|Patrick "P.J." Atchison
Activities: President, Garces Memorial High School Democrats Club; Co-founder, Pencils for Africa community collection; Participant, Bakersfield Teen City Government; Senior Class President
At the Mercy Learning Center in Bakersfield, Calif., green thumbs abound. Children dig rows in the dirt, hammer stakes into the ground and bury seeds in the soil.
Patrick “P.J.” Atchison digs right along with them when he notices that a few of the older boys have stopped working and look bored. P.J. joins them.
“David had a football jersey on, so I asked him if he played,” P.J. says. It turned out that while they all loved football, very few of them had ever had the chance to play.
P.J. decides to change all that. He begins using part of each day to run football drills with the boys and share training techniques, all while talking to them about the benefits of exercise and nutrition.
“I want to make it fun for them to stay active and involved in school and their lives in general,” P.J. says.
While in high school, P.J. was a member of Dream Builders, a program created by the Jim Burke Education Foundation that pairs top students with corporate sponsors and challenges them to design projects that benefit the underserved.
“We wanted to create something that would have a lasting impact on people’s lives,” he says.
Starting a self-sustaining vegetable garden fit into that plan. They began planting in the backyard of Mercy, a resource center for low-income children and their families. In addition to pouring and molding a large concrete planter themselves, P.J. and others at the center brought in a nutritionist and hosted an exercise carnival with prizes, games and nutrition trivia.
“Eventually, we hope they’ll be able to use the garden to harvest their own fruits and vegetables,” P.J. says.
While at USC, he plans to continue his hands-on approach to improving the community by incorporating sound economic tools and policies.
“Economics can be seen as such a cold science,” he says. “I’m interested in economic redevelopment and how you can apply these practices to something very real and humanitarian, like helping a community build their own garden.”