For Baltimore Youth, Opportunity Goes Green

February 19, 2013

At one point in his life, Jerrell Henry wasn’t sure what the future would hold.

Growing up in Baltimore, he didn’t have a college degree and saw no opportunity to get a steady, paying job. He was on the pathway to a series of jobs that barely paid the bills, and wouldn’t give him a career.

Then he heard about Baltimore Center for Green Careers (BCGC), which offers local, hands-on training in green jobs.

So he tried it. Jerrell is now fully employed with a local company only weeks after the program’s end. That’s no small feat in Baltimore, where unemployment is considerably higher than the national average, especially among young African American males.

“I loved the program,” he says. “They kept us on our toes. They helped us learn about speaking to employees, and gave us job readiness.”

Baltimore Center for Green CareersBCGC is one of several Corps programs honored at The Corps Network’s 2013 Conference in Washington, DC, in February.

Corps are comprehensive youth development programs in cities and states that provide young people with job training, academic programming and leadership training through experience in service. A direct descendant of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, today’s Corps have been growing in recognition and enrollment as the economy leaves more young people out of work and unsure of the next step to a steady career.

This year’s conference covered the ways that Corps can improve programs to better serve opportunity youth—young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or connected to the workforce. It also looked at how federal funding streams like the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) can be used to bring effective Corps programs to scale, and celebrated the best programs and members through its 2013 Corpsmembers awards and Corps Projects of the Year.

Here's a closer look at a growing green-jobs success story in Baltimore.

Preparing Unemployed Youth to Enter a Growth Industry

In Baltimore, unemployment is rampant

BGCG is a project of Civic Works, Baltimore’s nonprofit service corps. It trains unemployed and underemployed Baltimore youth to enter careers in the residential energy retrofit and brownfields remediation industries—growing industries in the area, making them an in-demand career choice.

Founded in 2003, BCGC is the only hands-on job training Corps in Baltimore. It provides training in the technical aspects of green jobs, as well as  the "soft skills" needed to land and keep a job, like resume writing, interviewing and workplace conduct. The model has proven successful in reconnecting young people and supporting them in developing of the skills, confidence and desire for full-time employment.

The challenge is clear. Baltimore's unemployment rate is higher than the national average: it tops 11.1 percent compared to a 9.7 percent nationally. The stats are particularly grim for African American men in Baltimore: Before the recession, 13.3 percent were unemployed and now a staggering 34 percent of African American men ages 16 to 64 are not in the labor force.

These numbers are not lost on the young people growing up in Baltimore. For some, the "street economy" may seem more reliable. BCGC works to interrupt this by introducing young people to an alternative—a visible pathway to a career—while at the same time benefitting the community and the environment.

A Rigorous and Coordinated Approach Pays Off

To sharpen soft skills and offer the full range of supports that young people with barriers to employment need, BCGC works with afterschool programs, school guidance counselors, and other local youth-serving programs. Together, they weave a comprehensive safety net that helps prepare young people.

The young people enrolled are supported, but that doesn’t mean this is an easy program; the technical training is rigorous. It starts with four hours of hands-on training and then youth must pass an assessment before they begin their on-the-job training. .

At the end of the program, participants walk away with top-notch certifications and credentials in sustainable construction, home energy audits, cool roofs and more.

BCGC trains six people per quarter, so each student gets individual attention. Ninety percent of students who go through the program graduate with green certifications and earn jobs that pay $12 to $14 an hour—which in this city is a living wage and enough for most to gain a foothold in their careers.

"The Center is the reason I am where I am today."
- Aisha Dorsey, BCGC graduate and business owner

BCGC has also gained the respect and loyalty of local green construction businesses, many of whom who commit to hire only from BCGS alumni. BCGC knows that for the green sustainability business, “hiring BCGS graduates isn’t good will, it’s good business,” said John Mello, Green Projects Director at BCGC.

BCGC has also teamed up with Retrofit Baltimore, an initiative to make all homes in Baltimore more environmentally friendly.  This initiative is educating Baltimore citizens about the importance of making their homes sustainable, which gives the Center's trainees and alumni more customers.

It’s a win-win-win: Houses and buildings in Baltimore are refitted to save energy and use sustainable materials, green construction businesses hire highly qualified workers to do the job, and young people gain opportunity and encourage their peers to do the same.

Youth Voices

At the Corps Network Conference, alumni raved about the program.


BCGC graduate Jarrell shares his experience at The Corps Network Conference

Like Jerrell, Aisha Dorsey, another young graduate, credits BCGC for her success. 

Aisha’s story is a little different than most. After graduating from high school in 2006, she joined BCGC, working part-time through the courses to maintain an income. She was hired soon after the program, but her first job didn’t put safety first—something she learned the importance of at BCGC.

So Aisha decided to take things into her own hands. In October 2012, after bouncing ideas off of some fellow BCGC alumni, she launched her own company, Lifeline Environmental, LLC, a full green-services program that she says always puts safety first.

As a very young business owner, Aisha credits her BCGC training for giving her the skills she needed to gain respect and success in her new endeavor.

“BCGC was an environment that required a grueling work ethic, which is something that I have taken with me through my career that I owe completely to the Center. I can’t say it enough: The Center is the reason I am where I am today,” she says.

Stay tuned for more on Aisha’s story on SparkAction, in her own words.

More on BCGC

Learn more about BCGC's mission from staff, alumni and trainers:


Alison Beth Waldman is Editorial associate at SparkAction. Email her at alison[at]sparkaction[dot]org. Read her bio.

Alison Beth Waldman