Green Visions successfully completed its 8th year of delivering quality job training and hand-on, work experience to at risk-youth in our city. A late start, drought-like conditions, and a health crisis working against us, couldn’t stop us from pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and getting to work. We navigated the complicated year that was 2020, once again transforming over two acres of once vacant, city land into bountiful, flourishing gardens in the JOSANA and Joseph Avenue neighborhoods.
We also were able to add Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Introduction to Landscape Technicians training to this year’s roster of classes and Bank of America Financial Literacy class.
Of our 7 graduates, two have been re-enrolled, full time, back into RCSD high schools; one has enrolled in and currently attends SUNY Brockport, full-time as a journalism major; and 4 have secured full-time or part-time employment. Additionally, we were able to hire back 3 Green Visions graduates as site managers to help mentor, teach, and lead our team. Congratulations to our 2020 cohort! And thank you to all of the partners who helped make our program happen this year!
Lastly, with this year’s team successfully completing our program, Green Visions crossed the landmark threshold of having graduated over 100 City of Rochester youth from our transformative program. We could not be prouder of each and every single member of our Green Visions family as we continue to support them and bear witness to their inspiring growth.
This past week Greentopia hosted a cocktail party to thank our Green Visions program partner Lucas Green House. The event took place on our viewing platform with a beautiful view of the high falls gorge.
In attendance was the Lucas Green House staff and recently former-owner Susan Palomaki. The party was to celebrate Susan, a huge partner of the program, and her retirement after 15 years of owning and working the Lucas Green House. Lucas Green House has partnered with our Green Visions program for the past 5 years. They have helped us by providing a space to start our flowers and giving the program extra flowers as well, in order to make our gardens more beautiful. Our Green Visions Program is always looking for partners with local businesses such as Lucas Green House. If interested reach out to email@example.com.
Our viewing platform cocktail parties are available to all! They include a tour of the high falls gorge from the Pont de Renne Bridge by the director of the Greentopia board Lisa Baron. With wine, cheese, and a beautiful view it is a great place to bring friends, coworkers, or anyone else! For more information reach out to Lisa Baron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Green Visions program is adapting, like us all, to the COVID-19 pandemic. Planting has begun at both our Joseph Ave. and Smith St. gardens! A late but great start! A special thank you to the Nature Conservancy for their continued support of our Joeseph Ave. location and another huge thank you to Harris Seeds for their seed donation and Lucas Green Houses for the space to start these lovely plants. Check out our partners’ Facebook pages here!
Now in its sixth year, the Green Visions program has installed an 800 square foot shipping container at the Green Visions Campus at 174 Whitney Street in the JOSANA neighborhood. The container has been completely retrofitted by Ikoniq, a Canandaigua-based company that creates top-of-the-line carts, kiosks, and containers for many of the country’s largest stadiums, concert halls, and amusement parks. The Green Visions’ container was designed to be used as a complete floral design workspace – with flower cooling room and tool room – and received financial support from the Allyn’s Creek Garden Club, the Rochester Garden Club, The John C. Wegman Foundation, Kathleen Holt and Steve Lurie, and the August Family Foundation.
“The Green Visions shipping container is a huge step forward in helping to manage the program’s consistent flower bouquet production and delivery. It is a first for the City of Rochester and serves as a model of alternative programming space for other grassroots neighborhood programs.” Says Lisa Baron, Board Chair of Greentopia.
This project also serves as another example of the amazing collaboration found between Rochester organizations committed to the revitalization of the JOSANA neighborhood. This year, the Green Visions program is providing landscape maintenance for 19 Habitat for Humanity properties. In return, Habitat for Humanity and Rochester Youth Build provided the materials and installed a driveway for the shipping container. All of these neighborhood developments are guided by the vision and leadership of Charles Settlement House Neighborhood Association and its JOSANA Master Plan. For the last six years, the Green Visions program has been working not just in the neighborhood, but more importantly with the neighborhood.
It’s been an unusual summer for Green Visions, Greentopia’s job development program. A super-soaked spring and summer, along with some red-tape tangles, delayed the start of the season. Manager Morgan Barry said the Green Visions garden wasn’t tilled until late May, when it’s usually under cultivation by the first week in May. So some plants, notably a major crop of zinnias, are coming in a month late and all at once.
Rather than trying to conduct business as usual in an unusual situation, the program is experimenting a bit. Green Visions is still a job development program for young people 16-22 in the Northwest quadrant of Rochester, one of the poorest sections of a city where half the kids live in poverty. But with expertise growing in the staff and the job-skills participants, the site in the JOSANA Neighborhood can also offer more. A cut-your-own-bouquet event scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 19, for instance. Visitors can walk away with their own cut flowers, or can rely on the expertise of managers Morgan Barry and Tiani Jennings to make a beautiful arrangement.
Greentopia purchased additional land adjacent to the main garden lot (797 Smith St.)
A learn-to-drive program is being added to the program later in the growing season, adding another key skill young people need to to secure regular employment.
A grant from the Developmentally Disabled Giving Circle at Rochester Area Community Foundation is allowing students who’ve aged out of Edison Technical High School’s program for disabled students to continue working – and, more importantly, getting paid – in the Green Visions program. (Most of the 16 program participants are from the neighborhood, but a couple spots are set aside for developmentally disabled disabled youngsters, who have an even harder time gaining job skills and employment.)
“It’s bringing back graduates and keeping their momentum going,” Barry said.
One such graduate is Frank Graham, 22, who returned this summer to work with Green Visions for a second year. He listed planting, watering, fertilizing, working hard and getting along with people as some of the things he’s learned.
“I’m a workaholic. It’s good, though,” Graham said. At home, his mother doesn’t like him to leave the house. Working with Greentopia gets him out into the sunlight. “It’s better than being in my room, cooped up,” he said.
Ideally, Green Visions graduates will take what they’ve learned over 20 weeks in the growing season and apply it to year-round jobs. Angela Tye, 22, has her sights set on a job in a garden department at a place like Home Depot or Wal-Mart. “I know what to do now. I know what the flowers need, what the plants need,” she said.
There’s the young mother who didn’t know what it was like to hang out with other teenagers because she had a baby at 13 and dropped out of school. And the young father of two who finds working with flowers at Green Visions an oasis of peace in his life. Gardening can be hot, dirty, hard work. But it is also a lifeline of job skills and resume building for youth 18 to 22 living in a city neighborhood suffering from crushing poverty.
“These kids are in situations or circumstances in their lives because of the challenges they face,” said filmmaker Doug Buckley, of Blackbird Son Video Production, who created the “14 Stories” series. “That consumes them, I think.” A job with Green Visions exposes the young workers to life beyond a small radius within Rochester’s northeast side. Green Visions also helps the workers find new ways of dealing with life. “They’re used to conflict – and I know because they said it — that’s their first instinct is to react as if they’re in a conflict,” Buckley said. Side benefits of the program are that flower cultivation is making the soil healthier and the neighborhood more beautiful. Green Visions workers plant, raise and harvest the flowers, which are sold in stores such as Wegmans, Hart’s Local Grocers and the Rochester Public Market.
Seven of the “14 Stories” films are online now, and seven others are due to be uploaded later this spring. Watch and share, please. If you’re so moved, please support these young people or others like them by sponsoring a youth in the Green Visions program. There’s no other job development program like Green Visions in Rochester, providing 20 or more weeks of employment and training, including federal job safety certification. Watch “14 Stories” and you’ll see that it’s no small achievement for young people in the JOSANA neighborhood to complete the program while dealing with all the survival issues they face.
The stories take you into the hearts and, in one case, the home of the Green Visions workers. Buckley captured the sometimes bleak facts of their lives as well as their blossoming hopes. “I was really humbled by the fact that they would tell me those things, and tell me how they felt about those events in their lives,” he said.
For example, Tarin, who dropped out of high school in 10th grade, now hopes to go to college to study performing arts. “I can finally feel like I’m involved in something,” he says on camera.
Then there’s Anthony, who goes by the nickname of “Magic.” He shares, “Green Visions keeps me out of a lot of stuff. When I come to work, I get a lot of negative things off my mind.”
And there’s Breanna, who was living in a homeless shelter when she first started with the program. “I didn’t really feel like I had a family until I came to Green Visions,” she says. Now she talks about wanting to own a house and her own business.
When Morgan Barry, manager of the Green Visions program, heard that Monroe County was looking for young people to recognize, he said it was a no-brainer to nominate Tiani Jennings.
The 21-year-old manages our job development/garden site in the JOSANA neighborhood. She grew up in that Northwest Rochester neighborhood but now lives in suburban Greece. This summer is Jennings’ fourth with Green Visions.
“She mentors 15 others. She helps them trains them, helps them find jobs. She’s the same age as many of these kids but you kind of forget about that,” Barry said. “She’s a leader in this community. People look up to her.”
County officials agreed with Barry that Jennings is outstanding. She won Monroe County’s “Young Citizen of the Year Award” earlier in June.
“I’m just incredibly proud of Tiani,” Barry said. “Any recognition I can get shone on her is a great thing.” Her pay for 35 hours a week at the Green Visions gardens doesn’t go far enough to compensate her for all she does to guide and inspire other youth, Barry said.
Jennings received the award from County Executive Cheryl DiNolfo at a special event. County legislators representing both JOSANA and Greece took part in the recognition.
“It was so lovely. I felt so special,” Jennings said. She also was gratified to see her hard work paying off in the form of recognition. “Just to get involved in the community where I grew up…how can I not get involved?”
Jennings has been following two career paths for several years now. From April to October, when the Green Visions program is operating, she works in landscaping. “I’m a nature body. I love working outside,” she said.
The rest of the year she works as a home health aide. She’s planning to attend college to get a license as a registered nurse, upgrading from homecare. Still, we can tell she’s pulled in two directions, as she says would also love to find full-time work in landscaping.
“I love Green Visions. It’s like a piece of my heart,” she said.
In our continuing efforts to make the Green Visions self-sustaining, the workforce preparation program is tackling more than growing flowers in the JOSANA neighborhood and selling them in bouquets. The High Falls Business Association has hired the group to plant and water more than 30 planters in the immediate area. And, Green Visions workers will also maintain the recently opened Flour Garden on Brown’s Race.
“It’s the first time the program in JOSANA ties in with the program here,” said Michael A. Philipson, Greentopia’s co-founder, as he sat in the office on Brown’s Race. Greentopia’s vision of a series of gardens and amenities surround High Falls includes providing jobs to keep these new features attractive for visitors near and far. The current contract has Green Visions trainees also taking care of Granite Mills Park (at the north end of the FlourGarden) and a pocket park on Main Street next to an Rochester Gas & Electric building.
“It’s a tangible collaboration between Greentopia and the High Falls” Business Improvement District,” said Rachel Walsh, director of Rochester’s first EcoDistrict.
Green Visions workers are also tackling rain gardens at the Rochester Public Market. Because many of the bouquets the group will grow this year are already earmarked to be sold at Wegmans, Green Visions is seeking related work landscaping. The program’s success is getting noticed. Managers Tiani Jennings and Morgan Barry accepted an award from the Rochester Chapter of the Sierra Club in April. And June 9 Jennings was presented with a youth community service award from Monroe County.
Green Visions is planting new seeds. Not just the kinds that produce great cut flowers, but the kinds that produce opportunities for a new group of youth – developmentally disabled students at Edison Career & Technology High School.
The program has partnered with Edison’s Buildings & Grounds Careers program on a pilot project in three ways:
Students recently planted 5,000 seeds in the Edison greenhouse that will be transplanted into Green Visions’ gardens in the JOSANA neighborhood later this spring.
Two students from the program have been selected to be among the 15 interns who participate in Green Vision’s job training by working 20 weeks, from May through October, in the cut flower gardens in northwest Rochester.
Another six to eight students in the program will come as a group to the Green Visions gardens once a week for 10 weeks, too. Their performance as volunteers will help identify future interns, who are paid a stipend for their work.
“One of the major hurdles for people with a disability is getting that first job,” said Lewis Stess, co-founder of Greentopia. So far, most graduates of the Green Visions programs have gone on to jobs, but not within the landscaping field, Stess said. But the students from Edison may be an even better fit for this kind of landscaping work. “They could become great gardeners, great landscapers, great bouquet-makers,” he said.
Meanwhile, Green Visions has just been recognized by the Rochester region chapter of the Sierra Club with its annual Environmental Leadership Award. Morgan Barry and Tiani Jennings, managers of Green Visions, accepted the award April 21.
This latest accolade and the new partnership with Edison come at a time when Green Visions is ramping up its ability to serve commercial accounts. Last year Green Visions provided 15 bouquets a week to Wegmans’ East Avenue store. This year the order has been upped to 100 bouquets shared among three Wegmans stores.
“We’re going to be the only local suppliers of cut flowers,” Stess said. “And we supply those flowers from vacant, unused lots.”
Youngsters 18 to 22 who come from the Northwest part of the city will still fill most of the internships Green Visions provides. In a neighborhood like JOSANA, paid internships can be a rare opportunity leading to sustained employment. Besides providing a job reference and experience, the Green Visions program also provides certification in job and environmental safety practices — important credentials for landing another job.
Such training may be even more valuable for Edison’s students. Morgan Barry, program director for Green Visions, noted that the unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds with disabilities is 70 percent nationally, which is double the rate for their non-disabled peers.
Chris McCoy, the Buildings and Grounds Careers teacher at Edison said, “One of the greatest indicators of post-secondary employment for individuals with disabilities is whether or not a student works or volunteers during high school. Community partners such as Green Visions provide a real-life work setting as well as the types of job training skills that are the difference between employment and sitting at home.”
February 18, 2016, marked the fifth anniversary of Greentopia’s incorporation. So what does our five-year-old organization have to show for those years? Plenty!
Four years of free Greentopia festivals to raise awareness of sustainability and green assets in downtown Rochester, bringing more than 50,000 people (many for the first time) to High Falls.
Four years of Film Festivals to call attention to green issues and sustainability.
Three Futures Summit conferences, bringing in speakers from around the country to talk about urban sustainability and green redevelopment.
Purchase of a large section of the High Falls cataract to preserve it as part of the GardenAerial project.
Three years of Green Visions, a job training program that has provided 20 weeks each year of job training and employment for young people in the JOSANA neighborhood, while producing beautiful gardens to beautify the neighborhood and provide cut flowers to sell.
The beginning of New York’s first EcoDistrict, a district that will share ideas and green projects to work and live more sustainably in and around the north side of downtown Rochester.
Awards and recognition, including being named a “top priority” transformational project by the Sustainability Workgroup of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.
A massive Dinner on the Bridge, calling attention to and raising money for Greentopia’s initiatives, including the GardenAerial circling the canyon around High Falls.
The completed FlourGarden: a running water, native plants garden with sculptures and lighted fixtures on Brown’s Race, the very first capital development project of the GardenAerial.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council; Metabolic Studio; The Farash Foundation; The Community Foundation; Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation; and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (among others).
And the support of hundreds of individual and corporate donors for events, programs, and capital projects. Won’t you join with us?