By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Long ivy vines are considered invasive when they are allowed to grow uncontrolled, replacing many of the native plant species in Seattle’s 430 parks and open areas.
The same can be said about lack of education, which is also invasive and prevents a person from receiving the usual benefits that go along with a high school diploma.
Saroeut Ouk, a Cambodian American mother of two children — a 7-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter — admits learning in school was hard for her, so she left. “I was confused a lot,” she said about what caused her to feel lost. “I just wouldn’t pay attention because I didn’t get it.”
Thanks to an invitation to a new program from her sister, an employee at Seattle Goodwill, Ouk, 26, is now one of 11 adults who are the first to participate in the Youth Green Corps (YGC), a partnership between Seattle Goodwill and Seattle Parks and Recreation that provides educational and career training to unemployed young adults, ages 18 to 24. A different but related program exists for youths, ages 15 to 17.
Ouk initially told herself, “Okay, well, I get to be close to my sister. I get to go to school, and I get to work, and I get to learn skills, and I get paid (a $1,200 monthly stipend). All these good things, and they feed us.” She soon received an exemption for being over the age limit, one she feels “really privileged and really blessed” to receive.
Another benefit is Seattle Goodwill’s Community College 101 class. For YGC crew members interested in attending college, Robert Jones, Seattle Goodwill youth program coordinator, said, “If that’s what they want to do, we will pay … for them in our Career Pathways program.”
“The main focus is to try to figure out what your barriers are,” Ouk said. “It’s support and growth and change. And that’s what we’re here for.”
Started last October, the YGC is a nine-month program that addresses employment of young adults and creates a pathway into green jobs. Seattle Parks and Recreation teaches site management, restoration skills and management, tool safety, native plant species, invasive plant identification, and environmental stewardship. Chukundi Salisbury, Seattle Parks and Recreation trail manager, says YGC’s goal is “to restore five acres of forest and two miles of trail.”
He also said, “The program is helping to engage Asian youth and others and expose them to a green career path via community service and college prep.”
“It addresses the out-of-work young individual in a green-job environment that helps with, not just being green, but also the beautification of their environment,” Jones said.
Ouk no longer struggles.
At the Goodwill Job Training and Education Center, she and other YGC crew members receive help in General Education Diploma (GED) preparation. “I’ve gotten further in that, so that I can actually have a career and take care of my kids,” she said. “It’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to ask for help.”
The center also provides classes in basic computer skills, reading and writing, and English for speakers of other languages. The students can take classes to review their career skills and learn how to do a job search.
YGC crew members are placed on a schedule that includes outdoor service at local parks.
Jones said, “The schedule is very strict because you don’t have the luxury of being late to this program in the morning, because if you are, then the van leaves you because they start working before they go to class.”
On a showery, cloudy Tuesday in mid-February, she joined eight other YGC crew members — each one wearing a green hooded jacket with the words “GREEN CORPS” in large white capital letters on the back — for five hours of work at Seward Park.
Working together as a team and using pick axes, loppers, forks, and shovels, they have already cleared out much of the park’s decades-old overgrowth of invasive blackberry bushes and ivy vines, part of an overall Green Seattle Partnership plan. The YGC has already planted such native species as ferns and Oregon grape at the Mountain View area of the Cheasty Greenspace, a 10-acre urban forest near Beacon Hill.
“We are hopeful that the YGC will be the starting point for not only the next generation of Parks staff, but a pipeline to a green career,” Salisbury said.
Ouk has already passed three GED preparation tests, only two more tests remain. Her next goals are to become a YGC spokesperson and a social worker. (end)
For more information about the Youth Green Corps, call Robert Jones at 206-860-5726 or e-mail Chukundi Salisbury at Trails@seattle.gov or call 206-684-4122.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.