Alumni Spotlight of the Month
“In life there are many walls that you will need to climb, and GCF is a grappling hook that can […]
One day we will live in green cities where everyone can thrive.
We are working toward a “green city” rooted in social, economic, and environmental justice. We view young adults from frontline communities as the essential force for driving the emergence of sustainable and resilient cities—by transforming their own lives, leading community transition, and promoting the values of a new regenerative and inclusive economy.
We envision young people building the green cities we want to see through engagement in service years that also lead them on a path to satisfying and rewarding careers. We view service, purposefully designed, as a systemic solution to create a just, collaborative and connected society. Our ambition: that service to help build green and equitable cities becomes an avenue to opportunity for a generation of young residents of public and low-income housing.
We train young leaders to power a green and inclusive economy, through service.
Our model corps in New York City enlists and trains young people from low income housing communities for a new and more equitable economy. We equip them with the tools to change the trajectory of their lives and access good jobs. Corps Members develop a passion for sustainability and service through driving large-scale environmental and health initiatives in public housing and other frontline communities. We design service as a path to greater well being and means to enlist young people to become contributors and leaders in the movement to build a greener, fairer and more just world. Graduates go on to jobs or college, directly or through alumni initiatives that build towards sectoral jobs and apprenticeships, via social enterprise contracts or advanced training developed with employers. Our network of alumni, partners and supporters constitutes a growing ecosystem anchored in our corps.
Service. Training. Sustainability. Justice.
People. Passion. Perseverance.
Love. Power. Equity.
Green City Force’s AmeriCorps program prepares young adults aged 18-24 who reside in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and have a high school diploma or equivalency for careers through green service. Being part of the Service Corps is a full-time commitment encompassing service, training and skills-building experiences related to sustainable buildings and communities. GCF is committed to the ongoing success of our alumni.
The Service Corps responds to climate resilience and community cohesion through environmental stewardship, building green infrastructure and urban farming, and resident education at NYCHA. We have a holistic approach to sustainability and pride ourselves in training our corps in a range of areas, from composting techniques and energy efficiency to behavior change outreach. Alumni initiatives build inroads into targeted aspects of the green economy, such as solar and energy efficiency. GCF operates an all-alumni Social Enterprise focused on energy efficiency improvements for low-to-moderate income families.
GCF’s programs are rooted in the belief that young NYCHA residents are uniquely positioned through leadership, training, and service to drive change in public housing communities while building skills, earning certifications and gaining experience to help achieve economic prosperity. Partnerships with residents, agencies, local and city-wide organizations, funders and employers are essential for the holistic approach required to realize the change we envision.
GCF was founded in 2009 by Lisbeth Shepherd, Erika Symmonds and Lucian Cohen, with the goal of modeling a citywide corps that could make the promise of an inclusive green economy real for young adults in low-income communities of color in NYC. GCF was incubated by Blue Ridge Labs and the pilot program was launched in partnership with Community Environmental Center, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and The Corps Network. Starting in Earth Week 2010, GCF began recruiting in partnership with NYCHA, the start to a unique partnership.
Published in 2021, NYCHA’s Sustainability Agenda outlines accomplishments and goals ahead for addressing climate change while creating healthier, safer homes for NYCHA residents. GCF’s expertise and holistic, place-based model is a key part of the agenda’s goal progress by strategically responding across priority areas of wellbeing, economic opportunity, community empowerment, energy and carbon, and resource management, to advance resiliency and prosperity across NYC public housing.
GCF’s core partner is the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Our partnership with NYCHA began during Earth Week 2010, when we teamed up with the Office of Resident Economic Empowerment and Sustainability (REES) and Sustainability Departments on our first major recruitment campaign. Since then, GCF has recruited exclusively in NYCHA and our partnership has grown to encompass innovative service, training, employment and career pathways related to NYCHA’s sustainability and health agendas. GCF today is a national model for a conservation corps rooted in public housing communities, connecting the dots between young talent and the green economy, through service.
A three-year evaluation conducted by Dr. Nevin Cohen, Associate Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health, and Research Director of CUNY’s Urban Food Policy Institute, documented and analyzed results from the Farms at NYCHA program 2016-2018. GCF Corps Members actively supported the evaluation through surveys and outreach. The results validate the holistic model employed by GCF, as backbone organization, and partners through Farms at NYCHA.
GCF was the inaugural workforce partner on NYC Cool Roofs, featured by Cities of Service: “Cool Roofs was first implemented in NYC in 2010 through a collaboration of NYC Service and the NYC Department of Buildings. NYC Service partnered with Community Environmental Center (CEC), which recruited volunteers and worked with Green City Force to coat over one million square feet of rooftops. CEC managed the volunteer process and Green City Force used the initiative as a learning and work opportunity for disadvantaged youth who were preparing for careers in the clean energy economy,” (source).
GCF’s Love Where You Live program built on GreeNYC’s estimate, in 2010, that 30% of the City’s climate action goals could be achieved through behavior change, and the recognition that NYCHA residents lack access to information which could prompt them to make changes. Corps Members, as young residents in training, master the material and become effective and credible messengers to fellow residents while gaining skills and experience relevant to growing fields. Love Where You Live originally focused on light bulb swaps and education, with Corps Members going door-to-door and engaging with residents in their homes, and grew over the years to address NYCHA’s sustainability agenda broadly including energy, water and Zero Waste.
GCF grew out of a bold policy vision for equity and inclusion in a new green economy. The Clean Energy Corps Working Group was housed by Green for All. GCF was founded to bring the ideas of the Clean Energy Corps to life, in particular the service component focused on purposefully connecting young adults in low-income communities of color with investments and mechanisms driving good green jobs.
Red Hook was our first farm, a partnership of GCF with Added Value and NYCHA. The model developed at Red Hook is that of a large-scale, raised-bed farm serving NYCHA residents, powered by young adult residents in service and training for careers, with produce distributed to residents in exchange for compost scraps or volunteering at the farm, and serving as a platform for education and engagement around nutrition. The farm’s 2012 construction and our ongoing commitment to Red Hook was the first example of GCF rooting in a community for a significant amount of time. Over the course of 7 years we had 12 cohorts of GCF-Americorps members participate in service, totalling 240 trained members, with 31 from Red Hook.
Started in 2013 by JobsFirstNYC, the Young Adult Sectoral Employment Project applies sectoral employment strategies to serving young adults who are out of school and out of work and the employers that may hire them. Green City Force anchored a team focused on the sustainability sector with Con Edison, Franklin Energy, L+M Development Partners, Inc., C+C Management, and NYCHA REES, preparing young adults from NYCHA to succeed in careers related to the green economy: energy efficiency and renewables, green construction and building maintenance and operations, green infrastructure, landscaping, horticulture and food production, community health and sustainability education.
Justin Baker (Cohort 17) along with 6 other AmeriCorps members across the country received the prestigious Corps Member of the Year Award in February, 2019. His perseverance and dedication to sustainability and agriculture within NYC made him a standout candidate for this national award.
“When I first entered the Green City Force info session I didn’t realize that I was joining an organization that could have an exponential impact on my being successful.”