A DDOE staffer picks through trash during the All Hands partnership with Groundwork Anacostia on June 3.
In the Parkside neighborhood of Northeast D.C., Dennis Chestnut is gazing at an acre of vacant land. It doesn't look like much. A few trees dot the grass, which is surrounded by town houses. But squinting into the sunlight, Chestnut says he can see the future.
"Whether that's nighttime movies in the park, whether that's a farmers' market, whether it's a performance by a local school, just a place where the community can gather," he says.
Growing up in Northeast, Chestnut was always outside. But things are different now. combination of pollution, technology, and crime has pushed children indoors, he says.
"These young people are victims of a lot of technology improvements, and then the mindset of adults who have looked at safety meaning inside four walls," says Chestnut.
A few years ago, Chestnut launched Groundwork Anacostia River DC, part of a national network of nonprofits devoted to helping communities reclaim vacant or derelict pieces of land.
Now, hundreds of employees from the District's Department of the Environment are pitching in by planting trees and picking up trash. And Chestnut is recruiting area teens to become ambassadors of the outdoors.
Tierra Smith, 16, is an intern with Groundwork, where she's learned how to fertilize trees and clean out trash traps.
"It helps my community to see that we care," says Smith. "Like we want to have a peaceful neighborhood. A nice neighborhood where we can have a place to play around. Because if you don't take care of your neighborhood, it's going to be a tore up mess. If you take the time out and care, your community will be beautiful."
Chestnut says he has big plans for the organization. Eventually, he'd like to see Groundwork move west of the river, and spread throughout the region with a chain of new parks, clear trails, and scores of green jobs.
But for now, Chestnut says, he's taking things one tree at a time.