Twenty-four year-old Aisha never anticipated that she’d be leading her own environmental remediation company. Though she’d always been interested in environmental issues, she was largely unaware of the fact that many residents in her hometown of Baltimore faced serious health risks from living in homes and buildings contaminated with toxic substances like asbestos, mold, and lead.
Then she enrolled in Baltimore Civic Works’ Green Career Pathways program. Dorsey wasn’t the typical Civic Works participant. The program focuses on training folks who were chronically unemployed or faced barriers to employment—like ex-offenders. She was neither. Ambitious and successful, she’d been president of her high school and editor of the school newspaper. But she saw tremendous potential in the green economy—and Civic Works offered a clear path to get there. She was studying at Baltimore City Community College when she heard about the program. It offered hands-on experience that she couldn’t find elsewhere—so she decided to enroll.
She graduated from the Civic Works’ B’More Green Brownfields program in 2011, receiving multiple certifications for environmental remediation work—cleaning up contaminated sites to make them safe, and to make sure that toxics are disposed of properly and don’t end up in our air and water. After leaving the program, she spent time in the field doing environmental remediation. She quickly realized that many of the existing companies in the field didn’t take the kind of precautions she’d been trained were necessary. She saw a need for a new kind of company—one that made worker and client safety its top priority.
So, in 2012 Dorsey launched Lifeline Environmental, LLC, dedicated to helping homeowners and businesses deal with dangerous substances like asbestos, mold, and lead.
“These are very overwhelming issues,” Dorsey explains. “Some people have asbestos all over their basement. You can’t tackle it by yourself. You need certified, competent people to help.”
She finds great satisfaction in helping make her hometown of Baltimore healthier.
“You can see the relief on people’s faces when we finish a job,” she says. “To live with asbestos, mold, or lead is definitely a health issue. People get sick. It’s not like you’re just going get a cold. You’re at risk for cancer. It’s something that needs to be handled.”
One of the best parts of starting the business, according to Dorsey, was the opportunity to give back to her community—not just by making buildings safer, but by giving Baltimore something it really needs: Jobs.
After launching Lifeline Environmental, Dorsey went back to B’More Green and hired six graduates of the same program she’d finished. She knew they would be well-trained, and prepared to focus on safety, a priority for her company. And she knew first-hand just how much dedication was needed to finish the training.
“Everybody in the program works very hard. You’re there from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some people go to other jobs at the end of the day.”
The program provided something else, too—something Dorsey drew on when she decided to start her own business: Confidence. When she went back to B’More Green as an employer, she was inspired and impressed by the number of trainees who were confident in their new skills and eager to get to work. “Some people who can’t find work may just need a larger skill set. Baltimore Civic Works invests in them and trusts them, she explains. “You leave that program on a high note.”
For Dorsey, there’s no question about the value and need for more job training programs. “Traditional education may leave some people behind,” she says. “If we have more opportunities for people to grow and find their way, you’ll see it help the community. It creates economic growth.”