swim in the ocean and (unintelligible) in there…

CORLEY: Boost Mobile RockCorps has partnered with Heal the Bay trying to restore this two and a half mile reach of the creek into a thriving wetland. Heal the Bay's executive director, Mark Gold, says this creek is probably the most polluted in the entire state, and he expects the young volunteers to learn quite a bit as they helped to clean it up.

Mr. MARK GOLD (Executive Director, Heal the Bay): It's a real eye-opening experience. Nobody thinks that anywhere could be this trashed. You're just sort of like how can something in today's society look like this does. I mean, it's just, it's absolutely repugnant. And obviously, we're not doing what we need to to keep the trash out of the storm-drain system, and all that ends up in our creeks, our rivers, beaches and bay. And that's obviously something that's just not tolerated.

CORLEY: Now, the goal of RockCorps is obviously to get young kids interested in volunteering in projects like this using music as kind of their hook. How is it for you to see these young people out here today helping to clean up the creek?

Mr. GOLD: It's great. I think the cause itself to actually provide incentive to get kids motivated and really make a difference is exactly what's needed. And so, to see someone else take it to the next level from the standpoint of innovation and being able to provide a reward for four hours of hard work is just great.

CORLEY: RockCorps also cleaned this creek a year ago. And program manager Andrea Drumman says it's a little depressing to see it in such bad shape again, but it gives the Boost Mobile RockCorps an opportunity to drive a message home.

Ms. DRUMMAN: We've got to get these kids to care about their community, to come out and do the work. And hopefully they make the connection that, hey, that's my potato chip bag. You know, I'm contributing to this mess, so I've got to be a part of the solution as well.

(Soundbite of music)

CORLEY: That's our show for today. Thanks for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show, visit NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

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