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2022/9/28 Sustainable Training

brought to you in part by

Noah Nomad

GREEN CITY FORCE , a sustainable training program
for youths from NYC public housing

WT Interview with Joshua Owens, Director of Social Enterprise Operations Green City Force, New York City

"I grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, it was basically a war zone back in the 90s. Our ED (Department of Education) created this organization, a great opportunity for youth coming out of these communities. I went through the program about ten years ago, I became an assistant supervisor, then a supervisor, a project manager and now a Director. Just coming full circle has been great." - Joshua Owens, Director, Social Enteprises.

WT: Tell us about GCF, and what you are doing there.

Joshua Owens: (Apologies for the background noise, I’m in the field, just walking away from one of our sites.)

Green City Force is a job training program for young adults from public housing, New York City Housing Authority.

We train youth from ages 18 through 24 in sustainability work for about six to eleven months. We build local farms to support the accessibility to food in these communities. In some of these communities we teach early childhood education, and instruction towards healthy eating, we provide fresh produce. We do energy work across the city with union electricians. We do conservation work, solar panels, HVAC work, and tonnes of work around sustainability. We have to gain their interest; if they graduate, we get them to work with our employer partners, or we give them money towards college or trade school, whatever they are interested in.

I direct the Social Enterprise which is another program after graduation. It’s pretty much another company, within the company. It’s an active staffing agency, where we hire graduates from the program, to get more hands-on experience with me in the field across the city contracts I have going.

Usually, I direct three to four contracts throughout the year across the different fields of work. I employ graduates to work with me, to give them more experience. If they have interest (in a certain type of work) I’m hoping to get them roles within those fields. We have been successful in sending our graduates into the unions: electricians apprenticeship training, plumber training, and union bricklayer training. I have created project managers, just by working side by side with me. They come to Social Enterprise to get more experience, to get better wages, we pay from seventeen up to thirty dollars an hour.

WT: This is just fantastic! Essentially you are training young folks, inner city folks to work for a more sustainable future, whether its renewable energy, whether it’s gardening. I see a fantastic bunch of numbers on your web site: 81% overall graduation rate, 603 graduates, and 83% get placement in jobs. There is a fantastic amount of food delivered as well. How does someone find out about you, and how do they sign up to get involved in the program?

Owens: Usually we do about two cycles per year to get members into our program. Right now, we are looking to get about 60-70 people into each cohort. I don’t manage the direct program anymore, so I can’t report on the specifics of the training program.

We do have successful graduates. Our placement rates have been pretty good, a lot of times they get into direct jobs with me, with stable employment and good hourly wages, and connections to the partners I know.

Outreach, we do around the public housing, New York Housing Authority.

We do information sessions within the communities, in-person and via Zoom. We post the neighbourhoods, and anyone can apply on our website. We leverage other contacts in neighbourhoods to get messaging out.

We are looking to build more Eco-Hubs, these are five farm sites activating as a beacon of sustainability. It’s not just about urban farming, we have solar panels on our farm, we have compost systems, and we collect food scraps from the residents and turn that right back into soil for food across the communities. We are looking to build five more within the next five years, to have ten Eco-hubs in NYC.

WT: When you talk about Eco-hubs, this is an inner-city farm, is it? Are you looking to take this outside of New York? I see you are in Flushing Meadows, where are you hoping to go with this, in NYC?

Owens: Yes, sustainable urban farm. Right now, we are only based in NYC. I am only a director, I have a vision within my department, but we can’t move anything without our board of directors (in agreement). We’ve been working to make Green City Force bigger, to get more people involved, more youth involved. I do agree, there should be a policy toward work outside NYC. I think our ED and our board do want to shift what’s there, and make (expansion) moves, we just have to make the connections to do that.

WT: Where does the money come from to do this? Do the people sign up for free, or you pay them by the hour?

Owens: In my part, Social Enterprise we are a separate entity, and we pay hourly wages. When they go directly to the program as members, we are federally funded, we get funding from grants, from donations. The members coming in get about $900 to 1000 dollars, twice a month, on the 15th and the end of the month. And money toward college when they graduate.

WT: Why did you start this?

Owens: Our ED started this to support the minorities within some of these communities.I don’t know if you are familiar with NYC Housing, but the statistics against is not the best. I grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, it was basically a war zone back in the 90s. Our ED created this organization, a great opportunity for youth coming out of these communities. I went through the program about ten years ago, I became an assistant supervisor, to a supervisor to a project manager and now a Director. Just coming full circle has been great. It’s given us a different platform to look at. I got a chance 10 yrs. ago, I didn’t know anything about sustainability, but I know a little bit about global warming. I think this (program) was key to me learning about this, there are so many avenues to take within (sustainability), across multiple fields. It’s been great.

WT: What does the future look like for you, what are you going to do next?

Owens: I’m not 100% sure, I’m just turned thirty, and I’m still searching for what’s next. I have a lot of relationships across the city, I have a lot of experience. I have managed work across 120 housing communities in the last seven years, we have completed work in 70 thousand apartments, and energy conservation work. There is not much within NYC we haven’t been to.

WT: Can I give your email out directly to our viewers, for people that want to get in contact with you? Also the website, https://greencityforce.org

Owens: Yeah, that would be great. joshua@greencityforce.org

WT: Thank you for this, huge respect for what do.

Owens: Thank you for reaching out to us.

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