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Waste Site Cleanup & Reuse in New England

The People of Providence's Most Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Take Back Contaminated Portions of the City With the Help of US EPA Supported Job Training and Recruitment Programs

Success in US EPA Brownfields Job Training Grant Program
Providence, RI
(April 2004)
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Job Training Groundwork Providence Graduation

One of Providence’s most innovative and successful environmental non-profit organizations, Groundwork Providence, Inc., has teamed up with the US EPA to help cleanup some of Providence’s most contaminated neighborhoods and properties through empowering job recruitment and training programs. Through the help of a $200,000 Brownfields Job Training Grant that US EPA gave Groundwork in 2002, the company has already begun training and recruiting members of communities directly effected by environmental contamination on brownfields to help transform these desolate portions of the city into clean and community-friendly businesses, green spaces, and affordable housing. This will help turn some of Providence’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods into some of its most beautiful.

In 1997, the Keep Providence Beautiful program began a program called Groundwork Providence designed after a highly successful environmental organization in the United Kingdom. Since then Groundwork Providence has designed a successful business plan that links communities - particularly youth - with their environment.

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Second Class 2002 in Training

The mission of Groundwork Providence is to bring about sustained regeneration, improvement, and management of the physical environment by developing community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses, and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being. Groundwork’s innovative approach unifies and improves both the community and the surrounding environment. The organization believes that as one improves, the other will as well and vice versa. Groundwork understands the value that can still be found in old industrial cities. Abandoned or underused factories and deteriorating housing can be transformed through community partnership. Their program focuses on some of the most contaminated portions of Rhode Island’s cities.

Five years after Groundwork’s development, they received the important support of the US EPA through the $200,000 Job Training Grant Program. These funds have been used to implement a comprehensive community outreach campaign that reaches into the heart of Providence’s most hard-hit economic areas to recruit young, unemployed, or undereducated members of the community to take part in training that will certify them for jobs in environmental contracting work. The program will train 90 men and woman to handle and remove hazardous substances, to use and develop environmental treatment and assessment technologies, and to physically, chemically, and biologically reduce hazardous wastes in their community. The program will give its graduates, nearly one hundred strong, the opportunity to attain salaries and benefits packages that would not have been available to them before. The program develops community leaders who speak out against environmental contamination and helps transform the faces of their diverse and colorful Rhode Island communities.

This innovative plan links the entire community through unique partnerships with organizations, businesses, and agencies throughout Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation will assist in the recruitment of companies that contract with the city of Providence environmental cleanup projects to help place the 90 program graduates. The Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) will provide the environmental training and remediation technology for students to practice and learn and the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health will provide worker health and safety training. All the program’s public and private partners, including the aforementioned, serve on an advisory committee and are involved in every portion of the community-building program process.

The two main components of the Groundwork Providence business plan are outreach and recruitment. The outreach program involves partnerships with community-based literacy organizations, social service agencies, and neighborhood-based outreach meetings to distribute educational brochures about the impact of brownfields on their community. The program will focus its recruitment efforts in three of Providence’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods: Smith Hill, South Providence, and Olneyville. These three neighborhoods have unemployment rates that reach 20% according to the RI Department of Labor and Training. This is vastly greater than the state average of only 3.9%. Well over 20% of people in these neighborhoods live below poverty level. In some cases nearly 50% live below poverty level. These diverse neighborhoods are made up of large groups of people of Hispanic origins. Nearly 75% are Hispanic.

Once recruited, the trainees take on the most important aspect of the program: training. Trainees take part in a three-step curriculum that was created with input from some of Rhode Island’s most prominent employers, educators, and industry professionals. The course work spans 8 weeks. Once completed graduates will be assisted in placement in permanent environmental jobs. Groundwork will help in every aspect of the job search including help with cover letters, resumes, references, employment testing, and interviews. It is Groundwork’s goal to place a minimum of 41 participates each year. Groundwork will then track each graduate’s employment situation.

The expected group of 90 graduates will take on some of Providence’s most difficult environmental challenges and help bring real and lasting environmental change to their city. Groundwork environmental plans include redevelopment work that will help the community reconnect with their natural surroundings through the creation of open greenspaces. Plans are in the works for a Mashapaug Pond Boardwalk, Mosshasuck River Nature Retreat, Summit Neighborhood Urban Forest mapping project, and various community gardens.

Recently, Groundwork was offered an additional $150,000 from the US EPA Job Training program to institute a similar program for Pawtucket area residents. Through the efforts of Groundwork Providence and the financial and program goals set forth by the EPA, the most disadvantaged members of the Providence and Pawtucket communities will stand ready to embrace their own economic and environmental future and help bring real and lasting environmental change to their communities.

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