Greening Communities, Teaching Skills and Building Careers: Seattle Conservation Corps

Written by Alvaro Sanchez Sanchez
Senior Associate, Green For All

In our recent report, Staying Green and Growing Jobs: Green Infrastructure Operations and Maintenance as Career Pathway Stepping Stones, we profile seven organizations that are linking members from disadvantaged communities to opportunities in the green sector. These groups are diverse with respect to the populations they serve, the skills they teach, and the types of work they perform, but all of them recognize that green infrastructure has the potential to transform communities.

Based on interviews with social enterprises and workforce development organizations throughout the country, we identified twelve components that make their programs successful. To better describe these components, we created an infographic, below, highlighting the best features of each organization and providing details about the types of work they are involved in. Over the coming weeks we’ll profile innovative organizations that are advancing best practices in green infrastructure here and today we profile the Seattle Conservation Corp (SCC).


The Seattle Conservation Corps, established in 1986, is a unique Parks and Recreation program that gives back in two ways: it trains disadvantaged community members for viable, living-wage jobs, and it performs quality work in Seattle parks and for other agencies and employers on a contract basis.

SCC employs between 80 to 100 participants per year and provides them with full time employment for one year, starting at minimum wage up to $12 per hour. In addition, participants receive supportive services to help with housing, transportation, education, life skills training, mental health counseling, substance abuse recovery and job searches. Since 1986, SCC has helped more than 1,200 homeless individuals.

Most of the work opportunities available to SCC are obtained through contracts with the public sector, with roughly 75 percent of their $4 million budget raised through project revenue. SCC is able to compete for public contracts because as a city program, it is not required to meet some of the procurement requirements that private contractors must meet. On the other hand, SCC is not able to compete with these same contractors for private work because the costs associated with the program for wages and supportive services raise the cost of contracting SCC’s services beyond what their competitors can charge.

Seattle Conservation Corps faces some funding issues, since its association with the City of Seattle disqualifies the organization from certain grants, even when project revenue declines. SCC is exploring other revenue alternatives, such as working with the Seattle Public Utilities to sell cisterns and rain barrels, and installing green infrastructure demonstration projects. The organization estimates that 65 percent of their participants leave the program with permanent employment and that about 80 percent find stable housing. Their graduates have gone on to work for Seattle Public Utilities, Amorclad, International Belt and Rubber Supply, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Woodland Park Zoo, Franz Bakery, and Pacific Piling to name a few. Seattle Conservation Corps Manager Cathie Andersen believes that the program’s dual services of training disadvantaged community members while performing public agency work makes it an ideal model for other cities to replicate.

Seattle Conservation Corps is one of the programs delivering the triple bottom line benefits that green infrastructure investments promise. Its work demonstrates successful private/ public/ nonprofit partnerships that protect the environment, increase access to economic opportunities, and improve the social conditions of disadvantaged groups. It’s cultivating a new generation of environmental stewards that come from communities most impacted by environmental and economic crises. These programs are using operations and maintenance work to create on-ramps to career opportunities in a variety of professions. They are also performing a critical task that creates real opportunity rather than dead-end, low-quality employment.

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Come back next week to learn about a program whose mission is “Growing Youth, Growing Food, and Growing Cleveland.”

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