A boost for teens, trees and water conservation

Leila Miller, Arts Editor

Rachel Lester’s platform, which she posted on the SoRo website before her election to the  South Roberstson Neighborhood Council, focuses on forming a “teen task force” to unite the community’s teenagers in volunteering activities, encouraging water conservation and tree planting. She also wants to compile a mass community e-mail list “to promote neighborhood involvement.”
Newly elected to the board of the South Robertson (SoRo) Neighborhood Council, the Shalhevet sophomore has big plans for a group that’s at the grassroots of city government.
“Most people don’t know it exists, but if everyone did then it would be able to make a much bigger impact,” she told The Boiling Point.
Rachel plans on working with Tree People and projects like Community Supported Agriculture to beautify the neighborhood.
“I just want to work on making the whole community a prettier place to live in,” she explained.
Rachel’s mom, Mrs. Sherri Ziff Lester, first thought of the idea of Rachel running for the council when she noticed a flier outside her door announcing SoRo’s coming election. Scanning the fine print, she saw that 15-year-olds were eligible.
“Rachel’s up for challenges and wants to make a difference,” Mrs. Lester said. “When I saw it, I thought – this could be for her.”
And she was right.
“I thought it was really cool,” Rachel said. “I just wanted to become involved for the sake of being involved.”
Rachel attended two SoRo meetings with her mom prior to the election. The first was a meeting for all potential candidates, discussing the council’s individual committees. Rachel was looking for “things that apply to me” and was immediately interested in joining the “Green Team.”
That turned out to be the council’s most active committee.
“It’s done wonders,” said Elizabeth Billet, who represents Zone 5 and also serves on the Green Team. “We go to neighbors that have trees flushed with fruit dropping to the ground, rescue [the fruit] and take it to SOVA [a charity organization].”
They have also helped build up Hamilton High School’s garden, facilitated neighborhood water collection and distributed green recycling bins at low cost.
The second meeting was a normal council meeting and not that exciting for Rachel — yet, she said.
“It was kind of boring because I wasn’t involved in anything and I didn’t know what was going on,” she explained, but quickly added, “Once I become part of it, it’ll be so much fun!”
At first, Rachel thought that running for SoRo rep. “wasn’t a big deal,” and just planned on telling her closest friends about it, believing they would think her running was “lame and looser-y.”
“I was sure I wanted to do it, I was just doubting I wanted to tell people, ” Rachel said.
But her mom sent out a mass email and an announcement was made at school.
“After the announcement we went insane,” she said, recalling the campaign. “We made fliers, passed them out in some places on Pico. We stopped people on the street – it was so embarrassing.”
Rachel plans to get Shalhevet students involved in SoRo through the school’s Town Hall announcements and Facebook.
“It’s important to have a teenager and Jew on the board,” Rachel said. “A Jew will get people a lot more involved. The zone rep. represents the whole Pico-Robertson area and all the shuls.”
Other members of the board agreed.
“We’re very enthusiastic about Rachel joining the group and adding another dimension to our work,” Ms. Billet said.
“We’re assuming enthusiasm is contagious,” said Mr. Doug Fitzsimmons, the president of SoRo. “We need people of any age to work in the community. [Rachel can] help tap in to teens.”
Meanwhile, Rachel’s work may go beyond her original platform.
At her second meeting since being elected on April 11, she heard a description of a gang-related murder on Corning Street, just half a mile west of Shalhevet.
“A woman was sitting alone in a parked car and a gang member ran by and shot her,” said Rachel. “The police said she wasn’t the intended target, though, which makes the whole situation scarier.”
The West Los Angeles Police Department gave a presentation mainly to assure the public that extra safety measures were being taken, and not to panic. Tips were given on neighborhood safety.
“We don’t have any notable gang violence [in our area] for the most part,” she said. “If you see a kid or a bunch of kids loitering during a school day, you should call the police.”
Rachel will be installed officially as SoRo board member on Thursday, May 20, in a ceremony at Hamilton High. That is the second day of Shavuot, so she will be walking, not driving, to Hamilton High School — perfect, as she’ll be promoting her environment-friendly slogan.