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April 21, 2024 16 mins
Green City Force is an AmeriCorps program that prepares young adults who reside in New York City Housing (NYCHA), or low-income housing in NYC for careers through Green Service.  Our guest is Executive Director Tonya Gayle, who has spent her career in non-profit organizations focused on economic justice for young people of color.  For more, visit GreenCityForce.Org.
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(00:02):
Welcome to get connected with Nina delRio, a weekly conversation about fitness,
health and happenings in our community onone oh six point seven light FM.
Good morning, and thanks for listeningto get connected with Earth Day tomorrow.
So today I'm really pleased to spotlightGreen City Force, an AmeriCorps program that
prepares young adults who reside in NewYork City housing or low income housing in

(00:26):
New York City for careers through greenService. Our guest is Green City Force
Executive director Tanya Gail. Thank youfor being on the show. Happy to
be here. Happy Earth Month,almost Earth Day. It should be a
month, right, it should bemore than just Today month. It is
a month. Green Sitay Force.Every day is Earth Month. But anyway,
you can find out more about theorganization at Greencityforce dot org. Green

(00:48):
City Force, As I mentioned Tanya, it's an AmeriCorps service and training program
from college I remember. AmeriCorps isalways been described as kind of the domestic
version of the Peace Corps. Exactly, exactly. Yeah. The slightly different
model that we have is that istrue, but rather than being deployed to
another country and another land, thefolks that are American citizens are not only
serving in America, but they're servingin communities very similar or actual communities that

(01:12):
they come from themselves. So localfolks start serving. I want to talk
a little bit about the history beforewe get into what's going on in the
city specifically. So America was establishedby the Clinton administration in nineteen ninety one,
When was Green City Force established?Can you talk about its local history
and how it's grown. Sure,we started in two thousand and nine when

(01:33):
there was an anticipation of a hugeboom of green jobs all like this current
time, and our co founder andthe original ed saw a perfect combination of
dual impacts by looking at the unemploymentneeds of low income New Yorker young adults
and looking at the climate challenges ofthe densely populated public housing communities that are

(01:55):
in New York City. And soGreen City Force evolved out of that sort
of anticipation of opportunities for careers understandingthat there is huge environmental impact and that
in this contemplative space there was anopportunity for a movement of significant change that
was positive for folks. And howdoes the work of Green City Force now
in New York City connect to theadministration's interest in an American Climate Core.

(02:20):
We describe ourselves as Nicha's Civilian ClimateCore and very much view our work as
well as our colleagues at over onehundred and fifty other cores nationally, as
the best in class model of whatshould be built upon. In the ACC,
we were referencing one of the phonecalls around the listening tour for the
ACC as again Nicha's Civilian Climate Coreas well as part of a network called

(02:45):
the North Core network that works withlots of folks doing this work. So
we want to build on that.We have more opportunities for people nationally when
I want everybody to have an opportunityto serve and have a career tract through
service training. So Greenforce in thecity, where is it active? Which
areas of the city or niser properties, happy to say we're in all five
borrows. We physically have what wecall ecohubs, which are large scale urban

(03:08):
farms in each of the five borrowsacross New York City in Nischa public housing,
and then our graduates are working invarious roles all over the city,
not specific to low income housing.Our headquarters technically is in Brooklyn, but
literally dr all over the city everyday. So I became aware of Green
City Force, like probably so manypeople, through an article in the New

(03:30):
York Times in January about one ofyour city farmers, Haquem Jeffrey, who
crossed paths with representative of Kim Jeffries. It was kind of a nice little
human interest story. As the youngerHakeem tells it, he joined. Before
he joined at eighteen, he wasjust kind of thinking of his days as
killing time. He's now twenty four. He works at five Developments. He
loves it. He found out aboutthe program because his mother gave him a

(03:53):
flyer. How does the average personcome to you? How long do they
work with you? What's the sortof the trajectory. So the first part
of the Entry to our program isa full time six month comm commitment.
So when you're in our service Corps, you come for us five days a
week six months. You're spending fourout of five days roughly out in service

(04:15):
giving the community, building farms,growing foods, learning about energy, et
cetera. And one day out ofthat week you're building your professional skills and
something we call Green City Academy Classroomprofessional development certifications, professional resume building,
et cetera. Power skills. Afterthat first six months, you become a
graduate and part of the GCF communityfor life. So whether that means we're

(04:38):
helping you to get a job rightaway within six months with one of our
employer partners, whether that means you'regonna come back and work with us as
a second term, more advanced seasonservice member for ten months. It could
mean that you're going to go toschool and maybe just stay part of the
community through social and other interactions.You might be a staff member. About
a third of our graduates at anygiven our actual staff, and then we

(05:01):
have something called the Social Enterprise wherewe get contracts and will hire graduates for
a set periods of time for particularprojects tied to environmental and sustainable solutions.
So our folks are with us originallyfor six months and then ideally forever.
We have about seven hundred graduates outthere and love for them to come back
at various points throughout the year throughengagement and or workforce training and up skilling.

(05:28):
We're speaking with Tanya Gale. She'sexecutive director of Green City Force.
Prior to joining GCF, Tanya servedin public private partnerships at the New York
City Housing Authority and the Sponsors forEducational Opportunity Career program. She spent most
of her career in nonprofit organizations focusedon economic justice for young people of color.
You can find out more about GreenCity Force at Greencityforce dot org.

(05:49):
You're listening to get connected on oneO six point seven light FM. I'm
Na del Rio. I'd like totalk more about what members do. But
in general, you've been doing thiswork a long time. I feel like
there is a lot of momentum goingtowards green jobs and people paying attention to
environmental justice and economic justice, butyou are still on the ground. I

(06:10):
assume competing for funding and trying toget attention in a city and a country
for that matter, that there's somany things that require attention, Right,
what are your biggest challenges? Ourbiggest challenge, to your point, is
having multiple year investment that can allowus to really deliver on an aspiration of

(06:33):
systems change. Right. We don'twant just one person to have a transformative
opportunity through our work. We wantto be connected to the nation really and
being aligned, and that means likeyou can have a commitment to serving X
number of people. But if youdon't have the dedicated, ongoing investment that
you can count on, it's hardto be ambitious and to grow. So

(06:55):
we have a strategic plan right nowfor three years of growth, but within
that to be success, we needto have a locked in insurance that we
can actually deliver on what we're committingto try to roll out. That is
one of the biggest issues, andit also ties to the economic piece because
we are paying people to be trained, but when they're in their six months

(07:15):
with us, they're getting trained throughservice. They're not in a job,
they're in a service term and so. But they're low income people, so
they need to have liberal wages.So we're really always struggling with trying to
have balance enough support to actually allowfolks to take advantage of opportunities to grow
and improve and do it in aviable way. As you mentioned, members,

(07:39):
in that first six months, certainlythey receive a stipend for their work
to kind of keep them going.I believe they get free MetroCards, all
those things. What happens after thosefirst six months, or let me put
it this way, how many ofthose people that participate in the first six
months go on to continue in theprogram. Some of them might be like
this is I love it, butit may not be for me. Sure,
you know, prior to the pandemic, we had an average of eighty

(08:01):
percent of folks completing the program andthen being placed in either job or school
within six months, which is apretty strong rate. We don't expect everyone
in our program is going to havea lifelong career in a green job.
I will say that more and morethese days, most jobs are considered green
jobs, even ones that used tonot be. And so I always say

(08:22):
to the members in the community,you can, you know, walk in
chew gum. At the same time, you could be an incredible artistically oriented
writer or poet, or musician orperformer and still have a job in the
green field, whether it's environmental education, community outreach, culture building, solar
installation, et cetera. So Itry to say, you know, no

(08:45):
eighteen to twenty four year old shouldonly have one plan for their life.
We want folks to have the opportunityto be offered the jobs we know that
are out there, and we wantthem to be qualified and competitive for those
jobs so that they can have choicein their economic mobility in their direction.
Many folks want to go to school. They might go to school later,

(09:07):
they might go to school part time. They might have a need in the
short term to have employment while thinkingabout school, or maybe they'll get a
job and then want to go intoan environmental academic career, or like one
of our graduates from a million yearsago is the famous television producer right now.
We love that. We love that. We want people to have opportunity
to be their best selves and tothrive, and to be aware of the

(09:28):
environmental harms that affect their communities andhow they can be part of a solution.
And how do you help graduates getto that next step and find a
job. That's a whole other thing. So the whole part of the six
months is preparing them to understand what'spossible, what's available, and what skills
they're learning now that prepare them,and what else they can do to be
ready. So we have a teamwithin our staff that is strictly tied to

(09:52):
career services. Their work is toprepare folks for their next step, whether
that be school, work, etcetera. We have folks within our staff
who are dedicated point people to goout and find good employers so that we
have career fairs for the members,and we say here's what's coming. Here
are the opportunities before you. Hereare the people that understand the reputation of

(10:13):
Green to be forced and want tomeet you because we know this experience is
positioning you to be competitive for thesegreat opportunities. Which is very intentional about
putting before folks opportunities. And wetry to bring graduates who are role models,
who are doing the work so thatthey can see themselves in what could
happen as the next chapter. Tome, this sounds like this would be
a very competitive program to get into, is it. The truth is,

(10:37):
it's only competitive if you aren't ina place where you can push your boundaries
and be willing to go outside yourcomfort zone. If you're eighteen to twenty
four years old and you have completedhigh school, that is a barrier for
some folks will accept a high schooldegree or equivalency. But if you have

(10:58):
that and you're eighteen to twenty fourand you live in low income communities in
New York City, you're eligible toapply, and there are steps to the
process, But it's really about likeAre you open to feedback, Are you
willing to try new things that youhaven't considered before. Are you willing to
take a chance on trying something differentto have an opportunity, And if that's

(11:20):
a mindset that you're in, thenyou will be very competitive for the program.
The truth does a lot of folkshave barriers in their lives that keep
them from being available, whether theyhave family commitments, health challenges, other
priorities that they in the short termneed to be thinking about. So not
everyone is always ready when we havean opportunity. Sometimes people start the process

(11:41):
and their life isn't a place whereit's not right for them, and they
may come back a year or twolater when it is We welcome back.
So you know, we are inclusiveof court involved people. You know,
we really want the people most historicallyleft out an opportunity to have a chance
to drive. So we do whateverwe can within our legal requirements and Americorp
policies to make sure that folks havean opportunity. Just briefly about the communities

(12:07):
that you serve, I mean,this is also designed to offer opportunity and
fresh food to people who live inNicha housing and low income communities. I
do know the produce grown through GreenCity Force is available to public housing residents
with a little fair trade of volunteeringor compost. We know there are food
deserts in New York, but italso is I think of these studies have

(12:30):
shown that just putting fresh food ina neighborhood doesn't mean people will buy.
It doesn't mean it impacts people's choices. Have you seen this program? I
mean, how have you seen it? Because you're giving the food away impact
the people who live in the immediatecommunity. I would say that when we're
at our best, we have thestrongest relationship with the community, and that's
when the connection is the most impactful. When we are going into communities like

(12:56):
intentionally and humbly and listening to theinputs from the residents and understanding either their
expertise as a senior citizen they havegrown up in the South and has planting
priorities. When we're able to beresponsive and partner with the community, that's
when we have the best outcomes.That's when we have the most people coming
out to want to bring their foodscraps, to want to get their weekly

(13:18):
farm stand produce. When we're doingcooking demonstrations and farm programming, whether it's
a harvest the kids in the fallor spring events, you know, our
Juneteenth celebration or book giveaways outside duringCOVID, Like that's when when you are
strong in the community building, thenthat's when the responsiveness will be best.

(13:41):
And so you know, we're workin progress. We've done it really well.
There are other places where we havemore work to do. We're always
course correcting, we know, youknow, it's because every place is different
than people are different, and sotrying to be responsive and pivot is a
really important part of how we approachthe work. Because you've been doing this
a long time, and because thereis again a bit more interest or people

(14:03):
are paying attention to sort of doingthings that are more community oriented and there's
more justice built into them. Wherewould you Where's kind of like the next
horizon for Green City Force. Wehave always been a combination of direct service
in New York City and five boroughswhile also being at a national level a

(14:24):
thought partner and a thought leader inthis space from our fifteen year history from
day one. Our short term goalmeaning the next few years, is to
have more expansive impact across the fiveboroughs. We're looking to have go from
six to ten sites over the nextfew years, reaching more low income communities,
disadvantaged communities, creating more workforce opportunitiesfor young adults in the green sector.

(14:48):
All these investments, as you mentionedearlier from the city, state and
federal level, we want to alignwith to leverage those Justice forty commitments to
the folks that we work with.So we're really about, you know,
continuing try to get our model right, you know again, like leverage like
the branding and the investments that areout there and have it aligned with us.

(15:11):
And then smart partnerships, more smartpartnerships that are complementary to what we're
doing. We don't expect to bethe only organization and we never have been.
Only at Bischa, we were thefirst service corps in Bischa for sure,
but there are lots of folks doingreally important work and like figuring out
how to latch on and compliment eachother for a systemic change is really our

(15:33):
aspiration. That's what we're about.You can find out more about Green City
Force at greencityforce dot org. TanyaGail as executive director, thank you for
being on Get Connected. That's great. Happy Earthday everybody. This has been
get connected with Nina del Rio onone oh six point seven light Fm.
The views and opinions of our guestsdo not necessarily reflect the views of the

(15:54):
station. If you missed any partof our show or want to share it,
visit our website down loads and podcastsat one O six seven light fm
dot com. Thanks for listening.
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