Young adults in King County celebrated a new opportunity to learn about high wage and high demand occupations involving "green work" — jobs related to environmental and social responsibility — as part of the "Opportunity Greenway" pilot this summer.
Dozens of students graduated from the program last Friday, and King County Executive Ron Sims praised their efforts.
"In King County we are pushing for the dream of our namesake — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — to be reborn, by making sure that people from all zip codes and backgrounds have the same access to opportunities in the green economy," Sims said in a statement.
"The Opportunity Greenway pilot program is an excellent example of this ethic of social justice and equity, by opening up career pathways for court-involved youth to develop livelihoods in critical fields such as green building, transportation and environmental protection," he said.
Opportunity Greenway was a six-week "learn and earn" program coordinated by King County Work Training's YouthSource, providing paid internships while students built practical job skills.
YouthSource recently won a Recognition of Excellence Award from the United States Department of Labor, which also funded this pilot program via a grant through the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council for 2008.
The pilot program focused on exposing youth and young adults ages 16 to 21 who have had previous experience with the court system to living wage jobs in a variety of innovative environmental fields.
King County, along with private employers and community and technical colleges exposed students to a wide range of green professions, ranging from water quality protection at King County Wastewater Treatment Division to public transportation jobs such as hybrid bus maintenance at King County Metro Transit.
Students on the program's energy track received certificates of completion from representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, who felt they gained as much from the program as the students.
"We've been talking about outreach to community for years, so it was great to see it really happen," said IBEW Local 46 Marine Apprenticeship Coordinator Brett Olson. "There's a major benefit to the community in helping to guide these young people in a new career direction."
The goal of Opportunity Greenway is to offer a hands-on learning approach aimed at increasing participants' basic skills while guiding the development of good work habits and attitudes needed for success in education and at work.
Officials said the program is expected to help youth in many ways, including basic skills improvement, increased understanding of living-wage "green" career opportunities, development of habits and attitudes for success in education and work, and coaching on how to resolve personal, legal and family issues that are barriers to success.
The program focused on three green themes – transportation, energy and green building and natural resources.
South Seattle Community College provided a pre-apprenticeship exploration program in energy and green building at its Puget Sound Industrial Excellence Center.
The natural resources track included: Water Quality and Technology, in partnership with Seattle Central Community College and Green River Community College; Summer Environmental Service Program at Highline School District's Camp Waskowitz; Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union; Salmon Creek Park Nursery and Revitalization at New Start/Salmon Creek Park and Summer Environmental and Community Service Program in partnership with Kent Schools and Parks.
King County Wastewater Treatment Division and King County Metro Transit provided exploratory tours and other activities based on those agencies' cutting-edge work on environmental protection.
Students in the natural resources track visited the county's wastewater treatment facilities and engaged with employees who work on environmental protection in that division.
Students in the transportation track at King County International Airport received a guest presentation from a volunteer of the Climate Project, former Vice President Al Gore's effort to educate citizens on climate change, and also toured the King County Metro Transit Atlantic and Central bus bases.
Opportunity Greenway positions began on July 7 with over 50 students and wrapped up on Aug. 15.
"If everyone in Washington did this, there would be no kids left behind," Olson said. "We're committed to doing more of this work and outreach."