In the borough where the unemployment rate hovers around 12.3 percent—the highest in the state–“green-collar” jobs in heating, cooling, and window retrofitting are still experiencing modest growth. That’s due in large part to 2010 federal stimulus money earmarked particularly for the environmentally friendly industries, according to the Hunts Point-based Sustainable South Bronx advocacy group.
“We are at 70 to 75 percent of people getting jobs,” said Annette Williams, training director at Sustainable South Bronx. “Within the last month, we have gotten 13 people hired.”
Williams’ organization advocates environment-friendly solutions to the chronic joblessness endemic to the South Bronx. Eight years ago the group initiated a green jobs program that trains unemployed and low-income residents in building maintenance, urban forestry, landscaping and hazardous waste cleanup. In 2010, the organization received an extra $150,000 windfall from President Barack Obama’s $396 million federal green technology stimulus funds for New York State.
“It’s not saying everybody who needs jobs are going to get one,” Williams said. “But for our program and other organizations that I see and know about, people are being hired for the skills that we’re training them in and that’s good.”
Since 2003, 300 trainees have graduated from the 17-week program. Based on the three-year period of monitoring after graduation, more than a quarter of them are either “enrolled in higher education or employed,” said Rebecca Manski, a spokesperson of the organization.
Earlier this year, 29-year-old Tanesha Koonce graduated from the program and went on to work at APEX Engineering Inc.
Koonce’s success inspired her younger sister Kimberly Jones to sign up as well. Jones is part of the latest batch of 21 trainees who started the program on September 28. Of the 21 people enrolled, eight are women including Jones.
By January 2012, the 21-year-old single mother will be ready to take on the next green roof installation job, asbestos inspection and handling, or building air sealing and insulation.
The slightly-framed Bronx local, with neat hair bun and a shy smile, has been waking up at 6 a.m. every weekday over the past 10 weeks in order to make it to her training sessions. A single mom of a 2-year old, she needed enough time to drop off her child at a babysitter before heading to the classes. When the training was held in Long Island, she had to wake up at 4:30 a.m.
Jones said she does not mind the routine adding that she’s excited to come to school for the training. “I love doing hands-on work,” she said.
Each graduate is certified in each component, from handling hazardous waste to emergency response. They also receive training in storm water management, weatherization of houses and concrete installation.
When she lost her job as a manager of a laundry, Yolanda Regis, of Kingsbridge, decided to enroll as well, saying that at age 42, she needed to be financially independent. She said she is determined to finish the training and start anew.
“I’m very flexible and I am strong,” said Regis, referring to the physical requirement to lift 25 pounds. “If I put my mind to it I can do it.”
Regis said she was wants to learn how to seal and install new energy-efficient appliances.
The $8,010 tuition cost is fully subsidized by private grants. Participants also receive transportation support. To qualify for the training, participants must be 18-years-old or older and have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. They also have to be currently unemployed and considered low-income residents of New York to qualify for the tuition waiver.
They are required to commit five days each week for four months to finish the course. And as Williams said, trainees must have “the hunger and desire” to change their lives.
Most of the green jobs are traditionally for men, but more and more women are taking on the challenging skills.
“Women can do that kind of work,” Williams said. “We don’t have to be planting trees or sitting behind a desk taking notes or answering phones. We are able to get these skills embedded into us and able to do the same job a man can do.”
Attracted by the opportunity to get a more stable job, Anthony Maleton, a 35-year-old former delivery truck driver in the city decided to enroll. In his previous job, he did not receive bonus pay for overtime work. He said the program will not only give him a new set of skills, but also give him more flexibility with his schedule. He said he wants to be an asbestos inspector.
The state of New York has received a total of $396 million dollars in federal stimulus money for its green jobs program. The money is then distributed to different government agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Two years after its implementation more than 50 percent has been completed and an estimated 1,400 jobs have created, according to recovergy.gov, a U.S. government website which tracks stimulus spending.
The Sustainable South Bronx works with two other jobs training organizations to implement its program. Hunts Point, where the organization is located, is part of the South Bronx Congressional District 16, the poorest congressional district in the U.S. About 39 percent, or 269,136 of its residents live in poverty. The children in the community fare even worse with 52 percent under poverty rate, or 105, 153 children.
Some critics argued that President Obama’s green jobs program is not producing enough results to ease the national 8.6 percent unemployment rate, but Williams challenged those who oppose the initiative to visit South Bronx to see what residents go through every day.
“Come live in out shoes for a week, where you watch children have asthma in our community,” she said.
Williams said that at her office, every employment created through her program is a cause for celebration.
“It’s awesome to see that jobs are opening up,” said Williams. “They’re not opening up like they’re hiring thousands of people but they are opening up to people that are skilled in green jobs.”