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Arbor Day Foundation Honors Community with National Innovation Award

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Across the Nation, communities implement programs and opportunities which spotlight a connection between people and their surrounding environmental community. The Delaware Center for Horticulture (TheDCH) is proud to be the creator of one of Delaware’s first green jobs training programs, and to fill a sorely needed role in equipping Delaware’s ex-offenders to successfully re-integrate into their community.

This ‘Return to Work Green Jobs Program’ hires and trains previously incarcerated men and women for entry level positions in the landscaping and horticulture industry. A 400-hour curriculum combines classroom training and hands-on work experience supervised by industry experts which together equip ex-offenders to secure meaningful employment upon successful completion. Graduates leave with marketable skills in a growing industry, valuable certifications, the satisfaction of improving the communities they come from, and essential employer references. The curriculum is endorsed by the Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association as an Introductory Horticulture Training Program.

Since its inception, 39 men and women have successfully completed TheDCH Green Jobs training (seven alternates also finished the classroom portion), and an encouraging two-thirds of the graduates went on to secure employment. Employment is a key factor in reducing recidivism. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Courts, only seven percent of ex-offenders who were employed throughout their supervised release landed back in prison within five years – compared to a sobering two-thirds of all ex-offenders, according to a recent H.O.P.E. commission report.

The public benefit to job training is clear: it costs taxpayers $33,000 to house each inmate each year, according to a VERA Institute for Justice Report, compared to $5,000 per participant for the 400-hour Green Job training for a job sector that is expected to grow 13 percent in the next two decades. TheDCH staff works closely with the Delaware Department of Correction to identify men and women who are highly motivated to re-integrate into the community and acquire new skills that will help them set a satisfying, productive course in life. Other key partners have included the Delaware Department of Labor and Wilmington’s U.S. Probation office.

As a result, this innovative program earned national recognition: The Arbor Day Foundation gave it their 2014 Award for Education Innovation, an honor that recognizes inventive programming that teaches its audience the importance of trees and inspires future environmental stewards. And, in fact, presently the Green Jobs Program spans all three of TheDCH’s program areas: Urban Forestry, Urban Agriculture and Public Landscapes. Funded by the generosity of the Laffey-McHugh Foundation, Burpee Foundation, and Community Reinvestment Act bank grants, the 10-12 week program runs twice a year (spring and fall) with two full-time employees and an alternate.

“TheDCH is proud of our Green Jobs program and the men and women who have chosen to improve their communities, the environment, and their own lives by becoming a part of the green jobs industry,” says TheDCH Executive Director Pamela Sapko. “We are also grateful for the Arbor Day Foundation’s recognition. National exposure helps advance TheDCH’s efforts to change lives, build communities, and improve the environment through horticulture.”

For more information, visit TheDCH web site www.thedch.org; and/or if such a program exists in your community, post details below. Identify and enable programs which enable ex-offenders to successfully re-integrate into their communities.

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