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Greening the South Bronx and empowering its community with Green Worker Cooperatives
After giving 35 years of her life punching the clock for someone else, South Bronx resident Gloria Walker was ready to start working for herself. Fortunately for her, there’s an organization in her neighborhood devoted not only to giving people like her their shot at business ownership, but at making South Bronx a model for grassroots green initiatives the world over.
Launched about five years ago, Green Worker Cooperatives is the brainchild of Omar Freilla, an easygoing and enterprising gentleman who knows that true change in economically and environmentally hard-hit areas like the South Bronx is not going to come from above, but from the inside — and time is not a luxury the borough has. GWC’s mission is to hit two ugly birds with one stone by incubating green businesses from within the community. Jobs need to be created, and the purpose of those jobs needs to be to cleaning up the South Bronx.
Years of feeling powerless to change the environmental and economic situation in the South Bronx has affected the community’s psyche, and changing mindsets from that of an employee to that of an owner has proven to be one of the biggest challenges GWC has had to face. To this end, the Co-op Academy was created. The Academy serves as a training program, teaching participants the ins and outs of starting a cooperative business as well as educating them about the dire environmental position they are in with a “toxic tour” of the area. Once their “schooling” is complete, graduates work on their business ideas, feasibility studies, and business plan. With that done, Omar and the GWC start raising money to make those ideas a reality.
Does the model work? Last April during Earth Week, ReBuilder’s Source was opened by 4 Green Worker Cooperatives members, including Gloria Walker. ReBuilder’s Source is making South Bronx’s dumping ground reputation among NYC’s construction workers an asset, by taking perfectly good materials meant for the landfill, cleaning them up, and giving them new life in the community.
Sarah and I had the honor of talking to Omar, Sonia, and another ReBuilder’s Source owner, Carlos Angel. Below is the result of that conversation.