At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements.
Spearheaded by YouthWorks, the Verde Community Impact Collaborative – known as the Verde Project – is a cross-sector partnership to address poverty and climate change in Santa Fe, NM.
The 10 partners in the Verde Project represent a diversity of organizations, agencies and businesses. In 2017, the partners came together and identified four priority issues to address in their community
- Food insecurity
- Climate change-related concerns, including the increasing threat of wildfires and the challenge of reducing our carbon footprints
- Housing insecurity among youth and young adults
- High unemployment among youth and young adults
Over a 14-month period, lasting from August 2017 – October 2018, the Verde Project partners collaborated under YouthWorks’ leadership to leverage their resources and knowledge to develop and implement programs that address each of these priority issues. At the center of these programs were the YouthWorks Corpsmembers, most of whom are “Opportunity Youth”: young people who are full of potential, but may need assistance to overcome such barriers as homelessness, past incarceration, and generational poverty.
Food Security: Social Justice Kitchen and Greenhouse Management team
To combat food insecurity, partners developed the Social Justice Kitchen, a program at YouthWorks in which Corpsmembers gained hands-on training in culinary arts by preparing healthy meals for 350 students every day across five afterschool sites. At these sites, more than half of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Over the course of the program year, 34,000 meals were served.
To supply fresh produce to the Social Justice Kitchen and other local agencies that feed the hungry, Corpsmembers helped grow over 10,900 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables. Through this effort, Corpsmembers on the Verde Greenhouse team gained experience in managing compost, seeding, using basic farm equipment, and a range of other agriculture-related skills.
Climate Change: Wildland Fire team and Home Weatherization team
One issue the Verde Project sought to address was the increasing threat of wildfires. Corpsmembers helped clear more than 36 tons of dead wood from 23 acres of public and private land, helping minimize the risk of catastrophic fires along the wilderness-urban interface. In the fall of 2018, members of the Wildland Fire team earned their “Red Cards” by completing the S130/190 Basic Wildfire Training, meaning they are certified to assist in wildfire response efforts.
In addition, the partners sought to reduce the carbon footprint of Santa Fe residents by engaging Corpsmembers in providing free or subsidized energy audits and/or energy efficiency retrofits to 856 low- or middle-income homes.
Over the course of the 14 months of the Verde Project, 23 homeless youth and young adults were placed in homes and $57,000 in funds were secured to provide additional housing support. Over $8,000-worth of furniture and homewares were donated to help get the young people settled.
Through the Verde Project, 139 young adults received job training and 104 received certifications in culinary arts, greenhouse management, wildland fire, and home weatherization. For example, 44 Corpsmembers earned the ServSafe industry-recognized credential; 30 received home weatherization certifications; 8 received certifications in wildland fire. Through their training, Corpsmembers earned 550 hours of creditable coursework at Santa Fe Community College (SFCC).
The initial pilot of the Verde Project is over, but the relationships are in place to continue the programs. One important success is that YouthWorks has a new contract with Santa Fe public schools through which they will now be able to serve 1,000 kid-friendly meals every day across 14 afterschool sites. Additionally, the Home Weatherization team is thriving through growing relationships with ICAST (International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology) and SFCC’s EnergySmart Academy.
A less tangible benefit of the Verde Project is that many people in the community had the chance to interact with YouthWorks Corpsmembers and witness firsthand their skills and determination. Throughout the program, there were important opportunities through which community members could learn about the challenges many YouthWorks Corpsmembers face.
In the end, the Verde Project is an excellent example of community partners coming together to leverage resources and address needs in a strategic manner.