In Howard County, Maryland, the READY (Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth) program is changing lives while keeping local water clean and healthy. The organization works to create good green jobs for youth while reducing stormwater runoff and improving watershed health. READY trains young adults in the design and installation of green stormwater systems. Crew members install rain gardens on institutional properties including schools, congregational grounds, and large properties held by non-profit organizations.
The concept for READY originated in a community of congregations and organizations known as PATH (People Acting Together in Howard). During a strategy session, members identiﬁed two common issues affecting them all: the need for environmental stewardship, and the lack of jobs for young adults in the area.
The group approached officials in Howard County, Maryland with the concept of linking youth employment to the work required under Howard County’s stormwater permit. The idea received strong backing from the County Executive and the program kicked off its first year in May of 2012. The program is administered and managed by the Alliance for the Cheseapeake Bay, a nonproﬁt organization that for nearly 40 years has been dedicated to protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, streams, and surrounding communities.
READY began with a crew of 31 participants in its first year. They underwent an intensive education program, where they learned about stormwater management and other conservation issues. The trainings led to widespread behavioral changes among participants; even those who didn’t pursue environmental careers are better prepared to be stewards of the environment.
Today, staff members are extending the breadth of the program in its second and subsequent years to form a more generalized conservation corps capable of addressing a variety of green infrastructure needs, including installation, operations and maintenance, education within the community, auditing, and landscape cultivation.
Lou Etgen, Associate Director of Programs with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, describes READY’s first year in operations as highly successful, with plenty of opportunity to grow. READY’s detailed report of its first year reveals that the biggest challenges to the program are logistical hurdles, such as managing scattered sites, finding locations in which to store materials and equipment, and securing access to heavy machinery that can speed up larger projects. Finding sites to install green infrastructure was not a challenge for READY in the first year; indeed, 2013 starts with an open backlog of several dozen customers. READY’s partnerships with faith-based groups, schools, non-profit entities, and homeowner associations allowed the program to install GI improvements at no cost to the participating private entities.
READY is one of a number of programs delivering the triple bottom line benefits that green infrastructure investments promise. READY’s work demonstrates successful private/ public/ nonprofit partnerships that protect the environment, increase access to economic opportunities, and improve the social conditions of disadvantaged groups. The organization is cultivating a new generation of environmental stewards that come from communities most affected by environmental and economic crises. These programs are using green infrastructure work to create on-ramps to career opportunities in a variety of professions. They are also performing a critical task that creates real opportunity rather than dead-end, low-quality employment.