Groundwork RVA is empowering teens with environmental knowledge and green job skills and it’s making a difference in Richmond.
When high school student Bea first came to Camp Spokes, a bicycle mechanics and adventure camp for girls and gender non-conforming youth, she had never repaired a bike. That changed – and fast! – when Bea got a flat during her first group ride during the Groundwork RVA camp.
Counselors inspired Bea to fix her own flat, and that’s when she began to shine. As camp went on, Bea became more enthusiastic, curious, and confident. The next week, she returned to camp as a youth leader for the middle school session. As soon as the new campers arrived, Bea started helping and sharing her newfound skills. “It was really awesome to see,” says Alexa Santisteban, Groundwork RVA’s Bellemeade Community Bike Shop manager.
I built that. The power behind those three words, spoken by young people as they step back and see that they can facilitate community change, is striking. It is this combination of skill building, self building, and community building that Groundwork RVA is committed to every day.
Groundwork RVA’s mission is to cultivate the next generation of urban conservationists. Founded in 2013 by a group of environmentally focused community volunteers, as Groundwork RVA celebrates its tenth anniversary, it is recognized as one of the area’s principal platforms for youth of color to use their voices in the urban environmental conversation.
“By empowering youth with environmental knowledge and green job skills that serve them in work and in life, we are also making our city landscape a healthier, more climate-resilient, urban environment for all residents,” says Santisteban.
With three programs in the community, Groundwork RVA serves a wide range of youth: the Bellemeade Community Bike Shop primarily engages with elementary and middle school students, the Green Team focuses on high-school age youth, and the Green Workforce and Green Apprenticeship programs are designed for post-high school age young people.
In the Community
The Hillside mini farm is green space which provides food, outdoor learning, and a natural respite in the heart of the Hillside Court public housing community. It started as the vision of MyAsia, a Hillside Court resident and Green Team member who developed a keen understanding of how race and poverty impact health and nutrition while she was in high school. Now in its second full year, the mini farm has expanded to include an orchard, providing fresh fruits and vegetables to Hillside Court residents.
Rakeem, a standout 2022 Green Team member, was inspired by his time at the Hillside mini farm. Between learning about companion planting techniques, row layouts, and harvesting, he quickly became one of the farm’s go-to problem solvers.
When landscape architect Chloe Hawkins, who teaches at UVA, shared her expertise during a workshop with the Green Team, Rakeem learned how to measure, design, and install a bioswale. Building the bioswale eliminated the swampy areas around the farm rows. It also opened Rakeem’s eyes to a career in landscape architecture.
Rob Jones, executive director of Groundwork RVA, says the organization seeks to be “the wind beneath young people’s wings and inspire more Rakeems and MyAsias in the community.”
“The result of Groundwork RVA’s work is evident – in the increase in Richmond’s commitment to urban greening, the creation of green infrastructure projects across the city, and in the confidence of the young people who have found both voice and pride of creation through our programs,” says Jones.
As it begins its second decade of creating positive changes to enhance green spaces in Richmond communities in after-school and summer settings, Jones says the work of creating equity and opportunity requires a transformational approach that impacts behaviors, mindsets, practices, programs, and processes.
“We help people understand the urgency of climate threat to their health and our city,” says Jones. “And we ensure that youth of color are at the table to speak on their own behalf and represent their communities.”
3 Ways to Support Groundwork RVA
1. Volunteer Groundwork RVA will host its first mini farm volunteer day on Friday, April 15, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Come out, get your hands in some dirt, and help plant the first crop of the year. Email email@example.com to sign up to volunteer.
2. Donate Your support directly impacts the work in the community. Visit groundworkrva.org to make a contribution.
3. Get and Stay Connected This year marks Groundwork RVA’s tenth anniversary. Sign up for the newsletter to be part of the celebration. In need
of a green infrastructure solution? Email Will@groundworkrva.org to request project information.