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Partnerships Support Jobs and Help Mother Nature

September 16, 2021

Nuer Bol has spent the last few months removing Himalayan blackberries and invasive species from Hilltop Park in Burien’s Boulevard Park neighborhood, a 7.4-acre underdeveloped park located under the flight path. Thanks to the work of Bol and the other members of the youth crews stewarding this green space, the park will host a healthy forest providing fresh air and a community gathering place for years to come.

For Bol, spending his days digging, weeding, raking, and shoveling, is a chance to connect with nature and make a difference for his community while earning a fair wage and learning skills he can take with him into the future. With job opportunities for youth reduced during the pandemic, having this work made a big difference for Bol.

“I was looking for a job doing something I was passionate about and the opportunity with Partner In Employment (PIE) came out of nowhere,” he said. “I’m grateful for it. It’s good to help Mother Nature because she helps us in so many ways. We’re basically giving back to her. It’s about time we as a youth and a generation make that change and make sure our kids have what is slowly going away right now.”

Transformational partnerships

The work at Hilltop Park is part of the Port of Seattle’s ongoing investment in projects in cities around the airport to enhance livability, improve green spaces, and restore forests. Through grant funding and partnerships with community-based organizations EarthCorps, Partner in Employment, and Forterra, the Port is helping the community transform Hilltop Park into a green space that can provide fresh air and a place to gather for decades to come. These partnerships are helping to create jobs, increase equity, improve the environment, and restore quality of life. 

Hilltop Park was identified in Forterra’s Green Partnership Program in Burien, funded through a Port Airport Community Ecology (ACE) grant, which helped the city outline its urban forestry strategies and priorities, and now supports green jobs to put that plan into action. Using Port South King County Community Impact Fund Economic Recovery and Environmental grants, EarthCorps and Partner in Employment were able to train local youth in habitat restoration, providing paid jobs for students and bringing the park’s plan closer to completion.

As part of this work, EarthCorps youth crews removed 60,000 square feet of blackberry plants at Hilltop Park to make space to plant 270 trees this fall. PIE youth crews have taken care of the site for the last year, removing invasive species and planting trees and shrubs.

“[Hilltop Park] has been ignored for a long time,” said Jimmy Matta, Mayor of Burien. “It’s important to have a place for children to play and wildlife have a place to live as well. Under the flight path, this is the only way to make sure children are healthy for many generations, by planting and taking care of beautiful trees that give us the clean air to breathe.”

Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman reinforces the Port's commitment to these communities.

“It’s great to see so many of our partners coming together to have more open space, build out what we have, get rid of invasive species, and plant more trees. When we passed the South King County Fund in 2019, that was the Port’s commitment to the communities. We recognized that we needed to invest more and do more to build people up, think about what is equitable and inclusive, and provide the resources communities need to have a good quality of life.”

Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck emphasizes the importance of listening to community stakeholders and letting them direct the Port's involvement to where it's most needed.

"Community-led projects are now a critical part of the Port’s sustainability strategy to reduce emissions, reduce environmental impact, and improve quality of life for communities closest to operations. The South King County Community Impact Fund helps address longstanding environmental inequities, and puts community needs at the center of our strategy.”

Healthy forests grow vital neighborhoods

Hilltop Park habitat restoration

Amy Cirio, assistant crew leader for the PIE youth restoration training crew, trained youth crews to remove invasive species at Hilltop Park while leaving native shrubs intact. This work will keep the forest self-sustaining for the next 50 to 100 years. To provide ecological benefits like water filtration, air filtration, clean water, and clean air, all layers of a traditional Pacific Northwest ecosystem must be present.

“We need the trees that rely on the shrubs that rely on the ground covers. They all work together to provide us with services that we get in the forest. Right now, invasive plants are preventing the forest from existing,” Cirio said.

Supporting the youth

Hilltop park habitat restoration

Cirio said through this work, youth are learning valuable job skills to prepare them for the 21st century green economy.

“Our youth are incredibly hard working,” she said. “They are so positive, fun, and funny. Young people are super inspirational and really energizing. I absolutely love them.”

She said the habitat restoration work is physically challenging but can be mentally challenging as well, and everyone involved benefits from the strong support system in place.

“We have a supportive crew,” she said. “We are working as a team, which allows people to stay motivated and push themselves, recognize areas of growth, push back challenges, and learn who they are and what they are capable of while learning actual practical skills they can apply to future jobs.”

Through South King County Community Impact Fund grants, PIE is able to pay the youth while they give back to their community and environment.

“We are able to help them cultivate skills for paying jobs so in the future they can have access to resources and accumulate their own wealth and resources,” Cirio said. “Also, they are able to get a sense of what it feels like to be treated with respect at a workplace. That’s something that is really important — making sure youth are supported and that they know how they deserve to be treated by future employers.”

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