Spotlight On ~ Green Opportunities
Story by Leah Shapiro | Photos courtesy of Green Opportunities
Nonprofit organizations throughout Asheville and the surrounding area nourish the people within our communities, caring for those in need, protecting our historic heritage, educating young and old, and nurturing our cultural soul. Each month, The Laurel is bringing to our readers some of the stories behind these agencies. This month, the “spotlight” is on Green Opportunities.
With their green collar training program and job placement resources, Green Opportunities (GO) not only improves the health of the earth, but also helps individuals gain technical and life skills, addressing the economic practicality of green-forward thinking.
In 2008, Dan Leroy approached the WNC Green Building Council with an idea for an organization that would train and hire young people for building performance jobs. The council put him in contact with DeWayne Barton who had a similar idea. After attending the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” Conference in Pittsburgh, the two initiated a pilot project at Mount Carmel Baptist Church that recruited and employed young people from the neighborhood to provide weatherization and reduce the church’s energy consumption. GO continued to grow and now includes programs for older and younger members.
Today, the organization offers several programs that provide specialized career training and personal development assistance to its members who face employment barriers. The GO Training Team (GOTT) is a pre-apprenticeship program of service projects for low-income and unemployed young adults aged 18 to 24. GOTT is a 16-week paid program in which members take part in community improvement projects and then select an apprenticeship in a promising field like green construction, clean energy, recycling, and sustainable agriculture. During this time, they gain basic job-readiness skills and can even complete coursework through AB Tech.
“All the training this group does happens on real projects that impact the community,” explains Dan. “They had to be really hands on and, ideally, impact the communities where the members are from.”
Kelvin Bonilla graduated from GOTT in fall of 2009. He now works for the Weatherization Assistance Training Team (WATT), one of the GO Energy Team services. “Green Opportunities has been a life-changing opportunity for me …. I just felt like I needed to do something better, not only for myself but for other people in my community,” he explains. “Now I can say that working in the weatherization industry is not only a job but more of a career for me.”
GO Energy Team members earn certifications in building performance, water conservation, and construction energy efficiency, making them skilled and thus employable. Although many companies support the mission of GO, hiring practices do not always support the same values as the institution. “We are trying to work in partnership with [companies] to make their hiring practices work a little better for these communities,” explains DeWayne. “[GO] is a unique opportunity to get people in the front who have been historically left behind and have them hold their positions as things develop rapidly.” Companies can hire labor crews or directly hire members for jobs ranging from comprehensive energy audits to rain barrel installation. The twelve-week-long GO
Kitchen-Ready program was recently launched to prepare adults for food service employment, which is a huge opportunity in Asheville.
Fortunately, business owners who are in the position to hire GO members quickly see the benefit for all involved. Andrea DuVall, co-owner of Mother Earth Produce, hired Miguel Newsome to help her with agricultural work through GO. “I cannot begin to express our gratitude at working with Miguel. He is not just an employee of Mother Earth, he is a part of our family,” she says.
GO itself is like a family, with programs for every age group. With DeWayne’s “Hood Huggers International” program, youth (elementary to high school age) are getting involved with the environmental initiatives in their community. “We can be a lot more effective if we get them earlier,” says DeWayne. Adults can be a part of the GO Kitchen-Ready or GO Forward team, which is currently renovating the W.C. Reid Center as a green jobs training and education center.
“Most people won’t give a felon a chance. [GO] gives people with criminal backgrounds a chance to know that they’re not forgotten in the world,” says Karim Johnson.
Jasmine Middleton who was a member of the Water Conservation Team and is now a GO receptionist adds, “We do a lot of things that other people are scared to do. Simple as that.”