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National Wildlife Federation Helping to Build UP Birmingham

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By Jacqueline Gray Miller

With the shadow of a 100-year-old church building as shade, Build UP students are organizing their next boot camp, A Green Summer Work Experience. For the next three weeks – July 13 through August 1 – the entrepreneurial-minded teenagers are building up their Ensley neighborhood.

“We’ll start at eight each morning and you’ll set your schedule for the remainder of the day. Let’s work in pairs to cover as much ground as possible,” said Mark Martin to students and parents. Martin is the founder and CEO of Build UP, which stands for Build Urban Prosperity.

Based in Birmingham, Build UP is the nation’s first and only early-college workforce development model that provides low-income youth with career-ready skills through paid apprenticeships with industry-aligned secondary and postsecondary academic coursework, leading them to become educated, credentialed, and empowered civic leaders, professionals, homeowners and landlords.

“This apprenticeship wage over the next three weeks is the largest opportunity yet. The best part is, you get to determine your schedule and how fast you want to get the job done,” Martin said to students and parents in person and others joining via Facebook Live.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest conservation organization, is also investing in the Green Summer Work Experience in Birmingham. “It’s clear to us this program, and these students, are making a tangible difference. As a result, we’re using grant funding to cover the costs associated with their paid apprenticeships,” said Simone Lightfoot national director of urban initiatives and environmental justice for the National Wildlife Federation. “Further, this particular project aligns with our priorities. Creating green jobs, internship opportunities and green professional development skills for Birmingham residents to include youth, young adults, and returning citizens,” said Lightfoot.

To effectively create direct opportunities for Birmingham residents and local partners, Birmingham City Councilor John Hilliard laid the foundation for the NWF and Build UP partnership over a year. “Like Birmingham, municipalities throughout our region are grappling with the cost of the investments needed to make our communities more sustainable,” said Hilliard. “This partnership directly addresses those concerns at home. Specifically, in Ensley.

This three-week boot camp is a high yield, short-term project. However, the long-term invest in each one of these students is yet to be measured. Just imagine what each student can do and become with this hands-on blend of academic and occupational instruction. The best part, Build UP is one of many dedicated partners,” said Hilliard.

Councilor Hilliard has also secured NWF grant funds for the East Thomas Neighborhood Association, Ensley Reimagined, Slade Land Use, Environmental and Transportation Planning, LLC, Pneuma Gallery, and the Village Creek Human & Environmental Justice Society, Inc. So far, the total investment through the NWF urban initiatives and environmental justice program in Birmingham is $50,000.

Many of the nation’s greatest environmental challenges and opportunities are found in urban centers. From increasing air and water quality, to updating housing and transportation infrastructure, the opportunities are endless to improve the environments where people live. The National Wildlife Federation is committed to addressing the priorities of urban communities. To learn more, visit www.nwf.org

Simone Lightfoot serves as the national director of urban initiatives and environmental justice for the National Wildlife Federation. She oversees the organization’s Birmingham grant efforts and can be reached at (313) 585-1052 or lightfoots@nwf.org