For the past 20 years, Greening of Detroit has put more than 2,000 of Detroit’s youth to work.
They have laced up their boots, picked up shovels, and have gone to work tending to the urban environment through The Greening of Detroit’s Green Corps youth employment program. Approximately 2,000 young Detroiters have passed through Green Corps since 1998, cumulatively earning more than $2.1 million in wages, and learning how to hold jobs, handle money, and care for their urban community.
In a city where youth unemployment tops 30 percent — more than double the national average — becoming a Green Corps member is a coveted opportunity. In fact, many Green Corps members receive college scholarships and apprenticeship opportunities through The Greening of Detroit’s annual college and career fairs. These post-secondary opportunities are especially significant since the majority of participants are under-represented in the green jobs sector. During the last two years, Green Corps seniors have won college scholarships totaling over $50,000 to study agriculture and environmental science.
Detroit Renaissance 2015 graduate Miracle Chatman is one of those youth. She began working as a member of Green Corps as a junior in high school for summer job purposes. She then interned for two summers, which helped her gain experience in the field she wanted to go into, along with the college fairs and college tours. Once she got to college, she became a Green Corps crew leader. Chatman is currently at Michigan State University, studying secondary education and mathematics. Her end goal is to become superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District and bring change to issues and policies that negatively affect black students.
“I actually wrote one of my personal statements about how that program really shaped me and motivated me to go to college,” said Chatman. “It was one of the most integral parts of my teenage years. Before I was involved in the program, I never really looked at Detroit in a positive light and saw myself becoming the typical product of my environment. But after I got involved, things were really different
“The fact that all of their supervisors were from Detroit and in college or have graduated, was big for me. It provided with me with role models because no one in my family had ever graduated college. I was mentored by someone with their master’s degree, who I still talk to today.”
Clarice Hollenquest recently graduated from Detroit Renaissance and has also benefitted greatly from the Green Corps program. She was a Green Corps crew leader and is enrolled in the Forestry program at Michigan State University. She said she owes it to The Greening of Detroit and its career fair network for her ability to continue her work in college. MSU awarded her more than $40,000 in scholarship funding, as well as an additional $8,000 in grant money to use for research and to study abroad. She plans to research and study the energy potential of soil by using its electromagnetic properties to potentially fuel nanodevices.
“The doors Green Corps opened for me have been the biggest blessings in my life,” said Hollenquest. “Green Corps gave me connections, real life experience, and a chance to explore a field I never heard of before.”
The Green Corps program is one of the few paid urban forestry vocational programs in the country. The program allows Greening of Detroit to hire high school students from Detroit each summer to help water trees, grow food at Detroit Public Schools and their own urban garden, and maintain city parks and greenways.
“Most of our Green Corps members join us for the paycheck,” said Lionel Bradford, The Greening of Detroit President. “But that changes for most of them as the summer progresses. They become more aware and engaged in the work and the impact of their efforts on the communities they serve. The Greening of Detroit is growing our next generation of environmental stewards.”
Green Corps members today continue watering close to 20,000 trees throughout the city, maintaining and helping cleanup green spaces in neighborhoods, parks, and greenways. They learn about urban ecology and environmental stewardship and experience a variety of Michigan’s natural wonders through partnerships with the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and others. Serving the neighborhoods where they live instills a sense of pride and commitment.
“The task itself was challenging but it felt good to bring literal life and curb appeal to a neighborhood, said Taylor Johnson, who started off as a volunteer for Green Corps in 2014, and helped plant trees on the city’s west side. “Beautifying the neighborhoods, especially, for younger generations, helps increase homeownership, a desire to live in Detroit, builds community, and promotes safety. In general, it shows that people care about their neighborhood.”