Green Corps/ City of Trees FAQ
Parks & People’s central program, the DC Green Corps, which uses parks as a base of countering poverty and environmental injustice, is the subject of a feature-length documentary film airing nationwide on PBS (except in DC) on April 19th, and then streaming live on the America Reframed website for the next 90 days. The penetrating and powerful 76-minute Meridian Hill Pictures production is drawn from more than 300 hours of footage shot over the course of five years. Presented without narration in the cinema verite style, the film both raises important questions and, for the purpose of the narrative, leaves out much of the wider story and context of Parks & People’s work. Here are answers to a few key questions prompted by the film:
1. Did Parks & People continue the DC Green Corps program after the stimulus grant expired?
Yes. The Green Corps never stopped and continues to strengthen, with one of our graduates now serving as the manager of the program. Since the fourth cohort of the 2012 period depicted in the City of Trees film, we have graduated eight more cohorts. A total of 173 people in 12 cohorts have now completed the full adult job training and readiness program, and thousands of youth have now connected with the youth component of the Corps. The DC Green Corps is a member of The Corps Network and is a certified part of the President’s 21st Century Conservation Corps.
2. Did the trainees featured in the film get jobs?
Yes, all three of those portrayed in the film found jobs. Over 70% of Green Corps alumni have found follow-on jobs, contracts, and education within 90 days of graduating. They are working in urban forestry, landscaping, park revitalization, urban agriculture, green infrastructure, and a wide range of other trades. However, lasting employment remains a tough challenge for many who still face overwhelming discrimination and other hurdles. To address these challenges, Parks & People is seeking to provide follow-on training, certification, and contract/ placement opportunities for all interested graduates.
3. How did Parks & People sustain Green Corps after Congress terminated the stimulus?
While Congress abruptly halted plans for Phase II of the economic stimulus, Parks & People has been able to continue and deepen the program through a combination of grants, contributions, contracts, and partner support. Parks & People also owns and operates a community-based social enterprise at the Josephine Butler Parks Center, a once vacant property that we named after our late chair, a celebrated DC community activist, and then transformed into a community partnership hub known as the “embassy of the Earth” that has become one of DC’s top event venues. The income from this site now covers all of the organization’s core carrying costs and some of the costs of the Green Corps and other initiatives. This means that every penny given to the Green Corps program goes entirely to our impacts on the ground and in people’s lives. You can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Green Corps program here.
4. How does Parks & People engage the community in its work?
All of Parks & People’s work, spanning 26 years of impact by well over 150,000 participants helping more than 230 diverse neighborhood green spaces across DC, is shaped by community needs, dreams, and strengths. We have been embedded in Far Northeast DC, where our headquarters is located, for over 15 years. We have found that community residents are the best experts for what needs to happen in the parks, and every park improvement or program begins with listening to the dreams of the youth and the memories of the elders. This is how the community created the Down by the Riverside campaign for what is now called Marvin Gaye Park. That has become the largest community-based park revitalization in DC history.
5. Are Green Corps grads allowed to continue with Parks & People after they graduate?
Yes. Many graduates continue with us in jobs, contracts, partner referrals, and ongoing training and leadership development. Parks & People stays in touch with all interested graduates through the Green Corps network, which helps Corps members support each other in all kinds of ways. Follow-up can be tough, as graduates still face many hurdles, sometimes move frequently, and change phone numbers. Parks & People is now seeking funding to expand our follow-on support for all members of the Corps.
6. Does the program have any wider impact beyond the individual trainees?
Absolutely. We have discovered that advancing environmental justice in under-served neighborhoods can have broad and profound impacts on public health, youth development, civic empowerment, crime and violence reduction, cultural understanding, and even many of the core structural causes of poverty. Our analysis found 20 different underpinnings of entrenched poverty that neighborhood green space transformation can help communities address.
7. How did Parks & People and the Green Corps begin? How has the program evolved?
Parks & People began in 1990 as a non-violent, interracial community crime patrol, trying to help stop the killing in what was then the most homicidal part of the murder capital of the US. We sought to use the power of community and nature to counter violence, ultimately cutting crime over 99% in what had been the most crime-ridden national park in the capital region. We then began to seek ways for the parks to provide jobs as an alternative to the drug economy. In 2007, we worked with the Department of the Environment to develop a teen summer environmental job readiness program in the parks. In 2009, we applied for and won a major federal stimulus grant from the US Forest Service to pilot the adult Green Corps program. Today, with a diversified mix of funding and partners, the Corps is becoming a lasting inter-generational community job readiness, leadership, and service program. Now we are seeking to expand it into a community-based green enterprise and contracting program as well.
8. What lessons has Parks & People learned from the Green Corps program?
Through a transparent process of testing and being willing to make mistakes and learn, we have continually refined the program. Here are some key lessons thus far:
- Racial bias and inequity remain deeply entrenched in our society.
- The criminal justice system is deepening, not alleviating, inequity.
- Absent common job standards for gateway green jobs, discrimination is rampant.
- Parks can be either an immense obstacle or a strong, lasting base of a better life.
- People who need the parks the most often have the most to give back.
- When people are ready to make a change in their lives, they can do anything.
- Setting high work standards actually reduces attrition. People want to excel.
- The best teachers are the trainees themselves, who have amazing life lessons.
- Thinking inside hurts community learning, health, safety, jobs, justice, and life.
- Thinking outside can transform nearly every challenge facing urban communities.
9. Is the green economy generating the kind of lifeline that was anticipated?
Not yet. In addition to the problems resulting from discrimination, our city is still profoundly disinvesting in the environment around us, despite all evidence that it is absolutely pivotal for every aspect of our lives. Of 1,100 foundations based in the DC region, fewer than a dozen give to parks. The entire budget of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation is less than 0.5% of the total DC operating budget. Yet, with the right investment and partnerships, there is emerging evidence that parks can:
- prevent crime in ways that most prisons cannot;
- advance health and disease prevention in ways that emergency rooms cannot;
- ground learning through expeditionary discovery in ways that classrooms cannot;
- ensure safe positive play in ways that indoor recreation centers cannot;
- advance accessible, affordable fitness in ways that most gyms cannot;
- generate fresh, healthy, tasty, accessible food that grocery stores cannot;
- ground-truth public policy in ways that windowless hearing rooms cannot.
- Parks & People is working to help both expand the local green economy and to boost opportunities for Green Corps graduates to work in it.
10. What is the future of the Green Corps?
The Corps is now at the center of everything that Parks & People does — all our staffing decisions, partnerships, and programming. We see several opportunities to deepen its impact:
- Create modular trainings for specific jobs, such as stormwater mitigation.
- Partner with DC Public Schools to strengthen park-based service and learning.
- Link into the DC Clean Rivers program and other green infrastructure efforts.
- Develop community-based green contracting enterprise.
- Implement entry-level certifications to create a reliable green job pipeline for all.
- Require public land contracts in DC to hire DC residents.
- Continue moving Green Corps grads into leadership tracks.
- Help other communities learn from the lessons of the Green Corps.
Additional questions for reflection and action:
Why does the greenest city in North America invest so little in community green spaces?
Why do we invest more in inside-based band-aids than outside-based prevention?
Why is it so hard for black community residents to get public land jobs and contracts?
Why does the US incarcerate more and hire fewer offenders than all other nations?
Why is bias, discrimination, and inequity still so deeply embedded in America?
Why does the media highlight negative innercity conflicts over community collaboration?
How can we strengthen and replicate the DC Green Corps as a national model?