Concrete Safaris prepares youth in East Harlem and beyond to lead healthy lives and shape their environment through outdoor education, play, exploration, and community engagement.
Youth Transforming The World Starting In Their Own Backyards
Our Story2008 Executive Director Mac Levine asks 16 children in East Harlem how they want to improve their health. They answer: by living in a cleaner, greener, safer neighborhood. In 2008, through a bi-weekly workshop series, the CS Explorers (as the group was called) decide to improve physical and mental health by planting flowers, inviting 300 of their classmates from local schools to help.
2009 CS Explorers expands to two classes of approximately 40 children who then ask 500 of their classmates to help them plant a fruit and vegetable garden in an adjacent plot. The site becomes the largest children’s garden on public housing property at 16,000 square feet in Washington Houses.
2010 CS Explorers vote to increase the physical activities offered through our agency from just gardening and leadership training to swimming, cycling, and running. They invite 700 children to join them in gardening activities.
2011 Concrete Safaris hires its second full-time employee and a part-time employee to grow the organization from bi-weekly workshops for 7-9 and 9-11-year olds each (4 per week) at Union Settlement to a five-day/week program at PS 102. They invite 500 friends to garden with them. CS Explorers advocate for neighborhood bike lanes at the Community Board 11 hearings, and the lanes are currently being installed. They pitch the NYC Housing Authority to start gardens in Jefferson Houses through the 2011/12 school year.
2012 CS Explorers vote for a name change and are now known as City Surfers. They receive approval to grow gardens at Jefferson in August, and break ground in September. They lead 1,200 neighborhood children in gardening and exercise activities through Concrete Safaris' Green Exercise Day program. The organization offers additional summer workshops out of PS 146, 5-days per week. City Surfers who learn to ride our fleet of bicycles beginning in October 2011 successfully cycle 6 miles around Central Park.
2013 Concrete Safaris starts a public speaking program in which City Surfers learn to lead a Youth Empowerment Workshop about how they started and manage gardens in two public housing projects at the Just Food Conference in March 2013. We celebrate our 5th birthday with our first annual community service event and children's adventure race called JungleGym 2013. The children design 16-obstacles and carnival games for the neighborhood to enjoy.
2014 The organization gets 1,438 children outdoors and active through Green Exercise Days and JungleGym. Staff create a 4-season Green Exercise Day curriculum targeting third graders. Concrete Safaris expands total garden space by 27.4% in two public housing developments. Concrete Safaris partners with the Lower East Side Ecology Center to install and build programming around a 3-unit cedar compost bin at Jefferson Gardens. The organization develops a partnership with Hunter College’s Master of Public Health program and continues working with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai to improve program evaluations.
2015 The organization gets over 2,100 children outdoors and active through 4 key programming, piloting the Outdoor Leadership Academy internship program. Eight schools participate in 3 Green Exercise Days. Over 2,000 pounds of produce are harvested and distributed from 136 garden plots across Jefferson and Washington Houses to the community and local restaurants. 85% of participants are asking to play outdoors outside of program time. While 77% of children believe their decision-making skills have improved, 100% of parents report that their children's decision-making skills have improved. Parents are reporting that they are taking their children off ADD and ADHD medications and seeing behavior and focus results from participation in our outdoor programming.