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Duwamish River Green Jobs Increase Access, Independence, and Community

August 23, 2023

By Ramona Tellez, College Intern, External Relations

Located on the bank of Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish Valley is a vibrant region encompassing the neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown. The ancestral homeland of the Duwamish People, the area has always been residential. However, an intensive history of colonialism, economic demands, and racialized redlining brought industrial developments into the heart of the Duwamish Valley. The result? Heightened rates of asthma, intensified risks of cancer, and a lifespan of 13 years less than the average Seattle citizen. 

Both past and present, the Port of Seattle’s operations have impacted the Duwamish Valley. In an ongoing effort to mitigate these impacts, the Port established the Port Community Action Team (PCAT). Composed of South Park and Georgetown neighbors, PCAT’s mission is to promote an environmentally and economically thriving Duwamish Valley. In 2019, PCAT negotiated a Community Benefits Commitment with the Port, an official policy to uphold this goal. As a result, the Duwamish River Green Jobs Program (GJP) was born.  

Youth participant removing invasive blackberry bushes.  

A collaboration between the Port, Dirt Corps, and the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, the Duwamish River Green Jobs Program provides six weeks of paid training in green jobs to both youth and adults.  

What exactly are green jobs? According to Andrew Schiffer, Director of Community Partnerships at Dirt Corps, green jobs are any jobs that are “connected to environmental improvement and stewardship.”  This includes a wide range of disciplines, from habitat conservation to solar engineering, to simply providing time for kids to play in nature.  

With funding acquired by the Port and partners, the Green Jobs Program allows Dirt Corps professionals to train participants in skills related to ecosystem restoration, including species identification, invasive plant removal, and native plant establishment. Restoration work takes place within the Duwamish Valley, at locations such as the Port’s waterfront parks, the South Park Marina, and nearby wetlands. In the most recent cohort, youth participants removed blackberry bushes, transplanted kelp, and harvested wild seeds.  

The Green Jobs Program also prioritizes exposing participants to spaces with a focus on green infrastructure, such as Climate Pledge Arena, the Seattle Aquarium, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Participants tour the facilities, complete company tasks, and are introduced to professionals in the field. The youth program takes place in the summer over a six-week period, followed by the 10-week adult program in the fall. All participants receive a stipend of $18 an hour for their time. 

Increasing equitable access 

“Without you guys that opportunity wouldn’t have happened … Now I am empowered to find a career in green jobs. I got the knowledge now.” 

— Uriel, recent GJP graduate 

Participants in the Green Jobs Program are residents of the Duwamish Valley or nearby areas. Youth involvement is facilitated by the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, an adolescent engagement program focused on environmental justice. Most of these youth participating in the program are people of color, members of low-income households, or the children of immigrants. Historically, these demographics have been excluded from the green jobs field.  

Schiffer explains this is because of a three-pillar system of access, culture, and awareness. 

Access to these jobs has been historically limited because “many of these jobs have an old boy’s network where people recruit their friends to join them, and a lot of times friend groups are homogenous.” As a result, there is a lack of diversity. He additionally stated that the culture surrounding environmental work is “not necessarily welcoming and interested in providing cultural accommodations." Lastly, “a lot of folks from different backgrounds don’t know green jobs exist.”  

The Green Jobs Program alleviates these issues by bringing underrepresented groups directly into the field. Additionally, the program introduces participants to an array of environmental professionals, many of whom resemble those going through the training process. Carmen Martinez, Director of the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, expresses the importance of this representation, describing that her students “just want to see themselves in those positions.”  

Youth participants enjoy their first kayak trip in the Duwamish River. 

Financial liberty 

“This program gave me a lot of new experiences. My summer would be completely different without it.” 

Oscar, recent GJP graduate 

In addition to the sense of empowerment through representation, the Green Jobs Program is committed to promoting financial liberty. All trainees are paid for all their time, an uncommon circumstance within the field of green jobs. Schiffer explains that green jobs typically fall victim to volunteer culture, the false notion that “people are going to have extra time in their day and extra energy to do environmental work.” Not only does this devalue environmental work by suggesting it does not require professional guidance, it also assumes that everyone interested has the time and energy to volunteer —  a privilege that many do not. By providing paid training to all participants, the Green Jobs Program is actively fighting this devaluation. Additionally, networking with officials in green jobs creates pathways for participants to obtain jobs in the future. 

Serving communities 

“Doing restoration work in the Duwamish Valley made me feel more connected in my community.” 

Saleen, recent GJP graduate 

The Green Jobs Program is also unique because it promotes place-based resilience, which is defined as the trust, shared knowledge, and sense of empowerment present in a community. By calling upon residents of the Duwamish Valley to complete restoration work within their own space, a sense of solidarity accompanies environmental justice work. Bonds are forged between neighbors, and the projects embarked upon are in-line with their needs.  

Martinez explains, “being place-based and working in your own community gives you a lot more access to come up with projects that serve the community in an authentic way.” 

Graduation celebration for the 2023 youth cohort of the Green Jobs Program. 

Looking forward 

“With the Green Jobs Program, I got a major head start.” 

Zachary, recent GJP graduate 

In an effort to mitigate climate change, more and more corporations are committing to eco-friendly advancements, consequently increasing the demand for green jobs. Due to their extensive training and considerable connections, participants of the Green Jobs Program stand out as candidates. With members of the community propelled into such positions, the resilience of the Duwamish Valley increases.  

The Green Jobs Program is currently wrapping up with a cohort of seven youth for the summer. Applications for the fall adult session open next month.  

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