Green Opportunities, a nonprofit job training and employment program founded in 2008, works to ensure that all residents of the region have access to sustainable employment in our rapidly growing local economy.
Operating out of the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center in Asheville’s Southside neighborhood, GO focuses on workforce development in selected growth industries. By combining technical and life-skills training with complete case management, the organization is able to connect people from low-wealth neighborhoods with sustained employment opportunities.
GO envisions a community made up of resilient, interconnected neighborhoods whose residents have access to jobs that support their families while also improving community health.
“We must recognize the importance of economically transforming communities,” explains GO Executive Director George C. Jones. “And it’s critical to do so in a manner that preserves the pride and dignity of a community and the individuals who are seeking support.”
Designed for adults who face significant barriers to employment, GO’s two flagship work programs are offered at no cost to qualifying individuals. The first, Built Environment, offers building-science education to prepare students for construction-based employment. The second, Kitchen Ready, offers training in the culinary arts for employment in restaurant service industries. Both training programs provide portable, industry-standard technical certifications like the OSHA’s 10-Hour General Industry or ServSafe’s Food Handler.
However, creating sustainable employment opportunities to economically transform communities requires more than just technical skill development.
“One hundred percent of GO students are low-income, and many face barriers to employment for reasons that range from lacking a high school diploma or a driver’s license to needing help crafting resumes or brushing up interview skills,” says Gwen Hill, communications manager.
To address these issues, she explains, GO programs incorporate in-house case management and referrals to partner agencies where students can access GED programs, applied math classes, a job club hosted in the Edington Center computer lab, and bus passes and child care support.
Perhaps most important to GO programs’ success is the continued support the nonprofit offers to its students beyond graduation, adds Hill.
“We incubate a number of social enterprise businesses, including a catering service through Kitchen Ready Inc. and the newly launched Southside Woodworks. These two businesses are now providing much-needed income for students and graduates while they continue to build their resumes and gain professional experience,” she says.
Carrying on the mission
Founded in 2015 by GO, and operated by GO employees Eric Howell, a former GO student, and Doug Sharkey, Southside Woodworks is based in the Edington Center, where they build sustainable, handcrafted wooden essentials and custom furniture in their fully equipped fine woodworking shop. The studio is also available for larger commission-based projects, such as counters, tables and fences.
Southside Woodworks employs students during and after their Built Environment training, thus “providing an opportunity for [students] to financially support themselves during the program and as they create their own careers upon graduating,” Hill says.
“Our mission is to employ those facing barriers to employment in the crafting of beautiful, high-quality goods,” Sharkey says. “We hope that students are able to put their skills to work and flex their creative muscles. Knowing how to build something with your hands is really special. … It’s something that no one can take away from you. Southside Woodworks employees will be able to earn a living and make something beautiful — all while helping their community.”
“The [Built Environment] program allowed me to show people what I am capable of,” Howell says. “It also showed me that no matter how hard it gets, if you push past it, you can do and be anything you want.”
This year, GO is expanding its training program options to include office professional and medical office pathways, as well as front-of-house service training.
“This expansion will provide even more possibilities for motivated adults in our community to gain the training, experience and support they need, as well as meet Asheville’s growing workforce demand,” says Hill.