New Greenway Stewards gain jobs, pride

Post brings new helping hands to park maintenance

By Janice Harrison

Children helped plant trees at the Greening for Breathing block party. The Greenway Stewards will help care for them.

Amalcar Laboi was running out of money. “It was getting more and more difficult to get a good job,” he said. His unemployment insurance was reaching an end.

His situation had become increasingly stressful when a woman he knew told him about a job-training program in Hunts Point.

That training program was the Bronx Ecological Stewardship Training Program (B.E.S.T.), founded five years ago by Sustainable South Bronx.

Laboi has not only completed the training, but has become one of Sustainable South Bronx’s first two Greenway Stewards.

Laboi and fellow B.E.S.T. graduate James Wells will share responsibility for such tasks as maintaining the network of new trees planted in Hunts Point, caring for the green roof on the American Bank Note Building at Tiffany and Lafayette streets where Sustainable South Bronx has its office, and tending plants in Hunts Point Riverside and Barretto Point Parks.

Both Greenway Stewards graduated from the B.E.S.T. program last August, and started their new positions in late April when Sustainable South Bronx and Greening for Breathing, another Hunts Point-based environmental organization, joined hands to create the posts.

Laboi explained that his and Wells’ daily duties include planting trees, pruning and weeding, identifying and eliminating invasive plants, and garbage removal. At Barretto Point Park they’ve worked alongside Parks Department employees, and they praised Eduardo Hernandez, the Parks Department manager responsible for Hunts Point Riverside and for Barretto Point, where the Stewards have recently completed an extensive weeding project at the park’s beach rock area and volleyball courts.

“It’s great to have their assistance, and we’re certainly looking forward to great things from them,” said Linda Cox, executive director of the Bronx River Alliance, which oversees the new Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Laboi is an enthusiastic supporter of the B.E.S.T. program, which, he said,has changed his life. “I have learned a lot,” he said. “Growing up here I never knew how much trees actually do for us–that they produce our oxygen.”

Wells shared similar sentiments. He said what began simply as a way to find a job has turned into much more.

“After learning about ecology, environmental improvement, and gaining new skills I really fell in love with the program,” he said. “I love the Hunts Point area, and our work is really improving the quality of the community.”

Wells added that he and Laboi are transforming a “jungle of concrete” with new trees and plants, and the community is really appreciative.

“We have building supervisors helping us out with garbage removal around the trees, and the encouragement has been great,” said Laboi.

According to Annette Williams, the B.E.S.T. program’s project director, 90 percent of its graduates have found jobs, and of those 85 percent now hold “green collar jobs”—jobs that provide environmentally–friendly products or services.

Originally offered once a year as a five-month program, B.E.S.T. now enrolls three classes a year for intensive 10-week training.

“They’re doing the same amount of work,” said Williams, “in a much shorter amount of time. It’s real strenuous job training. The Bronx River and parks have become hands-on classrooms.”

But Laboi said the program isn’t so difficult for those who put their mind to it. “This program works. You put into it what you get out of it,” he said.

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