Homeless program rooted in practicality
boulder» A pilot project by Boulder in which the recently homeless are put to work using wood from felled emerald ash trees for crafts projects — enabling them to hone skills preparing them for employment — is being called a success, several months after its launch.
The city this month concluded its first session of “Tree Debris to Opportunity” with clients from the Bridge House Ready to Work Program.
They mastered activities ranging from woodworking to laser printing and related computer applications, in converting trees lost to the invasive emerald ash borer into items such as cutting boards or intricate butterfly ornaments.
Margo Josephs supervised the program through her role as manager for community partnerships and outreach in Boulder’s Parks and Recreation Department. She said three women and four men completed the first session, running from September to early December, with one more participant dropping out due to personal reasons.
“It’s been pretty incredible for us to have gotten to know them and to see their transformation through this program,” Josephs said. “They have all taken something different out of it, but it has all been impactful to their personal lives.”
Boulder received a grant of $200,000 earlier this year to support the program on “Tree Debris to Opportunity” participants mastered activities ranging from woodworking to laser printing and related computer applications. an 18-month pilot basis, the money coming as an award through the $5 million Knight Cities Challenge hosted by the Knight Foundation. The challenge is staged in 26 communities around the United States that were once home to newspapers owned by the brothers John and James Knight.
“The point of the Knight Cities Challenge is that we are looking for new solutions and new innovations to either develop or retain talent, to create economic opportunity, and, finally, to further civic engagement,” said George Abbott, Knight Cities Challenge project lead.
He called the “Tree Debris to Opportunity” program “a really unique way to address a community problem. The fact is that all of the wood has to be cut down and there’s not a lot of use for it. This way, it is used in a productive way, to develop skills and to create economic opportunity for participants in the program.”
“For the participants, we were, I guess, surprised — we didn’t know how interested they would be in this, and this turned out to be their favorite three hours of the week,” Josephs said. Other than the one participant who dropped out, she said, “Everyone came to every class. That said a lot about what they learned.
“This was one of the first opportunities many of these individuals have had, in a long time, to be creative and to actually have input into the outcome of (solving) a problem.”
While some in the Bridge House Ready to Work program have been recently incarcerated, that was only the case with two who took part in Session 1 of the tree program this fall. What they all do have in common is that they are all transitioning out of homelessness.
Some are also facing the challenge of living in sobriety — Josephs said that the butterfly ornaments were inspired by a young woman who saw the design as a symbol of her emergence from addiction.
Bryce Roinestad, 23, was living out of a tent in Longmont’s Hover Park before being accepted into the Ready to Work program earlier this year. He had some background in working with a laser cutter, and with Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape graphics software, even before joining Boulder’s initiative.
“The program allowed me to branch out from what I knew previously and actually take a new, more creative approach,” Roinestad said.
“Tree Debris to Opportunity” is, George Abbott says, “a really unique way to address a community problem. The fact is that all of the wood has to be cut down and there’s not a lot of use for it.” Photos courtesy of city of Boulder