Published on 12/07/11

UGA training helps former homeless men prepare for jobs

By Sharon Dowdy

Finding a job in today’s economy is tough. Being homeless and recovering from an addiction makes it even harder. A new partnership between University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and the Atlanta Mission is helping homeless men at the mission take the next step in returning to society -- getting jobs.

The mission provides emergency shelter, temporary shelter and transitional housing to more than 950 men, women and children each day. It also helps men in the mission’s recovery program find jobs. This is where UGA Fulton County Extension agent Louise Estabrook and the Super Crew Landscape training program enter the picture.

Estabrook taught landscaping basics to 13 mission residents who voluntarily signed up for the program. The five-week training included nine learning modules focusing on basic, entry-level landscaping skills and career preparation.

Ag commissioner praises graduates

After the training, the men attended the Urban Ag Council’s Sod and Landscape Field Day. There they toured a working sod farm and met Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black.

“I’m extremely proud of the men who completed the Super Crew Landscape program. They have made a concerted effort to become productive citizens, and we pray for their continued recovery,” Black said.

Mission resident Landon Dodge works on the mission’s ground crew. He signed up for the training to help him with his mission duties and to become a Jack-of-all-trades and learn as much as he can.

Attending the landscape classes reminded mission resident Bryan Marcellin of his youth spent on his family’s farm in the Caribbean. “We grew all of our own food from grapefruit to apples, and we also grew and sold flowers,” he said. “I have worked in the hotel industry in landscaping, and I wanted to learn about the variety of plants there are to use.”

Changing "raw dirt" into a landscape

Having taken horticulture classes at Macon Area Tech, Rayford Lee Jones enjoyed refreshing his skills. “I love installing plants and changing raw dirt by adding shrubs and trees. When I finish a landscape, I feel like it’s a part of me. And to do it right, you need to know which plants to place in the sun and which need more water,” he said.

Mission resident Rufus Lee Pearson leads the mission’s landscape crew. He signed up for the training to learn more about plant selection and worker safety. “I have a lot of experience in grounds and maintenance, but I wanted help with safety rules and how to make sure I run a safe workplace,” he said.

Russ Johnson enjoyed the class, but doesn’t see a landscaping job in his future. “I took the class to develop a hobby, learn new skills and have some fun for a change of pace,” he said.

Several of the men have requested advanced landscaping training from UGA Extension.

“Georgia’s landscape industry is going to snap these men up,” Black said. He told the men, “If you are ready to work, you don’t have to worry about finding a place to work.”

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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