Council Holds Hearing on Conservation Corps Set to Kick Off in May

The City Council Committee on Environmental Justice, Resiliency, and Parks, chaired by District 6 Councilor Kendra Lara, held a hearing on March 29 regarding the creation of a city-level conservation corps in Boston.

This docket is sponsored by District 8 councilor Kenzie Bok, who said that the first hearing on this idea was held in the fall of 2020. She said that there is “a real need for high quality jobs for folks in Boston,” and “unlike the New Deal, we really need this to be a program that serves all of Boston, especially Black and Brown communities.”

Bok said that in the spring of 2021, she visited Philadelphia where she observed the city’s conservation corps—PowerCorps—and saw the “reality of a green jobs program.”

She continued, “It’s so exciting that the Council was able to support $3 million for the launch of this pilot that we’re going to talk about today.”

The purpose of the hearing, Bok said, was to “give the department an opportunity to talk about the plot that’s going to kick off this summer.”

Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Spaces Mariama White-Hammond thanked the Council for allocating $3 million towards this program. She said she was in Philadelphia with Councilor Bok to visit with PowerCorps. “I was blown away,” she said.

She said that the goal for Boston’s conservation corps is to work with young people on building skills and “making good on the promise that our work on climate can be reparatory to environmental justice communities who have always taken the burdens and very rarely” reaped the benefits of such efforts.

White-Hammond said that with Boston employing things like bioswales in parks, “we have not yet trained our workers to be able to do the work in our parks in some instances.” This program will allow workers to have that skill set, but White-Hammond said that the city intends on providing training on these things to existing workers as well.

For the first three years of the program, the goal is to focus on building the program to ensure that fundraising for future years will be easier.

Julia Hillengas, Executive Director of PowerCorpsPHL, said at the hearing via Zoom that “you guys have a fantastic team” and a “great vision” for a PowerCorps in Boston.

She said that Philadelphia’s PowerCorps was founded in 2013 to “help young people and individuals connect to economic opportunity,” as well as help connect their work to larger goals that can benefit the whole city.

“We specifically recruit what we call untapped talent,” she said, which includes people ages 18-30 who are “not not a mainstream pathway to success.”

She spoke about the model that PowerCorpsPHL uses to employ and train its workers before Davo Jefferson, Executive Director for the City of Boston’s Youth Green Jobs Program, spoke about the plan for PowerCorps Boston.

According to a slide shown at the hearing, the goals for Boston’s PowerCorps are to “promote workforce development for opportunity youth in growing industries” as well as “support environmental stewardship and City of Boston’s climate policies.”

During Year 1, which begins in May of this year, foundations training will be the focus. In Year 2, the program will be expanded and include “Industry Academies” for trainees to learn “specialized technical skills in certain areas.”

Jefferson also talked about recruiting participants for the program. For the first year, the goal is to have 30 participants, “including direct referrals from other city programs” like the Office of Public Safety, BCYF-SOAR Boston, Boston Public Schools, and others.

Like Philadelphia’s program, Boston’s PowerCorps will recruit Boston residents ages 18-30 who are “unemployed or underemployed and are not already on a higher education/career tract,” according to a slide presented.

In year one, participants will take part in six months of full-time skill building projects and will be paid to learn these skills. They will also receive soft-skills training for career and employment as well as labor and technical training.

He said that staff members need to be hired, relationships with training partners still need to be finalized, and employer partners need to be established.  Additionally, the program needs to be promoted and a permanent location for office space and training needs to be found. The program will also need long-term funding so it can be sustained.

Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods said that Boston has 331 park spaces in the city that need to be cared for. “The biggest challenge that the Parks Department has is looking for skilled candidates that have City of Boston residency,” he said, as the work on climate resiliency measures like bioswales and rain gardens have had to be contracted out to workers outside of Boston.

White-Hammond said that the cost for this program for three years Is $10 million, and as the “level of complexity” is increased with more kinds of training, the cost will increase.

The Council had some questions for the team, but there was a sense of excitement for this program’s launch in May.

Kendra Lara thanked the PowerCorpsPHL team for their attendance at the hearing and for all of their support.

“I want to give a really, really warm, warm sendoff to our folks in Philly. Thank you so much for coming to our hearing, thank you so much for sitting with us on Zoom for three hours as we talked about this program and for all of the work and education that you did with staff and people from the City of Boston to make this a reality,” she said. “We’re incredibly grateful.”

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