By Will Reisman, @WillReisman

Visitacion Valley YouthFor young people living in Visitacion Valley—an economically-disadvantaged community nestled in southeastern San Francisco—the confines outside of their neighborhood can feel like alien, foreign places that are inaccessible and remote.

“Sometimes it’s difficult for the youth of this neighborhood to really understand that there is more to their lives than their immediate environment,” said Ronald Colthirst, a community facility manager at The Village, a neighborhood resources center in Visitacion Valley. “They face barriers—economic , social, geographic—that can make them feel trapped. But fortunately for them, we have this Caltrain station that is literally right in their backyard.”

Colthirst was referring to the Bayshore Caltrain Station, located on the southern edge of the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. As a way of showing the youth in the community about the access they have at their fingertips, Colthirst recently helped organize a trip on Caltrain down to Stanford University in Palo Alto. Working with Malia Cohen—a San Francisco City Supervisor who also sits on the Caltrain Board of Directors—Colthirst was able to get eight day-pass tickets for Visitacion Valley youths who frequent The Village. On Saturday, January 10, the group of 10—eight teenagers and two adults—embarked for a trip down to Palo Alto that proved to be an eye-opening experience.

“For most of them, it was their first trip on Caltrain,” said Colthirst. “I think it was quite the shock to them that a place like Stanford was less than an hour away.”

Colthirst said the group—ranging in age from middle schoolers to young adults just out of high school—took the time on the train to nap, talk and view the sights of the Peninsula. Caltrain onboard conductor Tuan Tran also proved very helpful, said Colthirst. Tran spoke with the group about Caltrain scheduling, fare information and tips on taking the train. He also provided information about potential employment opportunities at the rail agency, Colthirst said.

When the group reached the Palo Alto Caltrain Station, they were immediately picked up by the Marguerite Shuttle and transported to the Stanford campus. The group went on a walking tour of the university, sat down for a panel discussion convened by the Stanford Black Student Union, and noshed on some food at one of the campus cafeterias. While the environs of Stanford may have been a contrast with their neighborhood in Visitacion Valley, Colthirst said the group was comforted by the familiar-looking faces they saw at the university.

“They saw plenty of people who looked like them, who dressed like them, who acted like them,” said Colthirst. “Yeah, Stanford is this prestigious university, but there are students there who grew up in similar neighborhoods as these kids. I think that really had an impact on them—about the possibilities they have in life.”

Colthirst said the ease of taking Caltrain—aided by the seamless transition to the Marguerite Shuttle service—has the group eager to take more trips. He said there are already talks of organizing excursions to Santa Clara University and San Jose State University—institutions that are reachable thanks to Caltrain. He plans on making the jaunt down to Stanford an annual event.

“Our goal is to elevate the view of young people,” said Colthirst. “Having Caltrain nearby is an amazing resource to help us achieve that goal. These outings can really be life-changing experiences.”

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