Uptown Summer 2020: Connecting in the Time of COVID-19

Our 10th year of “Uptown Summer,” with 4 weeks of youth empowerment in collaboration with Rensselaer County Summer Youth Employment Program. Uptown Summer 20 offered a creative convergence around social distanced urban gardening in Collard City Growers, and designing a social media campaign and radio production.  Key goals included maintaining a safe working environment, balancing physical labor and creative media making to make positive changes in our community. 

–Urban gardening in Collard City Growers

The youth of Uptown Summer 2020 have been stretching the muscles in their green thumbs as they explore urban gardening in North Central, Troy, NY.

The youth harvest and dry herbs from Collard City Growers, then produce herbal face scrubs that will be handed out for free to the community members of North Central, Troy.

The youth organized a NATURE Lab/People’s Health Sanctuary/ Collard City Growers table for the Black August event, offering free face scrubs and herbs to the community!

To learn more about Black August 2020, check out this radio interview:

Sanctuary social media campaign

Uptown Summer ’20 youth worked with mentor Jamel Mosely on “Brandstorming” workshops. As part of the process, they met with Dr. Xavier Coughlin, a leader of the Health Autonomy Clinic, and designed a health questionnaire and flyer for the upcoming Black August event. The youth delivered multiple recommendations including changing the name from Health Autonomy Clinic to People’s Health Sanctuary, for the space in the upstairs of the new NATURE Lab building. Continuing their focus on health needs for the neighborhood, they met with Luz Marquez Benbow to focus on mental health for POC and LGBTQ local teens.

–Radio Production

–Uptown Summer ’20 Youth reflections

Amajea Allen:

I liked last year’s activities more than this years because i’m not really into the podcast media. And the hours was easier, would have more energy throughout the day while mornings I’m just tired. I preferred when we did group activities than working on our own. The garden crafts were fun.

Angeles Arroyo:

So after spending 3 hours a day, for 5 weeks at the Sanctuary, I’d say that I had a pretty good experience. I already knew my co-workers from the year before, so we all had a relationship to build on. Jamel and Alfonso made everything easy-going and open for us. So it felt like we were doing volunteer work instead of being forced to do this job. I personally liked photography and editing. So learning about editing sounds was really interesting to me. I really enjoy learning new things.

A thorn for me is probably only talking about my opinions on things. Since I’m really closed off and I don’t like talking about how I feel. But it wasn’t actually terrible, since it didn’t make me upset or anything. Also the heat, that was wild.

I really like how free spirited it is here. I’d really come back anytime.

Taria Arroyo:

It was interesting with a small group but it was fun! Jamel and Alfonso were really great. They were silly at times but also serious! They respected our space and feelings. If we wanted to do something, they did their best to make it happen! I had so much fun! We were able to be ourselves (silly all the time, the jokes). I really enjoyed everything. The garden was super fun!

TBH – I loved everything about this. I hated nothing!

Genesis Cooper:

Working at The Sanctuary for Independent Media is special because I have a great bond with my co-workers and mentors. I get to do things I like and work with kind-hearted people. I don’t think I could ever work anywhere else. Highlights: Gardening, buddies.

Ciara Smith:

This summer at the Sanctuary feels different than being at another job because here I feel that I could truly be myself and I can always look forward to learning new things. My favorite activity was learning how to make pickles. What I’ll miss the most is working with the girls. A rose was having fun with the girls. A bud was working in the garden. And a thorn was talking about and making ideas about sustaining the Sanctuary.

–Uptown Summer ’20 Participants


  • Amajea Allen
  • Genesis Cooper
  • Angelese [Angie] Arroyo
  • Taria Arroyo
  • Cierra Smith


  • Jamel Mosely, Uptown Summer Mentor: social media design and multimedia content production
  • Alfonso Rodriguez, Uptown Summer Mentor: gardening and radio production
  • Alexis Goldsmith: Collard City Growers Coordinator/ Radio Coordinator



  • Branda Miller: Uptown Summer Coordinator
  • Kathy High, NATURE Lab Coordinator

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We use art and participatory action to promote social and environmental justice and freedom of creative expression.

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