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Civic Duty: Nonprofit Provides Green Jobs Training

To find Roddy Gaither’s home improvement class, you drive past numerous strip malls and fast food joints into an industrial park in Northwest Baltimore that's a bit off the beaten path. 
Inside Gaither’s classroom, six young men attentively watch a series of slides with colorful pie charts and illustrations as they learn about the tools and techniques they will soon be using to make homes throughout Baltimore City more energy efficient.
The men are all trainees in the EnergyReady Program operated by Baltimore Civic Works’ Center for Green Careers. Now in its fourth year, EnergyReady is one of several green career programs Civic Works operates. Other programs include Retrofit Baltimore; the Baltimore Energy Entrepreneur project, which trains home improvement contractors; and the B'more Green Brownfields Job Training, which connects underemployed individuals with brownfields' redevelopment projects in Baltimore City.

EnergyReady will train 50 people this fiscal year and next to weatherize homes. After having trained 250 men and women, the brownfields' program will train another 150. The green careers program is preparing them for an industry that is showing employment growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently ranked Maryland No. 4 among states that offer green job opportunities.

Since it began in 2008, EnergyReady has serviced nearly 300 homes and it plans to service another 300 in the next two years. It has a $1.4 million contract with Baltimore City to provide weatherization to low-income communities. 
“We’re harnessing the power and desire to do things in ways that are environmentally sustainable,” says Civic Works’ Green Projects Director John Mello.  “Our goal is creating pathways out of poverty and economic opportunity for people traditionally locked out of these opportunities.”
EnergyReady team members find and plug air leaks, seal ducts and do whatever is necessary to weatherize homes so owners save on their energy bills and have healthier places to live.
Gaither and other instructors at Baltimore City Community College provide training to men who might not otherwise find employment because of a checkered past or lack of formal education. After the three-month training, Civic Works trainees find jobs that pay $15 an hour, or twice the minimum wage.
One of EnergyReady’s field supervisors is 27-year old Dontae Burgess. At age 18, Burgess found himself locked up for eight months and then released on probation. Prospective employers would not hire him due to his criminal record and returning to the streets of East Baltimore appeared to be his only option, Burgess says.
“EnergyReady gave me a second chance,” Burgess says.  “I realized street life wasn’t for me,” he added during a break from working at a house on East 41st Street in Waverly.
Burgess is also in a GED program and the proud dad of two young boys.  “I knew I had to better myself and be there for my sons.”
Eric Cruz, 21, works in the field with Burgess.  A high school dropout with a criminal record, Cruz’s story is similar to that of Burgess.
“I’m staying out of trouble and waking up knowing I do something constructive each day,” Cruz says.
Civic Works gets its funding from a diverse group of private and public organizations. They include the Abell Foundation, Open Society Baltimore, Maryland Department of Human Resources, U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Maryland Energy Administration and Associated Black Charities. Partnerships with the Living Classroom Foundation and Baltimore City Community College, which contracts with EnergyReady to teach its trainees, have boosted Civic Works’ programs.
Mello also attributes the center’s growth to several state sustainability initiatives. They include the Maryland Sustainable Communities Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program, which offers tax credits to historic homes that are owner occupied, and the Sustainable Maryland Certified Program, a new University of Maryland program that provides green resources to the state’s towns.
Looking to the future, the Baltimore Center for Green Careers has a bigger vision in mind. “We want to rebuild the neighborhoods in Baltimore City,” says EnergyReady Project Director Jessica Smocer. 
The more crews it can put to work, the more the program can reinvest in the community, Smocer says. Many of the homes it services are next to vacant houses. By sprucing up their neighbors’ properties, the empty houses will hopefully have new owners someday.
“What we do makes these houses more attractive to potential buyers,” Smocer says. “We worked in one home that had been without heat for the past eight years. The family now has a working boiler system.” 
Paul Sturm coordinates the Baltimore Nonprofit Leaders Circles and teaches in the Nonprofit Management Program at Notre Dame of Maryland University.  He lives downtown where he feeds his addiction to crab cakes and Berger Cookies.


Dontae Burgess installs cellulose insulation in a Lauraville home.

Dontae Burgess installs cellulose insulation in a Lauraville home.
Dontae Burgess installs cellulose insulation in a Lauraville home.
Eric Cruz insulates a Lauraville home.
Jessica Smocer, EnergyReady project manager.
All photographs by STEVE RUARK

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