Andy Street: Helping Others in Need
By Dianne Anderson
Ask what Markel Cooper is doing lately, and he usually answers like any identical twin would — in the plural.
“We’re working on our credential at this point,” he said. “We’re going to be teaching physical education, and we plan on getting our masters. We’ll probably get into athletic directing, then starting our own organization.”
For him and his twin brother, much of the vision for the future goes back to Andy Street where they grew up. Once considered the worst place to live in Long Beach, they’ve witnessed their share of obstacles.
It was hard to think about becoming something more because no one saw much success there.
“How can you imagine yourself being successful when no one around you is successful? It’s tough,” Markel Cooper said.
Through community advocate LaVerne Duncan, Andy Street programs offered hope and direction. They had mentors that gave back to their neighborhood, and now the twins want to give back.
They want local kids to realize that their dreams are tangible, and it can be done.
“It’s only right to instill those principles and those elements into the kids so they know they can be successful. It’s the confidence of giving the right tools and resources that you can take advantage of,” Cooper said.
The Coopers, 25 years old, hope to create a fitness program with a collaborative learning approach to promote healthy active lifestyles.
Obesity is at epidemic levels these days, he said.
“Kids sit in the house all day on their cell phones,” he said. “Growing up in low-income communities, when it comes to nutrition, it’s either you don’t know better or can’t afford better, or a little bit of both.”
This Thanksgiving and then again on Christmas, they also will give back to Andy Street again in their spare time.
“My brother and I try to help out with that, be involved with whatever Miss Laverne needs, or help my mom out to promote, and let residents know we’re giving turkeys away,” he said.
LaVerne Duncan said the Coopers represent an Andy Street success story.
This year, 180 family turkey giveaways will serve needy residents of Andy Street and also two senior home locations.
But Andy Street wasn’t always so hopeful.
Duncan remembers the time when it was up against serious challenges. Through her work with the city and the Housing Authority, she had been assigned to the 96-units on Andy Street. She decided to keep programming going after she retired over 20 years ago.
“They had drugs, prostitution, they had murders. They had everything there,” she said, adding the community in actuality wanted the police to come in. “We had owners of buildings on that street, they said we need help.”
Andy Street violence was so entrenched during the 1990’s that it was about the only place where the mailman refused to deliver. Determined to clean up the neighborhood, Ms. Duncan started seeking grants and getting the community involved.
Eventually, she formed a nonprofit that became the first successful Multi-Family Improvement District in the state with a dedicated staff. The city department got involved, and it took a couple of years to clean up the community.
“I had fallen in love with the whole concept of turning it around,” she said. “I asked my boss at that time can I continue to work with these folks?”
She pushed to make it happen, teaching about tenant’s rights and responsibilities, forming leadership programs. Many kids wanted to get involved as youth ambassadors because it showed there were other options besides gangs.
Markel and Martel Cooper have now graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach, and they also sit on the Andy Street Advisory Board. They have high hopes for developing their pilot double impact program.
On November 23, a family turkey basket giveaway will be held at the church, along with distribution of turkeys to senior New Hope Homes. The event is held in partnership with the Church of Latter Day Saints.
Everyone on Andy Street will be served if they want or need it, but she is happy as many residents want their turkeys to go to others in need.
Things have really changed in these decades. Residents now come out to volunteer. They give back and help their community, they clean up, they work together.
And, they are generous.
“Half of the people on Andy Street asked if we could give their turkey to someone that is more needy than they are because we have a lot more people who are doing better,” she said.
To donate to Andy Street, email Ms. Duncan at email@example.com or see www.andystreetlb.org