In New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, a neighborhood devasted by Hurricane Katrina, Thrive New Orleans, true to its name, has become an anchor of empowerment for residents. Leaders of the program want people in the neighborhood to thrive where they are with job skills and livable wages by helping create solutions to climate challenges in their community and beyond.
The City of New Orleans’ inherent challenges from hurricanes and floods demand that residents learn how to live with nature, for better or worse. Thrive New Orleans’ mission is to create a workforce eligible for jobs in traditional construction, storm, water management, energy efficiency, solar and wind power by creating a pipeline of skilled workers and equipping small Black businesses and businesses of color to vie for contracts.
“Why not train locals to help create solutions for our city’s environmental challenges?” asked Chuck Morse, executive director of Thrive New Orleans. Instead of looking for professionals and labor from neighboring states, Thrive New Orleans, he said, wants to position its participants to be ready to meet the city’s environmental challenges. “Who better to be an ambassador for the city on climate action and climate justice than locals?”
Terrence Coe is a foreman and assistant teacher at Thrive New Orleans, having completed multiple certification programs. He credits Thrive New Orleans with helping him create a brighter financial future for his family:
“I’m from the streets, but now I can go back to the streets and teach others how to be and do better. I’m thankful for everything Thrive New Orleans has done for me. They are there for me, and I am there for them.”
Thrive New Orleans not only provides job training for adults; it also provides support to small businesses and has developed programs for youth and families.
It also has become a family for Mevhibe Sari, a 53-year-old migrant from Turkey.
“Thrive is my family,” she says. “I come here and make a life for myself.”
Sari works for the city’s Parks and Pathways Department, where she uses the skills she learned in its green infrastructure training. Her dream is to save enough money to own a home.
There are countless Thrive New Orleans success stories, but Morse says the work also comes with a burden. Several young men who participated in the program have died from gun violence. Morse said he hopes that by giving residents meaningful opportunities and meaningful wages, Thrive New Orleans can help change the hearts and minds of those who may be headed in the wrong direction. He thinks about his own 21-year-old son and knows no demographic in New Orleans is untouched by violence.
For Morse, the key to positive relationships and outcomes starts with trust and integrity. Thrive New Orleans provides counselors, therapists and anger management support for participants – taking a holistic approach to its support – if it’s determined they need it while pursuing workforce skills.
Bernadette Carriere, director of the Green Small Business Program, applauds Morse’s leadership for creating an environment where the Thrive team and participants are valued and encouraged. As a Black woman, she said, the green infrastructure industry does not always feel inviting, and often, there are few faces that look like hers.
Carriere, a native of New Orleans and a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and built a house. She knows what residents face because she is one of them.
“I am working at Thrive because I believe in New Orleans. I believe in us – people of color,” she said. “I want to help be the voice that says, ‘We belong in this industry, and we are more than capable.’”
Carriere’s lived experiences uniquely position her to reflect on the diversity needed in climate change industries. She believes that if investments are made to educate youth, the future will be bright for New Orleans. “Our sustainability is connected to the next generation. Kids can impact their friends and their families,” she said.
A recent grant from the United States Environment Protection Agency will help Thrive New Orleans provide youth with skills and education to help transform their communities and life trajectories.