For nearly 10 years, a group of Minneapolis teenagers have patrolled the watershed, working in Minneapolis parks to remove invasive plants, install native species, maintain raingardens and engage in citizen science including monitoring dragonfly populations. These teens learn about the connection between land use and water quality and then apply that knowledge in the field, gaining valuable work experience along the way.
It sounds like hard work, and it is, but ask just about any Mississippi River Green Team member and they’ll tell you it’s one of the best experiences they’ve had. For some, it’s even life-changing. That’s because the Mississippi River Green Team is more than just a summer job opportunity; it’s a mentored pathway for young people from often underserved populations into real environmental careers.
The MWMO and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board launched the green team in 2008 as a special unit of Team Teamworks. The goal was to provide hands-on environmental learning and work opportunities to teenagers from North and Northeast Minneapolis. Since then, more than 100 young women and men have passed through the program, and many are now pursuing college degrees in environmental fields or working in environment-related jobs.
Youth have a chance to participate with the Mississippi River Green Team for two years, and after those two years, they are a part of a supportive network that works with them to secure jobs to expand their skills and get them ready for the future. We recently wrapped up summer work with this year’s crew. The Green Team now moves into school-year mode where they will continue to meet on a monthly basis, engaging in work tasks and life skills such as conflict resolution, resume-writing and interview skills.
In the meantime, we caught up with a few recent Mississippi River Green Team alumni to see what they’ve been doing since they left the program.
Armonie Miller, a team member from 2014-2016, recently found work as an art intern at the Urban Arts Academy, teaching youth how to expand their art skills and expression. He enjoyed getting to know the youth he was working with and sharing his own experiences related to art. He said that being on the Mississippi River Green Team prepared him for the job by teaching him work-readiness skills.
“Being on the MRGT prepared me for this job by letting me know you have to be to work on time, the whole time you have to work hard, and you have to be a role model for the ones watching you,” he said.
Armonie has entered his junior year at Patrick Henry High School.
Mai Ker Thao
Mai Ker Thao, MRGT member from 2012-2014, recently worked as a river educator fellow with the Mississippi Park Connection, working directly with the National Park Service delivering Mississippi River-related education programming to urban youth.
“The best part about my current job is being able to see students who usually do not go outdoors enjoy and experience what it feels like to interact with nature and the environment,” she said.
The Mississippi River Green Team taught her about native plants and water quality — topics she has often taught to the youth. Mai Ker has just started at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, Winona, where she hopes to study biology and criminal justice.
After her time on the MRGT, Connie Xiong, a team member from 2010-2012, worked as a volunteer engagement specialist with the Mississippi Park Connection, coordinating volunteer groups to remove invasive species and restore native habitat. Connie liked to educate the volunteers on the importance of their work.
“Being on the Mississippi River Green Team gave me a lot of knowledge about the environment, and it allowed me to pursue it further and explore other careers in environmental science,” Connie said, adding that it also helped give her the confidence to do public speaking.
Connie has entered her fourth year at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and is pursuing a degree in Human Resource Development.