Each year, up to 45 Chicago residents receive hands-on training in the environmental industry through Greencorps Chicago. Crew members gain experience and preparedness for careers in horticulture, urban agriculture, tree care, landscaping, carpentry, ecological restoration and more. Through the nine-month paid program, participants work at a variety sites including locations within the Chicago Park District, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and other community partners.
“There are many benefits of working with a variety of project partners. The primary goal we are looking to achieve by having a mix of projects is to expose Greencorps participants to a diversity of work experiences,” explains Edde Jones, program director with the Chicago Department of Transportation. Working at different locations gives a potential employer confidence that the individual can attend to the specific needs of any project or client. It is also a great opportunity to expose participants to areas of the parks, forest preserves, and state recreational areas that they may have never ventured into.
“The Forest Preserves have been working with Greencorps crews since 2011, and it’s been a great partnership,” says Alice Brandon, resource programming manager with the Forest Preserves. “We’ve had crews work at more than 50 sites in the Forest Preserves, preforming work like prescribed burns, invasive species management and seed collecting. Recently, Greencorps Chicago crew members were instrumental in the shrub-planting project at LaBagh Woods.”
This season, the Forest Preserves connected Greencorps Chicago with Chicago Botanic Garden. Over a four-day period, each program participant spent time on site learning from Garden staff.
“The Forest Preserves was really interested in making the connection between Chicago Botanic Garden and Greencorps Chicago,” says Brandon. “It was a great opportunity to expose Greencorps members to the type of work involved at this type of institution, and for many Greencorps members, this was their first time at Chicago Botanic Garden.”
According to Tim Johnson, senior director of horticulture for Chicago Botanic Garden, the Greencorps Chicago crews primarily spent their time planting trees throughout the grounds, as well as meeting with various staff to learn about their experiences and tour the Garden.
The experience with Greencorps Chicago was positive and one the Garden hopes happens again, says Johnson.
“For one thing, we’re [Chicago Botanic Garden] trying to generate interest for young people to get into the green industry and horticulture, so this fulfills one of our missions to encourage and show others some of the opportunities of what’s out there. Additionally, it was great to have additional help. It was a nice boost; the crew was truly helpful, they were hardworking and did great work.”
In addition to transferrable job skills, the program, which is run by the City of Chicago’s Department of Transportation in partnership with WRD Environmental, provides crew members a number of professional certifications such as OHSA and HAZWOPER.
While the hands-on job and skills training provides an excellent foundation for Greencorps Chicago members, participants also benefit from social services. Outplacement specialists work with crew members to help identify post-program job placement. Over the past five years, Greencorps has averaged a 75-80% placement rate with 80% or more of the placements being in a field of training, indicating strong success for the program.
“Having employers who are happy with the skill level and professionalism of graduates they hire and are willing to reach out to us whenever a new contract needs to be staffed is also a measure of success. More visible but often left out of the metrics for success is the completed projects for our partners,” says Jones. “There is a level of pride in knowing that Greencorps is helping the FPCC meet restoration goals or that the trees and shrubs planted for the Bird Conservation Network assist in the effort to provide additional habitat.”
To learn more about Greencorps Chicago, visit greencorpschicago.org.