Build It Green

Build It Green

Job Training and Leadership Program Exists to Empower People and Neighborhoods

(photo: Jackson McDowell is a graduate of Build It Green)

You can build the neighborhood you want to live in. 

Consider the power and opportunity in that statement. Take a minute and consider if you truly believe it – and why your answer matters.

Chattanooga is home to a variety of neighborhoods. Some are obviously prosperous with well-maintained, tidy homes. Others show signs of disinvestment, leaving aspiring tenants or owners facing repairs that are often cost-prohibitive. Regardless of zip code, residents care about their communities, and access to capital, trusted networks of tradespeople, and general DIY know-how can make a big difference in helping a neighborhood thrive. To be able to build the neighborhood you want, it’s important to know how to swing a hammer (or have the phone number for someone who can).

Build it Green (BIG), a program of green|spaces in partnership with Christian Shackelford of Shackelford Fine Building and Chris Woodhull, Co-Director of Causeway, works to address many of the realities facing low-income neighborhoods in Chattanooga. Through a partnership with AmeriCorps and with support from Benwood Foundation, BIG is a direct response to the challenges and opportunities identified by residents in East Chattanooga, Ridgedale, Highland Park, and East Lake.

Issues neighbors identified include: 

  • High energy bills, especially in rental units
  • Lack of employment opportunities, especially for young people with criminal records
  • Minimal knowledge of how to do simple home improvement

With this input in hand, green|spaces developed a 6-month paid leadership and workforce development program for young adults, most of whom live in the neighborhoods above. Curriculum includes technical green building skills, weatherization, high-performance building, OSHA-10 certification, personal skills building, and communication.

“Build it Green combines education, advocacy, and agency,” says green|spaces Executive Director Michael Walton. “Students build a bridge from where they are – sometimes facing challenges including housing, access to transportation, or criminal records – to what employers want them to be – reliable employees.

“And what’s most impactful is a change in mindset. There’s often a ‘they’ that’s responsible for the built environment. BIG helps people take power over that. Students come to understand and believe that you don’t have to wait for ‘them’ to come and do something in your home or neighborhood. You can build the neighborhood you want to live in. Even if someone doesn’t go into construction as a job, BIG graduates have the ability to know enough to work on their own homes, and the ability to address minor repairs or even renovate one’s own home is the most direct path to wealth generation.”

Jackson McDowell graduated with the first BIG class. Growing up in suburban Knoxville, he saw the vibrancy of downtown Knoxville, but grew up frustrated that nothing much was happening in his community. He recognized something different happening in Chattanooga, and moved here after a friend connected him with a job. After participating in community work with Glass House Collective, he learned about Build It Green and was intrigued.

“I’ve always been a tinkerer and I like to build things,” he says. “I like to know how things work, but where I come from not a lot of people go into trade jobs like that. Through Build it Green, I got to learn about the housing industry and new techniques that are moving things forward.”

Students also build a wider personal network, meeting industry professionals and teachers who help connect them to opportunities.

“I am fascinated by HVAC,” McDowell says. “I want to be the person who knows how the system works and be able to put it in there myself. I’m looking into the HVAC program at Chattanooga State and I know that I can reach out to anyone who’s part of Build it Green and they’ll point me in the right direction.”

He says he’s thankful green|spaces willing to both invest in and listen to the community they’re in.

“These neighborhoods are often overlooked. Build it Green leaders are focused on the community and have made a big point to know us as people – who we are and how we learn. They picked great people for our class and made it feel like family.”

Learn more about Build it Green.