By Ameshia Cross
Growing up young, black, and impoverished on Chicago’s Southside was no picnic. Blurs of hopelessness and despair surrounded me. I enrolled in after- school youth programs to help me get away from the painful images I saw daily. As a child, I wanted to work for NASA. After serving on a green committee in high school, I decided to pursue environmental policy education. But to my surprise, the programs in my community didn’t offer programs about environmental policy.
I had to find other avenues to pursue my interest but today’s kids can take find environmental programs in our community. I currently intern for EPA and had an opportunity to take a trip “back in time” and visit a youth center. The Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) has everything I wished for as a kid and more. It meets the needs of the inner city kids by providing a safe haven in the midst of a socioeconomic storm. At the same time, GCYC allows students to explore green careers, education, and hands-on activities.
The GCYC’s Green Teens Program is a summer apprenticeship program for students to explore green jobs and receive hands-on experience in this growing field. The job skills training provided by the Green Teens Program makes it possible for students to develop college level skills while still in high school. I wish they had a program like this when I was in high school.
Youth participants are also free to explore the Environmental Education Garden housed on the GCYC’s premises. The garden is designed to mirror a green campus featuring an open chef series where chefs from across the city can come and create dishes using the ingredients grown by the students. The garden also creates a rain forest atmosphere that enables students to understand how a rain forest works without having to travel.
Though the GCYC is filled with fun and exciting environmental education activities the emphasis according to Marji Hess, the garden manager, is sustainability. “Developing our youth and using the environments that they find themselves in to promote community sustainability is the ultimate goal.”
The GCYC Green Teens’ and Environmental Education Garden brought a smile to my face. Oh to be 13 again and be a part of this program!
About the author: Ameshia Cross joined the EPA in December as a STEP intern in the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She has worked for numerous community organizations, holds seats on youth education boards, and is active in politics. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis on environmental policy and legislation.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.