Both Governor Rell and President Elect Obama are looking into green collar jobs as a way to help develop a sustainable economy. But a non-profit group in New Haven is way ahead of them. The Urban Resources Initiative is wrapping up an unusual program that trains New Haven teens to improve the city environment, and themselves.
It’s a damp Friday afternoon on a tree-lined street in the Westville section of New Haven. Most people are wrapping up their work week. But a group of teens from the Common Ground High School is just digging in.
“Do you think it’s wide enough?”
“I think it’s deep enough, probably not wide enough.”
Emily Alcott, a first year grad student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is supervising the work of two 15 year olds, Terrence Walker and Dimitri Lemonas.
“We need to go wider.”
“Let’s do it!”
The two young men stab their shovels into hard turf to make a hole big enough to hold the roots of a Kwanzan cherry, an ornamental tree with double pink blossom that can grow 25 feet high. Alison Schleifer whose house looks out on the tree, has been waiting a long time for the city to replace a Linden tree that died.
“They were going to and they were going to and they were going to, but this was 15-20 years ago. It never got planted. “
But now it is. Working with the Urban Resources Initiative Schleifer had a choice about the type of tree in exchange for promising to take care of it. A grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is paying the Yale interns and the high school students. The City of New Haven pays for the trees.
“Why don't we move it that way?”
“Well, no look cause it’s curvy.”
Russell Bedard and Dahiana Baez, both high school juniors, are trying to make sure a second cherry tree isn’t tilted when it’s placed in the ground. The group been planting trees for nine weeks. Yale grad student Emily Alcott says the teens have learned a lot.
“The first tree we planted it took a couple of hours. It was very much the graduate school interns telling them step by step what they had to do. Then week by week we try to step back more and more and get them to take a leadership role in planting the trees.”
“It’s like putting a statue there”
For 18 year old Russell Bedard tree-planting gives him a sense of pride.
“I just like knowing I’ve completed it and it's there . I did this with a bunch of other people.”
Building a sense of confidence is one of the goals of the program. The students earn a certificate and a letter of recommendation from Yale. Colleen Murphy Dunning, Director of Urban Resources Initiative says the students get something else not normally available to New Haven teens.
“There’s jobs at Walmart. There’s jobs at McDonalds, but there’s not meaningful jobs like this for youth. I think that’s terribly important for their character building and their ideas for their future.”
“I’m getting ready to cut the bolt wires”
Terrence walker is crouching next to the base of the tree where wires are wrapped around the roots.
“When you plant a tree you have got to take them out or else the roots could cut themselves as they grow out.”
Walker has learned his way around trees and he’s liking it.
“I wouldn’t mind having a job like this when I get out of school.”
“It’s good. It's fun we help the community be better with planting trees and the environment.”
By Dimitri Lemonas’ count the group has planted about 40 trees or so. He finishes up by watering and banging in wooden stakes, which protect the young trees from car doors.
“What do you think guys? Looks good. Yeah!”
The Kwanzan cherry is a hardy tree, kind of like these students, who could return years from now to admire the trees and measure their mark on the world.
Check out pictures on WNPR's Flickr site.