The Alliance’s RiverSmart Homes Program Assistant, Queen Richardson, spoke at the annual Chesapeake Executive Council meeting in September about her experience with green jobs programs in the District, and how it helped launch her into her career working toward a healthy Chesapeake watershed.

You can read the speech she gave to elected officials below:

Since I was a little girl I’ve always been fascinated by plants. My interest grew during my senior year of high school. I was working for a homeless prevention organization called Sasha Bruce Youthwork as a youth leader, advocating for various community issues. I also began volunteering with one of their grant recipient organizations called Beet street gardens. I learned a variety of gardening skills during my time with them. Majority of our work consisted of maintaining three community gardens and conducting gardening workshops for the youth at some of Sasha Bruce’s emergency shelters. After a few years of doing this work it encouraged me to expand my gardening skills and knowledge. I began looking for programs and opportunities that matched my gardening interest and goals.

After a few months of searching, I reached out to my old mentor. He told me about The Latin American Youth Center, which provides a variety of workforce development and job readiness programs for young adults in the DC metro area. He also gave me an overview of their new green jobs training program funded by the District Department of Energy and Environment called RiverCore, and I was immediately interested. I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to expand my environmental skills and possibly get a job in the environmental field. So I applied and was offered a position as one of their crew members. I remember being so excited about joining the cohort because it was a new program and experience for me.

In the first few weeks, there was a big learning curve. I was introduced to green infrastructure, climate change and took a more in depth look at stormwater issues. I had some knowledge on stormwater prior to RiverCore because I conducted some stormwater workshops for youth during my time with Beet Street. My interest in gardening shifted to green infrastructure practices when I began participating in the field activities like photo monitoring, stream and habitat restoration projects and inspecting practices installed through the District’s RiverSmart program. Riversmart provides grants and rebates to install rain gardens, rain barrels, trees and other green infrastructure at homes, schools and houses of worship. I especially enjoyed putting on waders and using panorama photos to conduct stream monitoring. To see native wildlife return to the local streams in the District thanks to my work really made me feel like I was contributing to the greater good of the environment and my city.

In addition to the field activities, I really liked the certification trainings. I knew the Green infrastructure and Erosion and Sediment control certifications would be valuable skills to assist in my job search within the green field. Towards the end of my time with RiverCore, we began strictly focusing on our job readiness skills through workshops, mock interviews and job fair opportunities. We would spend most of the day applying to green jobs or going to interviews. I even got an environmental advocacy job offer but I declined it because I felt it wasn’t a great fit for me. As I continued to apply for jobs, I came across the Green Zone Environmental summer program under DC’s Department of Energy and Environment. Even though it was just a summer internship, what mainly caught my interest was engaging youth and teaching them about environmental topics and issues. Receiving the offer letter to become a team leader made me feel like I was taking the right next step. I knew that this opportunity would open doors and create connections to further my career in the field.

I really enjoyed working with the youth, and they seemed to appreciate the team-building exercises and getting out into the field and learning about their surrounding environment. Some of them even created connections within their communities to encourage other residents to do more to help clean up our waterways. When the summer program ended, I applied for a part-time position with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay as an assistant for the RiverSmart Homes program. I was really happy to get the position and work on the Riversmart program again. My work consists of completing rebate inspections, assisting with contractor trainings and outreach events. It has given me a great chance to see the administrative side of the stormwater field and being able to work both in the field and office is one of the things I love about my job. I also enjoy traveling to various stormwater and environmental events with my team. The Alliance is very supportive and encourages me to challenge myself and excel within the organization. I believe my skills have improved greatly since joining the Alliance, so much that I was promoted to full time within my first year.

As I reflect on the progress I’ve made, I can say that I did not expect to be doing this type of work, but I am so happy that I am. It gives me the opportunity to continue improving the environment and assist with meeting D.C’s and the Chesapeake Bay’s clean water, wildlife habitat and tree canopy goals. I am proud of the work I do and will continue to improve.

My message to the leaders of the Chesapeake Bay Program and all residents of the watershed is that a healthy, resilient ecosystem is not just about the pounds of pollution reduced. It’s about connecting youth to their communities and natural places, even in the middle of a city, and creating pathways to careers that will last a lifetime.