Valley action groups and gatherings focus on youth in transition

09/19/2019

At the reception for his first solo art show this month, Ben Jensen beamed as guests flowed in to view his paintings. Friends, teachers and community members perused his abstract and colorful line art on the walls of the living room of the San Geronimo Valley Community Center. “I love seeing how his art has grown,” Martha Cederstrom, Mr. Jensen's former art teacher at Drake High School, remarked. “It has a lot of the same elements, but it is way more confident—it’s become very individual.” Mr. Jensen, 22, grew up in Woodacre and has been creating art for as long as he can remember. He now studies in the art studio program at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz. His paintings—“weird, squiggly, tentacle, watermark things,” as he puts it—are on display for the next few weeks as the second exhibit in the community center’s NextGen artist series. “I wouldn’t have wanted it to be anywhere else,” he said. “The valley is everything to me.” Launched in January with support from a county grant, the NextGen youth program aims to create a community in which young adults are heard, valued and invited to sit at the table where decisions are made. “Ultimately, it’s about building the next generation of leaders,” said Alexa Davidson, the program’s coordinator. NextGen hosts co-working hours, a West Marin housing action group, an art and activism collective and outdoor adventures. Every other Monday at 8:30 a.m., Katherine Wethington and Mari Nakagawa, both 25-year-old valley natives, host a 30-minute show on KWMR called “Hollow in the Land,” exploring issues around housing, mental health, the environment or whatever they feel like talking about. The longtime friends feel strongly about tenants’ rights, making them natural leaders for a housing action group that held its first meeting last month. There, around 20 NextGen activists identified top housing issues: the lack of affordable housing and tenant protections, short-term rentals, transportation and restrictive permitting. Then they came up with solutions: county and statewide action, shared housing and community land trusts. “From there, we started to home in on some actionable objectives,” Ms. Wethington said. “It was really productive. People were stoked, people were motivated.” In NextGen’s art and activism collective, a group gets together on Friday mornings to talk about anything that is on their mind. These gatherings, like the co-working hours, are loose in structure and meant to serve the mental health and wellness needs of transitional youth. Beyond giving young people a voice, Ms. Davidson said NextGen hopes to provide those who grew up here a stable place where they can come and feel community. For Mr. Jensen and Ms. Wethington, NextGen has been exactly that. “I just moved back to Marin and I wasn’t really sure where I could find community like this, so I’m very grateful,” Ms. Wethington said. For details on upcoming events, follow @westmarin_nextgen on Instagram.