A Flourishing Youth Green Team (cont’d)

This is a continuation of an article by urban forest coordinator, robert cloy, partially published in our fall 2020 print newsletter.

The City of Grand Rapids has a goal to increase its tree canopy coverage from 34 to 40 percent. To do our part in working toward this goal, Friends not only plants trees, but also ensures they are watered and well-maintained for two years.

To increase our capacity to fulfill this commitment, Friends piloted its first Green Team this summer. The 8-week youth employment program was modeled after the Greening of Detroit’s “Green Corps Kids”.

Our objectives were to:

  • Hire local youth ages 16-24 to assist in watering and basic maintenance of trees. Four local youth were recommended through our partnership with Lisa Knight and Urban League.
  • Have the team work 15 hours a week to earn a paycheck, connect with the community, and learn about urban forestry
  • Offer workshops with partner organizations for the youth to learn about things like foraging, urban agriculture, wild plant identification, and budgeting
  • Provide youth with refurbished bikes from partner Switchback Gear Exchange for work use

Each morning, Tuesday through Friday, the Green Team team met our Urban Forest staff at Roosevelt Park. From there, the Green Team rode bikes to the worksite, while a staff member drove the truck with watering equipment.

Our worksites were spread throughout DGRI’s downtown footprint, the Uptown Business District, and 11 streets of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood which received trees through the 2019 Mayor’s Greening Initiative.

Throughout the summer we provided an average of 200 trees per week with 10 gallons of water. By the end of the season, we were able to water 1,200 trees, engage youth in reclaiming green spaces and help them realize their ability to positively impact our community.

continued from print newsletter…

The work program ended the week of August 21, roughly 9 weeks after our first day. While reflecting with the youth during our exit interviews, we received feedback on their experience and 3 of the youth workers expressed interest in returning for a second season.

To gauge their understanding on “green” topics we had the youth complete a scaled survey at the beginning and again at the ending of the job program – during the exit interview, all of their responses showed a greater understanding of the topics at the end of 9 weeks.

During the duration of the job the youth showed a sustained interest in learning about the trees around them, as well as exploring their role in the community. A Green Team can provide an opportunity for local youth to build skills and get exposed to an expanding green job industry, while also caring for their community. Friends now has the opportunity to learn from this experience and build on it to create a program for next season that is greater in capacity.

This first-year program was a success! We were able to engage youth in reclaiming their green space and actively helped them internalize that they all have the ability to positively impact the community around them. 

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