Rakia Rawlins said she is “usually not a morning person.” A stint in Seattle Youth Green Corps (ycg) has changed that.
At 7:30 a.m. each weekday, Rawlins and 10 other Youth Green Corps members report to local parks and green spaces, where they do physical labor to restore the environment.
A pilot program in its first year, Youth Green Corps is a collaboration between the Seattle Parks and Recreation department and Seattle Goodwill.
The program offers educational and environmental training for people ages 18 to 24 who haven’t finished high school. On average, the last grade completed by the youth is Grade 10. A number of the participants in the program have been homeless or have lived in transitional housing.
At noon each day, after a morning of clearing trails or planting trees at a local park, participants typically head back to Goodwill for several hours of ged preparation.
The program is nine months long. Participants earn a $1,200 stipend for their work, though the financial benefits seem to be secondary to some of the more intangible benefits that result from stability and a hard day’s work.
The early schedule and long hours do not seem a deterrent to program participants, who answered questions about the program with enthusiasm.
“It’s awesome,” said Michaela Lovelady. She is 18 and, like her fellow participants, has had to overcome a lot of adversity.
When she was 15, Lovelady’s father passed away, and she ended up living on the streets. Her role as a member of the the group has given her life purpose, she said, and mental and physical fortitude.
Flexing a muscle, she added, “Everyone’s a lot stronger now.”
Finding direction and acquiring strength were common themes for Youth Green Corps participants.
John Davis said the program has helped spark changes in his life. For example, his knowledge of the environment has grown exponentially.
“I didn’t know the names of any plants,” he said. Now Davis plans to get a job with the parks department, while also taking community college classes. He wants to specialize in computers.
Before the Youth Green Corps, Davis said he lacked that sense of positive direction and found himself involved in what he only referred to cryptically as “sneaky stuff” he said.
For Jarmaud Scott, a native of Louisiana, Youth Green Corps has provided a chance to do more than just get by. A single parent of two young sons, “I was tired, man,” he said. “I was real tired.”
Youth Green Corps has allowed Scott to work during the day and pursue his ged diploma, while still having nights free to spend time with his kids.
Together, members of the Youth Green Corps team displayed an easy, playful camaraderie. They all spoke of not knowing each other when the program started, but over the course of several months, becoming very close-knit.
“Now we feel like family,” Scott said. This includes some good-natured ribbing but also being there for each other in the field and in the classroom. Rawlins — who, though she didn’t finish ninth grade, is very close to obtaining her ged diploma — noted that being in the program has not only made her more social, it has given her more confidence.
When asked about their favorite restoration project, participants chose Cheasty Greenbelt, their first project. All four agreed that it was fun to go back to the Beacon Hill green space and see the changes they made.
“It’s a great way to measure our progress,” Lovelady said.
For more information on Youth Green Corps see seattlegoodwill.org or call 206.860.5791.