by Libby Collier
On the coast of North Carolina, I followed a trail of sandy steps to find my way along a hiking path, only to find them obscured upon my return. Backpacking in British Columbia, an imprint of a hiking boot sunk deep within a pool of mud served as a warning to take an alternate route. In Vermont, I lifted my feet high over trenches of powdery snow to place them down into already packed prints, to save my energy and keep me from falling. This past summer in San Francisco, I found myself focusing on my steps again, carefully slowing my feet down a steep sidewalk on my way to the Richmond District Neighborhood Center.
The RDNC has a welcoming presence on 30th Avenue, with its landscaped grounds and personal touches. The center sits within a residential neighborhood made up of mostly minority groups, in a section of the city known for its wide range of multicultural architecture, shops, and eateries. Most staff members speak Cantonese, Vietnamese, or Spanish.
I was there to meet with executive director, Michelle Cusano and learn more about the programs offered at the RDNC. As we walked outside, the Thursday Food Pantry was in full swing. Over 300 people from the community had gathered to pick up enough fresh produce and other grocery staples to sustain their families for the upcoming week. The event was set up outdoors, akin to a farmers market, so that shoppers could maneuver around each table to select various produce, poultry, and family favorites like Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese.
In another area, a group of students organized bags of groceries to deliver to local senior citizens with low mobility. Volunteers are paired up with the same individual each week, so that the program also facilitates consistency and new friendships.
The RDNC also offers a variety of programs for adults, youth, and families in the Richmond area. Youth programs range from weekend art workshops to urban gardening and after-school learning activities. The RDNC also provides opportunities for the wider community, such as wellness classes including Pilates, Tai Chi, and empowerment courses.
“Staycations” are a way for families to explore the city in which they live. Among the day-trip options, there are bike trips and kayaking in Sausalito. There are also overnight camping trips. In the spring, family cooking classes are offered at the RDNC with the goal of teaching families how to prepare healthy meals. Families leave every class with a bag of fresh produce.
Festivals, celebrations, blood drives, and fundraisers supplement the weekly programs and events. The programs at the RDNC encompass academics, art, and recreation; the center provides the nutrients that enrich the community as a whole.
The building itself is historically community-oriented, as it was founded in 1980 while residents of the Richmond area rallied to save a local school. It was then repurposed to become a maternity center and eventually an orphanage.
Today, the RDNC sees over 3,000 different footprints each week. You can see the indents of knees from community members working in the garden beds, and the imprints of feet along the soil paths. While the footprints at the RDNC are of varying shapes and sizes, they work in unison to foster community growth, inclusion, and support.