Instilling pride in one’s work builds a better future

Chukundi Salisbury – Environmental Sustainability and Environmental Engagement Manager. Founder and Director, Youth Green Corps, Seattle, Washington

Feature | Seattle, Washington | 21 December 2021
Chukundi Salisbury starts the day with his team at the Natural Resources Unit to go over the workplan. The Youth Green Corps provides a pathway to employment for Seattle youth with skills development as well as instilling a sense of individual achievement. ILO Photo/ John Isaac
Lush greenery and urban trails wind through Seattle for residents to connect with nature and exercise while taking in some fresh air. What most people don’t know are the women and men behind the scenes who maintain these trails for the residents of the Emerald City.

“We call this Jefferson Horticulture, and this is the home of the Natural Resources Unit and Seattle Parks and Recreation in the City of Seattle,” says Chukundi Salisbury as his team gathers to begin their day at work.

Mr. Salisbury is the Environment Sustainability and Environmental Engagement Manager, as well as the director and founder of the Youth Green Corps (YGC) at Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR).

Chukundi launched YGC in 20210 to train and educate local Seattle youth between the ages of 18-24 years old by providing them with an opportunity and pathway to securing employment into green jobs. The program’s recruits are trained in classroom settings as well as in the outdoors and learn the importance of environmental stewardship.

“The idea for starting the Youth Green Corps, came about initially as a need for us to get our work done here at Seattle Parks and Recreation,” he reveals.

However, Chukundi later saw an opportunity to simultaneously address both SPR’s needs as well as those of the need local youth employment. “We realized that we weren’t succeeding in getting younger folks into employment in this field. So over time we started shifting our focus from trying to get as much work done on the ground, to more of a mix of making sure that we were providing the right training to create a pathway for employment into the department as well.”

Sarouet Ouk, now a YGC Lead, has found meaning in her work at the Seattle Parks and Recreation program. Her confidence in her abilities and respect for herself and the others she manages has grown tremendously providing her with a better outlook on life. ILO Photo/ John Isaac
Salisbury describes the program as “a pre-apprenticeship,” providing youth with a monthly stipend as they gain experience working on the trails, while also learning other hard and soft skills.

“We provide hard skills such as working with equipment, trail building, forest restoration, and a set of other important skills that are really getting lost today such as being on time, maintaining good work ethic, and communication,” Salisbury emphasizes.

“These are the things that we value in the program. And we also found that it pays to be intentional about the people that we recruit, because we want them to work here at the department,” he underscores.

“We look at our recruits as the future of work for our department and the next generation of parks employees,” he says beaming with pride as he introduces us to Marzerio Toliver and Sarouet Ouk both of whom are graduates of the YGC program.

“I work for the Trails Department, and I mainly do trail maintenance and trail labour,” Marzerio says with a grin and pride in his voice that’s hard to miss.

“In the YGC program I learned how to prune trees, how to care for and maintain trees, clean shrubs, and how to maintain a trail and give it a natural look. I also learned how to properly and safely use all the necessary tools, and I use all that training in the work I do now,” Toliver confidently attests.

Prior to enrolling in YGC, Marzerio worked as a carpenter and thought he would go back to that profession after completing the program, but his experience working outdoors changed that idea for him.

“Working outside, learning about the different native and invasive plant species, and being able to show others the work that I do, gives me a sense of pride,” he says with excitement and a sparkle in his eyes, as he takes us along the trail he works on. “People see me working and they stop and thank me for the work I’ve done, and that shows that my work is noticed and appreciated,” Marzerio confidently adds.

He shares that his family are very proud and supportive of the work he does and have noticed his enthusiasm for his job and positive attitude to work. “They see that I can’t wait to go to sleep, so that I can go to work early the next day,” he chuckles. “I take time to prep myself for work, and when I come to work, I work to my full capacity, and I have an energy, excitement and thirst for learning new things,” Marzerio highlights.

Marzerio enjoys working with his hands and seeing how his skills are improving the trails and paths for everyone to use. He appreciates it when people take the opportunity to speak with him and tell him how they really like his work. ILO Photo/ John Isaac
Smiling and nodding in agreement with what Marzerio shares, Sarouet chimes in and shares her experience.

“My journey is a little different,” she notes. “I joined the YGC program when I was about 25 and that’s when I was really able to start my life. I grew up in the projects and a lot of times I found myself getting in trouble and doing bad things,” Sarouet soberly reveals.

The opportunity to enroll in the YGC program offered Sarouet a fresh start and a chance to receive schooling and training. “I was trying to go back to school and look for a job, when someone my sister knew recommended that I apply to the program,” she says. “And many of the people that I met and worked with were similar to me and wanted the same things. To this day I am still friends with them. They are family to me.”

Fast forward 11 years and Ouk is now working as a YGC Lead. “I never would have imagined that I would be able to come back and work here,” she smiles. “The support and encouragement I receive here makes me feel good.”

“My parents are proud of the work I do, and the skills and values that I have been able to gain here. They are actually farm workers so there are some similarities in that we work with nature,” she notes.

“I have learned about water quality, erosion, how to preserve birds, frogs and insects, how to plant and maintain the plants and soil,” Sarouet says. “I continue to learn so much and develop skills like how to communicate better and be professional,” she highlights.

Both Ouk and Toliver agree that their jobs have given them opportunities for growth, stability, security, and freedom among other things. They are both proof that Salisbury’s YGC program is helping Seattle’s youth develop their skillsets and secure their pathways to employment.