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July 2011
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By Youth For Youth Planting Day

Restoration site before:

Before LF
And after:

Day is Done Last Watering HS

Lazaro Trinidad was grinning when he saw all the plants about to go into the ground along the Ballona Creek behind the Mar Vista Family Center’s new building at 5075 S. Slauson Avenue in Culver City. They were all native plants to the region, purchased as part of a grant that was applied for by three partners: Mar Vista Family Center, Friends of Ballona Wetlands and Ballona Creek Renaissance. The grant and the plans had been in the works for almost three years, and now it was time to literally get the plants into the ground and watch the magic start happening.

Laz and Lucia LF

Jim Lamm, President of Ballona Creek Renaissance, was also grinning as he rode up on his bike to the site. Jim was going to be attending another event on the same day and on the same Creek, the Ballona Creek Bikeway and Landscaping Improvement Project Grand Opening, taking place at the Overland Avenue bike trail entrance. Jim was scheduled to speak at that event with Culver City Public Works Director Charles Herbertson and Mayor Michael O’Leary presiding, and was then going to take an inaugural bike ride immediately following that ceremony along the Creek, passing right by the garden site in Mar Vista. Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, of District 47, was also scheduled to speak at the grand opening of the bike path with the intention of stopping by the Mar Vista restoration site afterwards.

BCR Table with Cathi Lamm LF FBW Table with John Gregory LF

As with all planting projects, some last minute decisions had to be made by the partners, and Jim was asked for his advice by Lisa Fimiani, Executive Director of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, who was tasked with placing over 100 plants on the 90 foot wide area with staff and volunteers. Christian Alvez, Friends of Ballona Wetlands Program Coordinator, was instructing Laz and his By Youth For Youth Environmental Stewards, along with docents and volunteers from the Friends and the community, on how to plant these one gallon and four inch plants.

Busy Bees TM

From 8:00AM until 12:00PM it looked like organized chaos, as groups of kids and adults grabbed shovels and started planting the thirty foot wide site along the Ballona Creek Bike Path. Snacks and information tables about the partners were in the shaded parking lot courtyard between the Mar Vista Family Center buildings on either side of the street which ends at the Creek. Cathi Lamm, Teacher and wife of Jim Lamm, was sitting at the Ballona Creek Renaissance table strumming on her musical instrument and showing kids how to play a bird identification game. John Gregory, Board member of the Friends, was signing everyone in at the Friends’ table, and Cindy Hardin, Audubon Ballona Education Co-Manager, was showing visitors the wonders of microscopic critters swimming in the Ballona Wetlands.

Digging a Hole HS

The three partners were joined by two newcomers to the neighborhood, Dr. Eric Strauss from Loyola Marymount University and the Center for Urban Resilience and Ecological Solutions (CURES) and Dr. Richard Shope, CURES community science project liaison to the Youth Science Alliance effort to engage high school students in urban ecology research and stewardship.

MVFC Community and Youth Programs HS

Dr. Strauss and two of his protégés were out along the Creek instructing students using bio-acoustic equipment on how to hear birds and survey the area for monitoring opportunities. They came back to the Center excited about what they heard and saw. Ballona Creek is full of bird life.

Cute Little Girl LF Sound Anyone LF

The Youth Science Alliance brought 18 high school student summer interns from three different communities within the Ballona Watershed to participate in the event. Interns are preparing for the WATERS Project (Watershed Awareness Training for Ecological Research & Stewardship). They have been learning how to apply urban ecology research and informal science education techniques in order to engage younger students in community science projects and inquiry expeditions throughout Los Angeles County. They participated in every aspect of the BY YOUTH FOR YOUTH DAY, looking through binoculars to identify birds along Ballona Creek, listening to birdsongs using bioacoustics equipment, looking at Ballona Creek water samples through microscopes, discussing urban ecology concepts related to the watershed, and considering diverse scientific methods by applying the inquiry wheel. (For more information visit

April and Courtney LF

Christian and Holly Mitchell LF

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, who had a full schedule and went out of her way to come to the planting event came around 11:30A just in time to see the project almost finished. Mitchell and Lucia Diaz, Executive Officer in charge of the Mar Vista Family Center, go way back, having served on other community projects together. In addition to admiring the beautiful new native garden behind the Center, and talking about the exciting education programs that will follow with the By Youth For Youth Environmental Stewards, Holly and Lucia caught up on neighborhood issues.

Nickerson Garden Youth and Inquiry Wheel HS

Putting in the Ground 2 HS

The mission of the Mar Vista Family Center (MVFC) is to provide low-income families with quality early childhood education, youth enrichment, and educational tools to create positive change in their lives and their community. MVFC currently operates 21 projects within three main program areas: Early Childhood Education, Youth and Community. The By Youth For Youth (BYFY) program is built on Mar Vista Family Center’s self-empowerment and personal responsibility philosophies, guiding youth to become leaders in their own lives, as well as in the lives of their families and their communities.

Getting There TM

MVFC’s youth program is composed of an array of activities that address the needs of children and youths, ages 5 to 21, by the enhancement of positive behaviors and the prevention and intervention of self-destructive ones. Each day, elementary, middle and high school students come to MVFC for its after-school programs, which include: college preparation, tutoring and homework, computer skills, sports, exercise, creative arts and dance classes, advocacy and leadership training, peer counseling and case management.

Group Shot with Holly Mitchell HS

Today, more than 600 children and teens are benefiting from the many effective MVFC Youth Programs. It is MVFC’s key objective to continue bringing in more children and youth who are currently on the waiting list.

Jim and a Group HS

And that’s where the Friends and Ballona Creek Renaissance have stepped in, partnering with the Center on a long term education and restoration project along the Creek, adjacent to the Center grounds. Using a grant provided by the Earth Island Institute on behalf of the Wetlands Recovery Project Community Wetland Restoration Grants Program, these three partners started this program three years ago by bringing the youth leaders out into the Ballona Wetlands for educational tours and restoration projects, in preparation for the intended Ballona Creek Restoration and Stewardship Project along the Creek.

Lisa Holly Lucia HS

While plans were being made for the Creek restoration project, the partners were getting to know one another during a series of workshops and training sessions in the Ballona Wetlands and back at the Center. By the time the official planting day rolled around, the For Youth By Youth Environmental Stewards were ready and anxious to create their habitat restoration site, with the help of the Mar Vista community.

Lucia and a Group HS

One of the challenges of putting natives in the ground is timing, for both plant availability and ideal planting conditions. Even though this is not the best time of year to plant natives, the partners had to go with the most available date for volunteers to do the actual work. Getting all 100+ plants was a bit tricky, but thanks to the volunteering of Dr. Edith Read, Ballona Freshwater Marsh Manager and Friends Board member, we were able to get the bulk of the plants from Tree of Life ( in San Juan Capistrano. Lisa Fimiani also did a run to the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley (

Lucia Lisa Holly and Bikers HS

SEA Lab Group LF

A week before the actual planting took place, Brent Scheiwe from SEA Lab in Redondo Beach provided some of the plants (locally grown) and most of the heavy labor with LA Conservation Corps kids getting the rock hard ground ready for planting with a roto-tiler and pick axes. It was very hard work. LA Conservation Corps primary mission is to provide at-risk young adults and school-aged youth with opportunities for success through job skills training, education and work experience with an emphasis on conservation and service projects that benefit the community.

More Planting TM

If you would like to help out with the on-going maintenance and education of visitors to the new native plant garden, please contact Jim Lamm with Ballona Creek Renaissance, Lisa Fimiani with the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, or Lucia Diaz at the Mar Vista Family Center. Websites below.

Ballona Creek Renaissance:

Friends of Ballona Wetlands:

LA Conservation Corps/The SEA Lab:

Mar Vista Family Center:

Click here to see more photos!