Greening Communities, Teaching Skills, and Building Careers: Cleveland Botanical Gardens Green 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 Cleveland Botanical Gardens’ Green Corps.

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Green Corps’ mission is “Growing Youth, Growing Food, and Growing Cleveland.”  The organization focuses on building life, work, and leadership skills and employing and educating high school youth in sustainable agriculture, place-based learning, and community engagement.  Each year, Green Corps employs and educates an average of 70 to 75 teenagers who live within the city, putting them to work at one of six urban learning farms.

Green Corps selects participants based on their desire and willingness to conduct physical labor, as well as demonstration of a sincere interest in learning about gardening, sustainable agriculture and the environment.  Once hired, Green Corps student employees spend the summer working 20 hours a week developing essential work and life skills, along with knowledge of plants and agriculture, and community and environmental stewardship.   Green Corps also provides early college courses with Cuyahoga Community College, where students can earn college credit while in high school.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden recently launched a new program, Vacant to Vibrant:  Redeveloping Vacant land as Green Infrastructure in Great Lakes Cities.  The project will monitor green infrastructure potential for small vacant lots, employing a triple bottom line model, gathering data on ecological services, social benefits, and economic potential.  The project will build on lessons learned in Green Corps to train 18-24 year olds in assessment, installation, operations, and maintenance of green infrastructure.

The pilot aims to improve water quality, stabilize neighborhoods, and prepare young adults for entry into the green workforce.  In 2014 the program will install green infrastructure projects in vacant lots in Buffalo, New York, Cleveland, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana. Each installation will use scientific equipment and citizen science to measure reduction in runoff, ability of the soil to hold post-rain event moisture, carbon capture, biodiversity, job potential, neighborhood use, and other indicators of benefits to the treated properties.  In each city, one vacant lot will be used as a plant nursery to provide greenery to this and other greening projects. The program will engage community members through a series of community meetings to help shape the location and design of the projects.  The sites will also host a job training program in urban landscape management. This program will target college-age youth and will incorporate the training developed by Green Corps.  The program anticipates hiring ten young adults per city for this work.

Green 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. The organization is cultivating a new generation of environmental stewards who come from communities most affected 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 at the forefront of linking employment opportunities for young adults and green infrastructure operations and maintenance work in Syracuse, New York.

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