Operation Better Block established the Junior Green Corps in 2010 to provide Pittsburgh youth ages 14-19 with structured activities that impact their physical environment, equip them for leadership roles in the community, improve their academic achievement, and provide them with an opportunity to explore green collar jobs and careers. We have four primary goals:
  1. Work Readiness: Students are expected to follow a set of standards that include motivation, preparation & positive attitude during the program that are designed to increase their work readiness skills. We are also exposing these students to a number of green job possibilities for them to explore in the future.
  2. Academic Support/Enrichment: Through green education and a partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, students will receive one on one tutoring and mentoring to increase their academic achievement. Students engage in interactive learning that allows them hands-on opportunities to put into practice what they are learning.
  3. Greening Education & Field Trips: Students participate in numerous presentations about the green movement and attend field trips throughout the year to increase their environmental knowledge. These opportunities increase our students’ environmental stewardship and help create advocates for “going green.”
  4. Community Engagement: Through engaging youth in community projects that put into action what they are learning in the classroom, we hope to produce life-long environmental stewards.
Since the program’s inception last year, twenty students have taken pride in beautifying the community by cutting down over 20 vacant, overgrown lots and clearing the streets of litter throughout the summer. Students also helped build a playground in Homewood through a Kaboom! Playground installation. These students also visited the Community College of Allegheny County, Oakmont to tour the campus and learn about what kinds of green career tracts they offered. Our group was able to partner with Homewood resident Mary Savage to beautify a vacant space at the border of Homewood. Students also participated in mentoring activities each day that focused on leadership, work readiness, self-esteem and goal setting.

During the school year, students participated in over 15 presentations from green organizations in the Pittsburgh area such as the Green Building Alliance, Phipps Conservatory, and Conservation Consultants, Inc. These presentations increased their understanding of the green movement and introduced them to green careers. In November, we were able to partner with the Edible Schoolyard program through Grow Pittsburgh at Faison Primary school, building four raised beds and transplanting strawberry and garlic plants. Several students toured the Bidwell Training Center campus where they learned about horticulture and landscaping as a possible career path. 18 students participated in the Children, Youth and Family Master Planning process for the Homewood Children’s Village and contributed their ideas about how to improve the community. These students helped to recruit 55 of their peers to participate in the CYFMP process as well. Each student’s report card was collected throughout the school year. Several students showed growth over the course of the school year as a result of the tutoring portion of the program. We have created beneficial partnerships with fifteen green organizations such as Earth Force, the Braddock Youth Project, Oakland Planning and Development, and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy that we will continue to develop and strengthen as we partner with them on numerous projects.

The Junior Green Corps program is staffed by one full time staff member who has a number of years of experience with youth development through coaching and being the president of the Homewood Community Sports. It is also staffed by one full time full year AmeriCorps Member, and one full time summer AmeriCorps Member. Our AmeriCorps members are part of the KEYS Service Corps program which places people at area non-profits working with young people in different ways.

Operation Better Block is a large building at 801 North Homewood Avenue in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. The academic portion of the Junior Green Corps will be housed in this building. The basement of this building has a large meeting area with tables, chairs and everything necessary for a learning environment. Our building has wireless internet and a projector and screen for presentations. We also have a functioning television in this space to use for videos if needed. Chart paper, markers, notebooks and supplies such as these are provided for the students and presenters.

When we are not using the facilities at Operation Better Block, approximately 60% of the work of the Junior Green Corps is done outside of the building within the one square mile community of Homewood-Brushton. We serve residents in the census tracts of 1207, 1301, 1302, 1303, 1304 and 1306. This is predominantly an African American community with a large portion of low-moderate income residents. There are numerous vacant, dilapidated properties and several overgrown vacant lots. The Junior Green Corps works in the community to make it greener, healthier and more beautiful.

Currently, we are working on planning and creating a solid curriculum that will be used for our summer program and continue through the next school year. Through a number of trainings we have attended including the Winter Institute at The Boston Food Project and Earth Force Curriculum Training, we have obtained great resources and ideas about how to create an effective year round youth program. We continue to attend valuable trainings that help sharpen our program and add to our youth development tool box.

For the summer of 2011, we are planning to have 20 students participate in the Junior Green Corps from all over Pittsburgh. These students will report to OBB five days a week where they will spend the morning participating in workshops focused on social justice, identity, diversity, job readiness, communication, environmentally friendly products, and a number of other topics. In the afternoons, they will work on five different work projects including researching several environmental issues in Homewood such as the lack of fresh, locally grown food, how to address the issue of dangerously high lead content in numerous lots in Homewood, why and how to go about clearing away illegal dumpsites, how to prepare for green collar jobs, and creative ways to improve air quality such as planting trees and other plants. Our research will produce results in the form of projects that help address or alleviate the problem. Every Friday students will participate in field trips over the summer to places such as Camp Guyasuta, Phipps Conservatory, a Green Building Tour, the Braddock Youth Project, and several other locations that will increase their environmental knowledge and create a cohesive team. During the 2011-2012 school year, students will meet at Operation Better Block 3-4 days per week after school. During this time, they will participate in one day of academic tutoring with volunteers from the University of Pittsburgh, one day of mentoring with staff from OBB, and 1-2 days of green education and planning for projects within Homewood. Field trips will be scheduled occasionally on the weekends as well as service projects throughout the school year.

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Green Champion, Earth Day Edition:
Here at the City of Pittsburgh, we appreciate and celebrate determined individuals that fight for and defend a cause, excelling despite opposition.
Our City, nationally recognized as the City of Champions, is rich with unsung heroes who continually work to improve the quality of life for residents, ensuring that future generations may thrive in Pittsburgh.
Congratulations to our April, Green Champions

Junior Green Corps – Under the Leadership of Homewood’s Operation Better
Block’s: Brooke Burchette and Kahlil Morris, Program Managers.
Junior Green Corp (JGC) is a youth work readiness program for high school students. The program, started by Operation Better Block in 2010, carries a vision of engaging Homewood youth with structured activities that impact their physical environment, equip them for leadership roles in the community and provide them with an opportunity to explore green collar jobs and careers.

Since its inception, Junior Green Corps has worked with GTECH Strategies on soil remediation and developing a community garden on Frankstown Avenue.

Along with the garden, JGC actively maintains 20 vacant lots throughout the Homewood-Brushton community.

During the school year, JGC students meet regularly to increase academic achievement, attend job readiness and life skills workshops and participate in green focused activities. In March, Junior Green Corps visited Philadelphia, PA to learn about other green initiatives happening in neighboring cities. Later this year, JGC members look forward to training with Green Living Technologies Institute, learning how to install and maintain indoor green walls and green roofs.

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