Carmen Martinez is a youth coordinator at the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, part of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. She leads education programs that engage youth in environmental projects in South Seattle. She introduced us to Youth Corps teens, Shelina Lol and Aldebaran Hernandez. For them, asthma and pollution is a very real concern.

“I care about climate change because I live in an area where there’s a lot of pollution and the asthma rates are really high. In South Park it’s pretty bad. Sometimes we have to make choices about when we play outside,” said Lol.

According to Martinez, South Park ranks first in Washington State for the highest asthma rates and the smallest tree canopy. “We’re boxed in between two freeways, a contaminated river and a flight path overhead. We also have a transfer station… the city dump,” she said. “Environmental education is important. Our residents’ voices aren’t always heard and we want youth to be able to speak out about environmental injustice when they get the opportunity.”

Since Duwamish Valley Youth Corps member Aldebaran Hernandez moved to Washington he’s been concerned about pollution in his neighborhood. “I love being out in nature, so I’m devastated to see that the Duwamish River is so polluted. You can’t fish. You can’t swim. You pretty much can’t do anything on that river,” he says.

But, as allies of the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition is hopeful for a future where South Park and the Duwamish River is not polluted. And they’re already making a difference. They planted 173 trees this past winter; they’re planning river and canal cleanups; and they’ve got a new group of youth about to join the summer session of the Youth Corps. “We want kids to know that even one person can make a difference,” said Martinez.

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