College of Marin (COM) will become the permanent home of a highly-celebrated traveling mural series, designed and created by the Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity (AHO) Youth Leadership Team. This Youth Team is comprised of Marin County homeless teens and young adults as a way to come together to give back to their community.
Founded 18 years ago, AHO is an award-winning, nonprofit organization focused on serving non-system, at-risk, homeless, and sex-trafficked young people ranging in age from 16 to 25.
In 2012, AHO’s Youth Leadership Team engaged 30 schools and 1,200 other youth to create the murals with them to answer the driving question: What kind of world do youth want to live in? The murals include the themes of social justice, Black Lives Matter, climate change and also highlight visionaries the artists producing the murals felt embodied the values they want to see more of in the world.
The Youth Homelessness to Hope Singing Tree mural project has traveled throughout the Bay Area for the last eight years and has been shown in nearly 50 locations, including the Presidio of San Francisco, MarinMOCA Museum, UC Berkeley, and other schools, colleges, museums, businesses, organizations, and faith communities.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the art installation’s future touring schedule had to be postponed indefinitely. Ever resourceful, the AHO Youth Leadership Team decided it was time to find a permanent home for their project, says AHO Founder and Executive Director Zara Babitzke, M.A.
Babitzke said the youth selected COM because of the alignment between the College’s values and AHO’s mission; both focusing on community partnerships, diversity, equity, inclusion and education. The enduring relationship between AHO and COM spans over 17 years. About 75 percent of the more than 3,800 youth AHO has successfully served have attended or graduated from COM before moving on to a university or into the workforce. Babitzke is also a COM alumna.
“The Youth Team wanted to leave a legacy of AHO with COM as a permanent home for the murals because of our shared values,” Babitzke said. “AHO is transforming lives and building youth leaders and demonstrating the power of youth to transform their circumstances to become future leaders which is demonstrated in this mural project. College of Marin, named the number one community college in the state of California, like AHO, is also a life-changing institution.”
COM Superintendent/President Dr. David Wain Coon said the College is “honored and humbled for being chosen to house the murals.”
“I am confident that our students will be inspired by the colorful, rich imagery reflected in the murals,” he said. “College of Marin values its long-standing partnership with Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity and applauds its work on behalf of homeless teens and young adults.”
The Youth Homelessness to Hope Singing Tree murals are displayed in the lower atrium of the College’s Academic Center at the Kentfield Campus. Each panel represents a season, with the endangered oak tree serving as a metaphor for the kinds of crises facing the endangered youth that AHO serves. Each panel also includes two visionaries that personify the values youth want to see more in the world, including Tupac Shakur, Julia Butterfly Hill, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., John Muir, and others.
You can find out more about Ambassadors of Hope and Opportunity at ahoproject.org.