THE BLOG
06/30/2013 10:51 am ET | Updated Aug 30, 2013

Becoming the "Peaceful Offense" for Change

I serve to create a healthy environment for my community and opportunity for myself.

I'm 19 years old. Growing up in Brooklyn, I've witnessed my friends having to hustle and struggle to get a bite to eat, taking jobs in fast food, working off the books to scrounge up whatever money they could. I have seen it all, drug-dealing, armed robbery, gang violence.

I joined Green City Force because I was tired of dead-end jobs and looking to make some real progress. AmeriCorps and national service through Green City Force offered me a way forward. My fellow Corps Members are all residents of public housing -- "the projects" -- like me. We are a long way from the stereotypical destructive youth that society perceives us as. We are changing our own environment and that of our city.

Last week we officially opened a farm that my team and I built in the middle of one of the largest housing developments in Brooklyn. You may have heard of because it was 8 feet under water during Hurricane Sandy: it's called Red Hook. Unhealthy diet claims more lives here than gun violence. More deaths occur each year due to heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure and complications. I have first-hand experience with this. Just the other day my father told me he might have diabetes and that the only thing that makes him feel better is soda. This is how real the issue is -- there is an addiction to unhealthy food.

Healthy foods exist but you can't find them in low-income neighborhoods. My team and I are part of the solution. We've turned over an acre of land into crops and are teaching 1st graders the importance of eating healthy at a young age. We've taught 3 sessions so far, and each time my young first grade farmer Edwin comes asking to try new and different vegetables. This is proof that we are making a difference each time we have a class.

My fellow Corps Members are teaching other residents around the city to reduce their energy consumption just through changing their behavior in their homes -- turning lights off, taking shorter showers, turning down the AC. This is important because with over 500,000 people living in public housing, over 500 million in public money is spent on utilities; and if we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions we can help reduce problems like asthma and pollution that hit us hard. We're getting over 10% reduction in energy usage and inspiring residents like us to see themselves as an important part of making our environment and affordable housing sustainable.

To me, AmeriCorps and national service, and The Corps Network that Green City Force is part of, are like Homeland Security. As an AmeriCorps member, I am part of a "peaceful offense" fighting against climate change and for health and opportunity.

This post is part of a collaboration between The Huffington Post and The Aspen Institute, in which a variety of thinkers, writers and experts will explore the most pressing issues of our time. For more posts from this partnership, click here. For more information on The Aspen Institute, click here.