You wouldn’t know it yet, to look at the empty storefront at 825 Southern Avenue SE, but there’s a green movement afoot there. Soon to become the face of Prince George’s Green Hub, a new non-profit devoted to green job training, the space is situated in a struggling commercial development in the primarily African American Washington Highlands area of Prince George’s County, Maryland. It’s a short 20-minute drive from the White House, but socioeconomically speaking, it’s worlds away.
It’s also worlds away in terms of awareness of issues around sustainability, in terms of environmental justice, and in terms of inclusion in today’s green economy. Green news site Grist.org recently ran a piece full of abysmal stats that pointed toward all the ways in which African Americans have been locked out of the green economy. Just for starters: African Americans make up 12% of the US labor workforce, but (in 2013) only about 6% of the solar workforce. Prince George’s County is a perfect example: green jobs simply have not been on the community’s radar.
Resident Lisa Lincoln has a big problem with those numbers. She’s the woman behind the operation at Prince George’s Green Hub, and she’s on a fierce mission to bring green job training to her community. “For people in Prince George’s County who are suffering from a bad economy,” she says, “this is an opportunity that they’re just not necessarily aware of. So I decided to launch a non-profit to do some green awareness building and some workforce development training, and help some entrepreneurs get started with new green businesses.”
A green consultant with seven years of experience in grant writing and green project management, Lincoln knows the field inside and out. She recently worked on a massive weatherization program in the community, with a budget of $200,000 in its first year, $400,000 in its second, $600,000 in its third. “It really makes a difference for folks when their energy bills go down and their home is more comfortable,” she says of that project.
But before she can really get going at full throttle with the new green hub, it’ll need to be outfitted with the basics. A former laundry and cleaning operation, there hadn’t been a need before for an HVAC system, so right now there’s literally no heating in place. “If I want to run classes and help start up businesses, we need to have heat,” says Lincoln.
The hub will also need a storefront renovation, as the space still bears the scars of the multiple break-ins it’s seen over the years: broken glass, and a facade in desperate need of repair. Lastly, it’ll need classroom furniture. For all three, Lincoln has turned to crowd-resourcing, and to ioby. The project is past its halfway mark, with just about $2,000 to go. The space itself has been generously donated, for the hub’s first year of operation, by the mall’s developer.
Lincoln already knows which part of the green economy she’ll hone in on first: storm water management training. And for very, very practical reasons. The Chesapeake Bay region, which includes Prince George’s County, is currently under a federal mandate to clean up its watershed. “Right now there’s a lot of emphasis on urban storm water management,” explains Lincoln. In response, Prince George’s County has helped to develop a $100M public-private partnership with Corvias Solutions, through which it will be implementing and retrofitting 8,000 acres for storm water management, over the next 30 years.
“This is a big project,” Lincoln says, “because not only is it the design and the building of rain gardens and green roofs and things like that, but it’s also the maintenance of those storm water utilities. So that’s where the hot jobs are. The hot topic right now is storm water management.”
What does it all add up to? The county is predicting 5,000 new green jobs. That means landscaping, building rain gardens, building green roofs. Installing cistern to collect rainwater. It means all the construction work that goes along with installing paving systems that can handle storm water. It means knowing what’s a beneficial native plant, and what’s a weed that needs to be pulled because it’ll interfere with water filtration. And it means a lot, a lot of maintenance.
The Chesapeake Bay Trust has already awarded Lincoln a grant to develop a clean water class, which she’s slated to teach at the Prince George’s Community College this spring. She’s hoping that the new green hub will, in addition to being a classroom in itself, draw new students from the community into that clean water class.
She’s also slated to start offering green jobs training in a nearby correctional facility, preparing inmates to interview for jobs in, of course, storm water management, but also clean energy, the local food movement, and recycling. “That has the added benefit that when you give somebody a job,” she says, “they are much less likely to go back into the correctional system. So it’s a win for the environment, it’s a win for the economy, and it’s a win for decreasing crime.”
Lincoln’s green agenda is new to the community, no doubt about it, but it’s quickly garnering excitement. She remembers one particular day – a very cold day, so cold that in the absence of a heating system, they had to cut the class short – when she happened to be down at the hub teaching a green careers workshop. “There was one kid,” Lincoln remembers, “26 years old, and he said ‘Lisa, I’m working at Walmart on the night shift, and I cannot feed my family of four.’ So I said, ‘well, you need a green job!’” That student is now considering taking the clean water class, and looking into training for storm water management jobs.
Other folks have stopped by when Lincoln’s been puttering around the hub, fixing things up or making plans to install solar power on the roof, and asked her what she’s up to, how they can get involved. “So I think that once the doors are open, they will come,” she says. “If I build it, they will come. We need to have clean water everywhere, and water is such a precious commodity. It’s probably next on the horizon for the world crisis, and so we need to protect our water as much as possible. There’s a lot of opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurial activity. I’m excited about all the possibilities.”
To learn more, and to donate, visit the Prince George’s Green Hub campaign page. Let’s keep Lincoln and her students and entrepreneurs toasty warm through this cold winter, and then see what good green things sprout up come spring.