Green is the color of environmental friendliness. It symbolizes renewable energy, efficiency and global consciousness. But it’s also the color of cash. Try as we might, we will never be able to disassociate green from the root of all evil.
A program on Syracuse’s North Side, however, is quietly proving that environmental awareness and fiscal savvy are not totally unrelated. The program is called Green Train, and it teaches students to be environmentally conscious and to make a buck while doing so.
Beginning in 2008, Dominic Robinson, director of Northside UP, partnered with organizations including OCM BOCES, the Syracuse City School District and Cooperative Federal Credit Union to create a program that would provide job training and vocational skills to neighborhood residents free of charge. In March 2009, the first Green Train class was developed.
Since its inaugural class that spring, Green Train has graduated more than 130 students. Most of those have gone on to find jobs in construction or energy-auditing for contracting firms locally. And generating jobs was, according to Robinson, always the top priority.
“We were just looking at the things we wanted to do in the neighborhood,” Robinson says. “And what we were hearing most often from people was that there wasn’t enough access to jobs.” It just so happened that the job market for environmentally friendly construction practices and energy-efficient construction was thriving.
The Green Train program is twofold, Robinson says. First, it teaches basic construction and carpentry skills with a focus on weatherization and “green” techniques. Students learn everything from air-sealing homes to conducting energy audits. The weatherization philosophy taught by Green Train approaches a building in a holistic manner and seeks to maximize energy efficiency in every aspect. Students learn to analyze airflow, determine heat loss, and use new technologies to calculate potential energy savings. Such skills prepare them for work in construction as well as energy auditing for construction companies.
Second, the program emphasizes basic vocation skills. Students—many of whom are refugees or immigrants—are offered lessons in English as a second language, financial literacy, community awareness and customary practices at the workplace. “We even have them punch a time clock every day just to get in the habit,” Robinson says.
Mornings are spent in a West Side Learning Center classroom learning a curriculum developed by the National Center for Construction Research and Education. In these sessions, Matt Centore, an adult education instructor with the SCSD, covers everything from basic construction site safety and practices to learning the language and jargon typical in construction work (although catcalling pretty women is reserved for the advanced class).
Centore is joined in the classroom by Andrew Erickson, a seasoned construction veteran. The fifth-generation carpenter was teaching at OCM BOCES when he met Robinson, who asked him to come on board with the project. His time now is divided between passing on the knowledge he’s acquired over a 15-year career and managing his own construction business. Erickson leads the afternoon sessions: hands-on projects where students apply the skills they’ve learned in the classroom.
The skills Green Train teaches, Erickson says, are very attractive to employers, and the program works hard to set students up with jobs after graduation. Their job placement rate is nearly 90 percent. But Erickson encourages students to start practicing their new skills at home.
“They can take these weatherization skills they’ve learned back to their own homes to save money,” he says. “We try to instill the idea that it’s not just about saving money but about preserving our natural resources and living a sustainable life. And that starts in your own home.”
Erickson works with the class at a single location over the course of three months. In the past, locations have included church buildings and Home Headquarters homes. “Typically we choose projects that will benefit the community in some way,” Erickson says.
The most recent class worked with Habitat for Humanity developing storage sheds for some of its homes. “We built the first shed together as a class and I walked the students through the blueprints and the whole process,” Erickson notes. “But for the second two I left them on their own.”
Erickson split the class into two groups and had each build a shed in a friendly competition to see who could finish first. “It was amazing to see 15 strangers from different neighborhoods and even different countries work together and build not only a shed, but really strong personal relationships,” he says.
Green Train offers two programs a year, in January and May. Class is held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. five days a week. “It’s an intense program,” Robinson says. “But we make sure graduates come out with valuable, hirable skills.” Up to 100 applicants typically vie for a position in the selective program, but only 15 are taken. Northside UP and its various partners pay all expenses.
There is no typical student, either: They range in age from as young as 18 to those in their mid-60s. The program is free for selected students and the training, worth roughly $4,000, includes a set of tools and safety equipment upon graduation. At such a high cost, Robinson wants to ensure he only accepts the most qualified and motivated students.
Anyone interested in applying for the fall Green Train class should contact Danielle Sheppard at 299-8228.