A green light for jobs

The day is winding down, and members of a small work crew are putting the finishing touches on a cob oven they’ve constructed in the Burton Street Community Peace Garden. Artisan Builders’ Collective co-founder Tony Beurskens—his hands covered in red, earthy grit—is there to supervise the group in working with cob. It’s one of a series of service/learning projects launched by the Asheville Green Opportunities Corps, a pilot program designed to train individuals from low-income backgrounds for green jobs.

Pizza, anyone?: Crowding around the cob oven they’ve built at a community garden are(left to right): Dan Leroy, Tony Beurskens, Tzshanna Shelembe, D, and DeWayne Barton. Photo by Rebecca Bowe

Tzshanna Shelembe and D are two of eight GO corps members enrolled in the nine-month training program, which also helps participants obtain GEDs and develop skills such as resumé writing and fielding questions at a job interview. At the end of the nine-month program, they’ll have opportunities to take on paid apprenticeships with local green businesses.

“I’m here to get introduced and hopefully to become employable within the industry,” says Shelembe, adding that she plans to attend an upcoming green jobs fair.

Service/learning projects are a key part of the training program. “We want them to go into their own communities and put their time in,” says Burton Street resident DeWayne Barton, who partnered with Clean Air Community Trust staffer Dan LeRoy to initiate GO. A pilot endeavor with plans for an ongoing program, the corps is administered by the community trust and was created in partnership with the Asheville Housing Authority, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the city of Asheville, A-B Tech, the Community Foundation of WNC and others.

Planned projects include energy-efficiency retrofits of low-income homes, a Habitat for Humanity construction project, harvesting locally grown produce and distributing it to the homeless, an ecosystem restoration, a green-roof installation and swapping incandescent light bulbs for more efficient compact fluorescents in public-housing units.

The Asheville GO Corps is part of a nationwide push to connect disadvantaged youth with the skills they need to find living-wage employment in the environmental sector. A coalition of similar groups throughout the country has named Saturday, Sept. 27, a nationwide Green Jobs Now Day of Action.

The Asheville GO Corps will host a public launch ceremony from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Pisgah View Apartments Community Peace Garden, located at the public-housing complex on Granada Street in West Asheville. The event will feature speakers, live performances and in-depth information about the program.

“Considering the growth Asheville is getting, there are so many ways we can get jobs in this industry,” says GO intern Britney Cusworth. “The green economy should not just be a place where people spend money—it should be a place where people can make money.”

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