Engaging Youth of Color in the Outdoors

Most Corps engage young adults age 16 and over. However, in honor of the National Park Trust's Kids to Parks Day this Saturday, May 20, we interviewed a Corps that provides stellar programming for younger kids in their community. Learn about how Greening Youth Foundation in Atlanta helps educate youth of color about how they can get involved in conservation. 

Greening Youth Foundation (GYF), located in Atlanta, GA, provides environmental education programming for youth of color ranging from kindergarten to twelfth grade. GYF serves City of Atlanta Recreation Centers, Hollis Innovation Academy, Dunbar Elementary, and Boys & Girls Clubs.

There are three distinct sections of GYF’s education program: CLEAN curriculum, the Green Speaker series, and field trips.

CLEAN curriculum - Children Living Energetically and Advancing Nature - was developed specifically for the demographic area GYF serves . It teaches environmental literacy to youth of color and engages them in the outdoors.

The Green Speaker series gives youth of color the opportunity to hear from professionals in conservation, environmental science, and STEM who look like them; something most youth of color don’t see on a daily basis. After learning the basics about a given career field from GYF, students get to dive deeper by listening to speakers discuss what it’s like in that occupation. In the past, a marine biologist, who happens to be a woman of color, introduced the students to the world of studying the oceans, discussing her work with sea turtles and the human impact on them.

Lastly, field trips play a significant role in this program. During these trips, youth build on the foundation of knowledge learned in the classroom and connect it to being outdoors.

“Our whole focus is really making it fun, interactive, and culturally relevant,” said Angelou Ezeilo, CEO and Founder of GYF. “The demographic we work with is ethnically diverse. We make sure from the music to the activities that it’s all relevant for the young people so that they can relate to it and the images they see are at the forefront of our minds.”

Grounded in public-private partnerships, the program formed on the realization there weren’t many programs for youth of color that address environmental education. In the beginning GYF, did after school programs and festivals to promote environmental awareness and increase literacy among young people about the environment and wellness.

Although GYF has experienced many successes, the program has endured some roadblocks along the way. A big challenge is simply getting children – especially teenagers – outside. They are working on finding a book, or even writing a book, that discusses how to engage children outdoors when there are so many competing factors, like technological devices. GYF wants youth to be in the moment and enjoy the outdoors.

Another challenge is funding. In some ways, this challenge has been addressed through public-private partnerships. For example, Spelman College supports GYF by having college students participate in the program. Managed by Gabriella Logan, GYF’s Public School Initiative Program Manager, and Jared Hopkins, PSI Assistant Manager, Spelman students are trained and certified to teach GYF’s curriculum. The college students in this program – who are called C.H.I.P.S., Collegiate and High School Internship Program – work in schools, recreation centers, and boys & girls club.

“Funding has been very challenging. Getting grants and so forth,” said Ezeilo. “Environmental programming grants are really hard to come by.”

The overarching challenge the program faces is that most environmental education materials are not tailored to youth of color. It is up to GYF to create or customize relevant materials for the audience they serve. This involves developing materials and activities that include language, music, and games that students will relate to. In order to provide trainings that “stick,” it is essential to create a culturally competent way of reaching youth in the outdoors. This is a fete GYF intends to overcome with a book.

Although funding proves to be a challenge, Greening Youth has successfully exposed youth of color to the outdoors. Logan states, “The young people that we work with are not necessarily allowed the opportunity to go outside just to get fresh air during the school day. We find when we come and do programming with the students, we’re exposing them to the outdoors in a different context then they might be used to. We try to engage them in nature and looking at the animals and how all of that ties together. Not necessarily just going outside to play.”

GYF explains that the CLEAN curriculum and Green Speaker series is important because it enables younger kids to envision themselves in conservation or environmental science careers long before these topics are brought up in high school. In fact, science isn’t normally taught in the classroom until third grade.

Through their programming, Greening Youth is committed to exposing youth to these different careers and being outdoors. Their programming positively affects students in that, by the time they are older, students already have a sense of what environmental science is and how it effects everyone, especially the black community.

Logan explains, “Starting at a young age helps to cultivate knowledge of the community’s environment they live in so they will be able to a make a positive change in the future.” Many program participants have indicated their interest in conservation or environmental science occupations in the future. Ezeilo attributes this factor to the “lightbulb going off”.

The relationship GYF has built with children over the years has created a yearning among them to learn more about the outside and their community. For older youth, GYF offers its Conservation Corps and internship programs for college students that give teens and young adults of color the opportunity to actually serve on public lands and gain hands-on job experience in conservation.

“You have to see it, to be it” - Ezeilo’s favorite quote by Sally Ride serves as the premise of her program. Youth in urban communities need to see examples of people in conservation careers that look like them. Participants in the Green Speaker Series serve as models and possibility of what the future could be. Within this program, youth are excited and understand the importance of environmental science and conservation through hands on experience.


Greening Youth Foundation's Urban Conservation Training Institute Hopes To Be A Game Changer for Atlanta's Youth

Article, written by Nick Chiles, appears in the Atlantic Blackstar. Published July 25, 2014.

ATLANTA — As soon as Dominique Robinson set foot in the garden earlier this week with the rest of her training crew, vivid childhood memories came rushing back to her from the hot summers she spent toiling away on her grandmother’s farm and garden in North Carolina.

Robinson wasn’t even aware of it at the time, but those long-ago summers may have been prepping her for an environmental career.

Now Robinson, 28, is part of the first class of the Greening Youth Foundation’s Urban Conservation Training Institute. The creation of the institute may be a game-changer for youth in neighborhoods like Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward and the West Side, introducing them to new careers and changing the way they look at the world.

Sitting in a classroom in the historic West End for the next six weeks, Robinson will be absorbing reams of information on key concepts such as conservation, maintenance, urban farming, construction—even how to extinguish forest fires.

After the 14 young people in the first class finish the training in early September, the class will be divided according to their home communities. The Old Fourth Ward crew will experience the thrill of restoring buildings at a key American landmark—the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Site in Atlanta.

Working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation on a project funded by the National Park Service, the group will painstakingly restore the “shotgun homes” directly across the street from King’s birth home under the guidance of a historic preservation expert, returning them to the exact state they were in when King was alive.

The West Side crew, composed of recruits from the English Avenue and Vine City communities, will simultaneously work on two park projects. The first project entails the design and construction of the Lindsay Street Park, which will be built at the only site in Atlanta where a tributary of Proctor Creek briefly emerges from underground before returning to the Chattahoochee River. The second project will be the expansion of the Vine City Park to accommodate more residents and increase available amenities.

If all goes according to plan, Robinson could soon find herself enjoying the kind of environmental career she never envisioned on grandma’s farm.

“I didn’t know anything about careers in the environment,” said Robinson, who will be a crew leader on the King Center restoration project. “But on the first day of the class, as soon as the teacher started telling us about it, I knew I would love it.”

Opening the eyes of young people like Robinson has long been one of the primary goals of the Greening Youth Foundation, ever since founder and CEO Angelou Ezeilo created an environmental education curriculum that was taught in Georgia schools. But as the organization has grown, GYF has forged key partnerships with companies and government agencies such as the National Park Service, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA that actually have paying jobs to offer after the young people go through GYF training.

Since its founding almost a decade ago, the nonprofit has trained and sent hundreds of minority youth across the United States to manage and preserve public lands and encourage environmental activism. The Grand Canyon and the Everglades National Historic Park are among the iconic federal sites where GYF crews have worked.

GYF created the training institute to prepare the young people who are part of the Atlanta Youth Corps, which GYF formed earlier this year in partnership with Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall. The Atlanta Youth Corps is the city’s answer to the challenge issued in February by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who stood before Washington, D.C.’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and announced the formation of a new Civilian Conservation Corps to lure thousands of young people across the country into conservation work.

“The Urban Conservation Training Institute is the perfect venue to train our Atlanta Youth Corps members in 21st century skills,” said GYF Founder and CEO Ezeilo. “As the Old Fourth Ward and West Side crews started their six-week training program this week, I had to fight back tears as I sat and watched each member go around the room and share their career goals, which were all attainable with a little guidance. It is public-private partnerships that make this vision a reality.”

In addition to the National Park Service and Councilman Hall, GYF’s partners include The Conservation Fund, Park Pride, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, The UPS Foundation, Operation P.E.A.C.E, and Wingate Companies.

“I can’t wait to tell my grandmother about this program,” Robinson said. “I know she’ll be excited for me.”

Greening Youth Foundation Launches Atlanta Youth Corps


The Greening Youth Foundation, a member of The Corps Network, has launched a new program called the Atlanta Youth Corps. Nick Chiles of the Atlanta BlackStar writes that the new Corps program will help plant gardens around several Atlanta fire stations as one of their first projects. 

Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall has been working with the Greening Youth Foundation to start the Corps. Chiles explains that "GYF will manage the pilot Atlanta Youth Corps program as part of Councilman Hall’s Year of Boulevard initiative, focused on Atlanta’s Boulevard street in the Midtown area. The cost of the public-private partnership will stem from the exact amount needed to complete a project. Each project will be designed in partnership with the City of Atlanta Parks and Recreation department and/or the community entity involved."

Greening Youth Foundation recently was designated as an official program operator for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. Chiles suggests that the Atlanta Youth Corps, will be considered part of this initiative. 

With 350 parks, green spaces and community centers, the city of Atlanta is poised to benefit from the deployment of young people in a citywide conservation corps—particularly considering the city’s high unemployment rate for Black youth. Because of budget shortfalls and a growing population, the city has a difficult time maintaining all of its green spaces and rec centers.

“This program is a perfect culmination of what our organization is good at and what the City of Atlanta needs: workforce development for youth in the area of conservation and outsourced greenspace and park management,” Angelou Ezeilo, founder and CEO of Greening Youth Foundation, told ABS. “I am thrilled that GYF will be leading such an exciting initiative.  Our team looks forward to working with the City of Atlanta to make this program an overwhelming success.”

Boiler Plate: 
The Greening Youth Foundation, a member of The Corps Network, with several partners has launched a new program called the Atlanta Youth Corps. Nick Chiles of the Atlanta BlackStar writes that the new Corps program will help plant gardens around several Atlanta fire stations as one of their first projects.