School beautification project gives youths new outlook

Richard Cortez got right to work in Paso Robles one recent afternoon — tugging at an overgrown shrub at Flamson Middle School.

The 10th-grade Paso Robles High School student was among a dozen middle and high school students eager to grab shovels and gloves to begin their beautification project on campus.

The first session of the yearlong project led students to clear dead plants, trim shrubs, lay mulch and prepare for future planting and soil cultivation in alleyway planters between the football field and gymnasium.

Service learning keeps youngsters on the right path, said Cortez, who has been with the young men’s program for about five years. It’s part of the San Luis Obispo County Community Action Partnership’s Health Services Division LifeBound Leadership program.

“When I first started I was in sixth grade and not motivated at all,” he said. “I thought it was silly at first, but then I got in and I started getting better grades. …

“The best part is giving back to the community and being able to tell these younger guys that I was once where they are, and they can see themselves through me on how to become better.”

The program aims to expose young people to community work, set goals and help prevent gang involvement and teen pregnancy.

Cortez plans to attend Cuesta College after high school to pursue health studies.

Pete Flores, Flamson’s assistant principal, envisioned the project. He thought the overgrown area could be reclaimed and named Victory Lane because it’s also an entry point to the football field.

Since Flores shared his vision with others, Flamson’s opportunity classes for students who need extra attention and the Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County got involved along with LifeBound’s Young Men’s Program.

Osvaldo Olmos, community health educator with the environmental center’s Local Environmental Health Education Program, will help students with composting, storing rainwater, using cafeteria food waste and facilitating outdoor learning opportunities for science teachers. LifeBound’s health educator, Samuel Castillo, will help with the native plants and coordinate student volunteers.

How you can help

Those interested in getting involved or finding out more about the project can contact Pete Flores at pflores@pasoschools.org or call 237-3350; or, Samuel Castillo at scastillo@capslo.org or 929-6054.