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Green City Force

Stories of Impact

Green City Force

Green City Force (GCF)  co-founder Lisbeth Shepherd started her career launching what is now the national service model of France. She then worked on green economy policies on the West Coast and moved to NYC to launch GCF in 2009. In her previous roles, she witnessed the deep interconnectivity of the need for jobs for underemployed/unemployed young people and the rising climate crisis. Determined to address these issues together, she identified public housing in New York as a concentrated locus where dual impact could occur.

“The vision was to tackle the sustainability challenges of the housing authority while building workforce pathways for a whole community of young folks that needed a platform to thrive economically,” Tonya Gayle, Green City Force’s current executive director, explained.

Today, Green City Force is a booming ecosystem of resources that mobilizes young people’s  talent to help shape them into leaders in the sustainability movement.

As an AmeriCorps National Service Program, Green City Force gives young people the opportunity to give back directly to the communities in which they live. Through a six-month program, with two cohorts per year, about 100 young adults annually are involved in farming, growing food, educating young children, composting, solar initiatives, and conversations in the community around energy reduction.

The value of unrestricted multi-year support from an organization that's fully aligned with our priorities around justice has been game changing to really give us room to plan and build. Tonya Gale, Executive Director

“We connect the dots between the challenges of communities and helping folks to build skills – whether in carpentry, urban agriculture, or community outreach – while understanding the historic barriers to these opportunities, particularly for BIPOC and frontline folks,” Gayle added.

Green City Force’s ultimate goal is to get their participants job-ready with the tools to make change in their communities: “We want them exposed and trained and understanding the real issues that harm where they come from, and how they could potentially be resources to correct that,” Gayle said.

And many who’ve gone through the experience are eager to deepen these roots: At any given time, a third of GCF’s staff are graduates of its program. Additionally, thanks to Green City Force’s resume workshops, interview prep, and career fairs, over 80% of its graduates are placed onto their next career step by the end of their programs.

In part, Gayle attributes the success of Green City Force’s robust and holistic programming to Brooklyn Org’s multi-year funding. “The value of unrestricted multi-year support from an organization that’s fully aligned with our priorities around justice has been game changing to really give us room to plan and build,” she explained. “Our partnership has been valuable, because it’s been a long time, mission aligned, and additive in terms of exposing us to other connections.”

Green City Force

Since its humble beginnings with a single farm in the Red Hook, Green City Force now manages six farms across all five boroughs – but they’re not done growing. “I want more farms in Brooklyn, I want more people and communities to be connected,” Gayle said. “I want us to have 10 sites physically in NYCHA by 2025, because it’s a replicable model.”

This blueprint is exactly what Green City Force is using to position itself nationally and to build green cities all over America: “It’s the idea of building resilience and infrastructure and capacity across the nation and freeing a generation of folks who haven’t been part of the expected solutions.”

Two young people tend to an urban farm, harvesting green onions from a field below trees and buildings
A group of people posing in front of a green house.

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