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The Flower Show

In Their Own Words: The Transformative Experience of PHS’s Workforce Development Programs

September 14, 2023

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Nicetown/Tioga Boot Camp

By Melissa O'Brien

Throughout Philadelphia neighborhoods, PHS’s workforce development programs have made significant impacts on individuals and communities. The ongoing six-week intensive bootcamp series at FDR Park that teaches trainees the 411 on landscaping is now accompanied by an arborist Southwest trees training series at Bartram’s Garden in West Philly and a two-week mini-bootcamp series in Nicetown and Tioga. With the help of Nicetown CDC, Tioga United, Friends of Fernhill Park, Philly Parks and Rec, Bartram’s Garden, the Overbrook Environmental Center, the International Institute for Advanced Instruction, PowerCorps, and many other wonderful program partners, these programs have changed lives by providing valuable training and job opportunities in the horticultural and landscaping industries. 

Below, we hear from three program graduates, Al, Ricardo, and Monty, who share their personal journeys and experiences with these green jobs training programs. 

“PHS's workforce development program provided me an awesome opportunity to keep the community clean and to make money on the side.” - Al Gillyard

Al's Journey from Program Participant to Crew Leader 

Al Gillyard’s introduction to PHS's six-week workforce development program at FDR Park came through his job at the Lenfest Center at North10. The center received funding from the William Penn Foundation to enhance community cleanliness, which led to Al's enrollment in the workforce development program at FDR Park. Despite being 51 years old with no prior landscaping experience, Al saw this opportunity as a chance for personal growth and community impact. He says, “PHS's workforce development program provided me an awesome opportunity to keep the community clean and to make money on the side.” 

The bootcamp's curriculum covers a wide range of landscaping skills, including grass cutting, weeding, pruning, and maintenance. Al highlighted the importance of learning the nuances of grass cutting – not just mowing but cutting at the right height to maintain a pristine appearance without harming the grass. He also acquired proficiency in using equipment like weed whackers, which was completely new to him. 

Al's journey didn't stop with acquiring skills; he went on to form his own landscaping crew. During the six-week training program, he carefully observed his fellow participants to identify those genuinely committed to the work. Al then selected four individuals who shared his dedication and enthusiasm. Today, their crew works seamlessly, efficiently tackling landscaping projects, and has covered a remarkable 1.2 million square feet of land. 

Al's crew focuses on cleaning up vacant lots in the community. Collaborating with PHS, they take pride in restoring these spaces to their former glory. Al and his crew have become neighborhood heroes, with residents expressing their gratitude through small gestures like offering them water and heartfelt thanks. 

Al wholeheartedly recommends the workforce development program to others looking for meaningful work and an opportunity to make a difference. He emphasizes the importance of reaching out to younger individuals, saying, “I wish we could reach out to the younger crowd to get them started so they won't get in the streets. If they're in the streets, they should be cleaning the streets, because there's always work to be done.” 

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The bootcamp's curriculum covers a wide range of landscaping skills.

Ricardo Leveled Up His Skill Set to Kickstart His Career 

Ricardo Vega’s journey with the two-week Nicetown and Tioga workforce development program began when he heard about it through his manager, Kerry, at Nicetown CDC. Already possessing some landscaping experience, Ricardo was drawn to the program to further develop his pruning skills and gain a deeper understanding of tree care. 

Ricardo's participation in the program was marked by valuable lessons and newfound knowledge. PHS’s program covered various aspects of landscaping, including the importance of proper pruning techniques and tree care. Ricardo noted that the program taught him about aeration – the process of creating small holes in the ground around trees to facilitate better oxygen flow -- adding another layer of expertise to his skill set. 

When asked about the overall value of two-week training program, Ricardo said it not only enhanced his landscaping skills but also opened doors to new career opportunities. “I started working right after the day I graduated,” says Ricardo. He explained that the bootcamp provided participants with a valuable certificate that can be presented when applying for jobs in the landscaping industry. Moreover, they had access to resources through PHS’s staff members Sam, Greg, and Erik, who could assist them in finding job opportunities. This comprehensive support system has been instrumental in helping participants like Ricardo kickstart their careers. 

“I would highly recommend this program to others because a lot of people don't have opportunities out here. I was one of those people, and this opened the door.” - Monty Gerome

Monty's Transformation through Training 

Monty Gerome’s journey with PHS began when his wife signed him up for the six-week workforce development program at FDR Park, marking the beginning of a life-changing experience. Monty's motivation was clear: he sought a fulfilling and sustainable career. 

Monty described his experience in the program as highly positive, thanks to the dedicated guidance of PHS instructors Tim and Sam. Their expertise and teaching style made the learning process enjoyable and impactful. Additionally, the program facilitated connections to job opportunities, a crucial aspect of Monty's journey toward career advancement. 

The program provided comprehensive training, touching on a wide range of landscaping skills, such as tree planting, plant care, and weeding. An unexpected skill Monty acquired was the proper usage of a woodchipper, broadening his skill set even further. 

Monty's admission to the workforce development program was driven by a desire to acquire essential landscaping skills, although he had some prior experience in the field. Nonetheless, his hands-on approach to learning allowed him to adapt quickly. What he gained most from the program was the opportunity to secure meaningful employment. He says, “I would highly recommend this program to others because a lot of people don't have opportunities out here. I was one of those people, and this opened the door.” 

Monty's story is a testament to the program's transformative impact. Through the program, he secured a job with All Seasons, a landscaping company. This opportunity came to fruition as a result of Monty's hard work and dedication during the training. He quickly went from program participant to a full-time employee, highlighting the effectiveness of the program in opening doors to career advancement. 

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Through this program, graduates are helping to make healthier and more livable neighborhoods.

Making a Meaningful Difference 

The workforce development programs in Nicetown and Tioga and at FDR Park serve as a beacon of hope for those looking to embark on new career journeys and make a meaningful difference in their neighborhoods. Al, Ricardo, and Monty all found new career opportunities and a sense of purpose through the program. By combining skill development with community service, this initiative not only empowers individuals with valuable skills but also promotes community well-being. Their journeys underscore the transformative power of such initiatives and the positive impact they have on individuals and communities alike. 

Learn more about how our workforce development programs create economic opportunities that lead to cleaner, greener, and more welcoming communities.