July 27, 2022

Climate Corps Fights Climate Change, Teaches Job Skills to Local Residents

COMBATING CLIMATE CHANGE: Members of the Trenton Climate Corps are working full-time this summer to help mitigate the effects of climate change in Trenton, while learning marketable skills for future employment. Urban agriculture, revitalizing local gardens, is one of the major components of the program sponsored by Isles, Inc. with the support of community partners. (Photo courtesy of Isles)

By Donald Gilpin

Six members of the Trenton Climate Corps (TCC) team were at work in Cadwalader Park last Friday morning taking an inventory of existing trees — their location, condition, diameter, crown health — in preparation for a major planting initiative in the fall.

“Before this program I knew a little bit about trees, but I didn’t know anything about planting or how to compost or anything like that,” said local resident Malachi Brown, who has been on the job for about six weeks so far in this 12-week pilot program. “This program is about education. You really learn how to self-preserve as far as getting your own fruits and vegetables from the garden is concerned.”

TCC worker Raymond Brooks added, “It’s interesting and it’s fun. And we might be saving the future of the planet.”

Isles Inc., a community development and environmental organization, recently launched the TCC in seeking to support the local community in mitigating the effects of climate change and teaching corps members marketable skills in environmental industries to help them gain future employment.

The TCC is part of a regional and national effort. There are about 10 organizations with climate corps programs in the Delaware Valley with support from The William Penn Foundation and The Corps Network.

In addition to tree inventory and planting, the TCC crew is pursuing climate change mitigation efforts in urban agriculture, stormwater mitigation, and neighborhood cleanups, working to improve both short- and long-term viability and safety of city living.

Their work will help to combat the heat island effect that causes cities to be several degrees warmer than the suburbs, as well as improving stormwater runoff systems to help reduce the effects of flooding in the aftermath of increasingly volatile storms.

Isles Deputy Director of Community Planning and Development Jim Simon, who oversees the TCC, commented on their efforts in Cadwalader Park. He noted that the tree inventory will be part of a grant application to the state, in conjunction with other community partners, for future tree planting in the park. “The last inventory was done about 20 years ago,” he said. “There are a lot of dead trees in the park, and we’re adding new trees as well, trying to do a comprehensive inventory.”

The TCC takes on a number of different projects simultaneously. “We’re also doing an inventory of trees on State Street,” added Simon. “Last week we had our crew work all the way from Parkside on West State Street almost all the way to Olden Avenue on East State Street —mapping existing trees and also mapping potential areas for future planting.”

In the past six weeks of working and learning the TCC cohort of 10 has already completed three professional development certifications and developed agricultural skills to enhance their work in local community gardens and parks.

“By learning and working in the multiple disciplines of agriculture, forestry, stormwater, and energy, we are expanding our participants’ job prospects, but also their sense of stewardship,” said Simon.

TCC pays corps members throughout the 12 40-hour weeks. Climate Corps coordinator Stephanie Sharo described the program as “more education than a normal job, yet more job-based than a school.” Isles is in the process of planning for the future of the program after the pilot concludes in September.

“We have AmeriCorps funding to bring on the equivalent of 10 full-time paid service positions starting in September,” Simon said. The current crew may apply for the AmeriCorps-sponsored initiative in the fall or they may seek jobs elsewhere. “They have coaches who are helping them put their resumes together or flesh out their resumes, and introducing them to other employers,” Simon pointed out.

He went on to discuss some of the challenges that Isles faces.

“There are a lot of environmental challenges,” he said. “Trenton, like a lot of other cities, is suffering the legacy of post-industrialization. There’s a lot of buildings and pavement and impermeable surfaces that contribute to the heat island effect. And there are other issues with air quality and asthma, flooding, and stormwater management.”

He continued, “In trying to do climate resiliency work by creating jobs, you can help alleviate some of those issues and develop a sense of stewardship within the people who live here, while actively trying to solve some of those problems.

“The crew — they love it. This is a crash course in tree development for them. They’re having fun and learning, and we’re connecting them with other job opportunities as well.” Simon noted that the TCC is working with the City of Trenton, which has recently secured a grant from the Department of Environmental Protection to plant trees downtown and enhance tree infrastructure at City Hall. “That’s all asphalt, but they’re going to put in tree islands, and they’re going to put in a rain garden, and our trees will help that,” he said.

TCC worker Willy Shuman reflected on the program so far. “Before I came to Isles, I had no idea about plant life or horticulture, and now I know what I know. I can be a leader and show other people the things I know now, and I can encourage people to join Isles and learn things that benefit the community.”

He continued, “Now I can do landscaping. I know more about horticulture and plant life, and I’ve learned to test the leaves to find out about them. Kids in the community need stuff like this to benefit the community.”

Isles reported in a press release last week that community members are encouraged to volunteer, to nominate local gardens to be revitalized, to provide project ideas and or materials, and to help get the word out when applications open for the next cohort. Isles plans to have two permanent Climate Corps members employed during the fall and winter before signing on the spring and summer 2023 cohort. Applications for these two positions will go live at isles.org in August and other short-term positions will be released throughout the year.