Green|spaces’ Build It Green Program is celebrating the launch of its first class this month as an AmeriCorps Opportunity Youth Service Initiative site and Corps Network partner.
In 2018, green|spaces launched an effort to connect at-risk young adults to careers in construction and energy service-related areas. Through funding provided by the Southeast Sustainability Communities Fund, the program was modeled after S.E.E.E.D., which is based in Knoxville.
Since then, green|spaces has graduated more than 50 individuals who are working in a variety of careers. Today, the program has expanded to a six-month or one-year workforce development program focused on not only job readiness but also community organizing, outreach and leadership training.
“The program has quadrupled in time commitment – for students and for us – which means we can assist more limited income individuals through home weatherization but also provide hands to assist with improvement projects at other nonprofits and around the community,” says Christian Shackelford, program director.
“It provides a living stipend and trains them for construction work, volunteer work for nonprofits, weatherization needs for homeowners and other community work.”
The new partnership with The Corps Network will allow program participants to receive a larger stipend to match the increased work hours, plus a new educational stipend at the end, allowing for a wider range of pathways for graduates to post-secondary training or certifications, Shackelford says.
While the program has shifted to accommodate COVID-19 safety precautions, the mission is still the same, says green|spaces Executive Director Michael Walton.
“This is about more than job training. Since 1939, when redlining was established in Chattanooga to prevent Black and other minority families from receiving home loans, the racial wealth gap in Chattanooga and the United States has expanded over tenfold, even after redlining was outlawed in 1968.
“Most people’s wealth is in their home, so if we give people the skill set to be able to improve a home and make it more energy efficient, that is one of the most direct paths to increasing wealth and resilience.”
The new program also allows for past students to come on board as mentors and trainers, providing additional opportunities to grow into mentorship and leadership roles.
“The AmeriCorps education stipend sets them up for a first step in a process of career building, whereas before we had more emphasis on employment after graduating rather than additional education opportunities,” Shackelford adds. “Now they will be able to afford to get a technical, associates or undergraduate degree.”
Lebron Nash, a new BIG program participant, says that while he was initially skeptical about the program, he has found he enjoys the process of creating.
“I love it. I like to get things done on the first try, but I made myself be patient, and over time, it’s getting better,” he says. “Today, we formed teams and built a small model house. I’m loving everything we’re doing.”