By Simone Lightfoot and Jacqueline Gray Miller
It’s that time of year again when Build UP students prepare for their summer green work experience with the National Wildlife Federation. For the next three weeks – July 19 through August 6 – the entrepreneurial-minded teenagers are building up, beautifying, and providing environmental stewardship in District 9.
“We will provide up to twelve youth the opportunity to learn about safety, maintenance, and how to use the equipment as well as hands-on experience in the outdoors. This apprenticeship over the next three weeks is a great opportunity for young people to learn and earn”, said Gerrel Jones, executive director of Pneuma Gallery Incorporated. Jones will manage the project and work with Dr. Mark Martin, 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.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), America’s largest conservation organization, is providing this opportunity through its Environmental Justice Program. “It was clear day one and has been affirmed now in year two that this program, and these students, are making a tangible difference. As a result, we will provide grant funding to cover the costs associated with their paid apprenticeships,” said Simone Lightfoot, associate vice president of environmental justice and climate justice for the National Wildlife Federation. “Further, this particular project not only aligns with our priorities but helps drive them. Creating green jobs, internship opportunities, and green professional development skills for Birmingham residents to include youth, young adults, and returning citizens has become a model for other urban centers,” said Lightfoot.
To effectively create direct opportunities for Birmingham residents and local partners, Birmingham City Councilor John R. Hilliard laid the foundation for the NWF and Build UP partnership over two years. “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 continues to directly address those concerns at home. Specifically, in Ensley. This three-week boot camp is a high-yield, short-term project. However, the long-term investment 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 new funding from NWF for the Planning, Engineering, and Permits department focused on natural hazards and flooding and secured the second year of 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 environmental justice program in Birmingham has been over $70,000.
Exposing young people to environmental challenges and career opportunities that provide solutions for air and water quality, updating housing, public health, water, and infrastructure means exposing them to opportunities that are endless while improving the environment and where people live. The National Wildlife Federation is committed to addressing the environmental justice priorities of communities.
To learn more, visit www.nwf.org.