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Sustainable South Bronx: Green Jobs, Not Jails

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Sustainable South Bronx connects poverty alleviation with the environment in ways that benefit both concerns. Their Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program has successfully moved people from welfare into living wage green-collar jobs for 4 years, while SSBx concurrently advocates policies that fuel demand for those jobs.

Since its inception in 2001, Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) has emerged as one of the most innovative and successful environmental justice organizations in the nation. With a wide array of projects, including green-roof installation and community urban planning, SSBx seeks to foster environmental justice through economically sustainable, locally-demanded methods. Foremost among these projects is the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program (BEST), which provides training and certification courses ranging from asbestos removal to urban forestry.

Founded in 2003, the BEST program is innovative not only for its diversity of courses, but for its emphasis on successful job placement. After participants complete their chosen 10-week program—which is often provided for free, depending on need—BEST organizers work to directly connect graduates with positions in local green industry. For three years after program completion, organizers keep track of graduates' success in finding stable work they want —and provide more support, if needed. About 150 people have graduated from the program as of 2008.

The BEST program has had tremendous long-term success rates, with 85% percent of participants employed at the four-year-mark after graduation, and 10% enrolled in college. With its focus on hands-on training, professional interpersonal skills, and six possible professional certifications, the BEST project has become a premier example of green-collar education developed precisely to meet the economic and environmental needs of local communities.

Staff for the BEST program say its success has much to do with its attention to employer needs—as well as the needs of potential students—in the development of its curriculum. For a full year after its graduates are placed, BEST staff conduct monthly calls to employers to determine what new skills should be incorporated into classes. This has resulted in incredibly high demand for BEST graduates from local employers, with about half of each student body already set up with a job before they graduate. 

With the cost of the program at about $7,000 per student, including full sets of work clothes and a roughly $600 checking account stipend at graduation, the BEST program has successfully sought an array of private donors and foundations for funding. Due to the strings attached to government workforce training funding, program organizers sought to fully develop the program for a few years before accepting any public funding—a decision that has allowed the organization to keep its curriculum intact and independent even as it started accepting federal funds last year.

To complement its local efforts, in recent years SSBx has launched a nationwide consulting service. This program aims to help cities and other interested parties organize green-collar job resources to address civic issues such as storm-water management, public health, law enforcement, and quality of life. SSBx has also worked with local organizations, such as Green Worker Cooperatives, to advocate for green economic development and environmentally just public policy. To learn more about SSBx visit their website.

To read a profile of three BEST program graduates, Amilcar Laboy, James Wells, and Dwaine Lee click here.

View a Sundance Channel video of SSBx founder Majora Carter.

Watch SSBx workers in action as they create a green roof.

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