November 14, 2019
Kingman Island is a jewel – a rare find in the middle of our nation’s bustling capital that provides a way for residents to commune with nature without leaving the city limits. It’s a place where students of all ages can learn about conservation and habitat restoration, where families can picnic, kayak, and fish, and communities can gather. It has the power to unite people from all areas of the city and walks of life under a shared appreciation for such a valuable resource – simultaneously breaking down walls and eradicating stigmas. At least that’s the way the island’s new Kingman Rangers see it.
Living Classrooms is piloting a new job training initiative that prepares out-of-work adults (especially those who are traditionally hard to employ) for entry-level jobs in the green sector while helping to beautify Kingman Island. The inaugural group of apprentices, called “Kingman Rangers,” spend half of their time doing maintenance, landscaping, and construction projects on the island and the other half in the classroom working on basic job readiness skills.
A key goal of the Rangers program is to train participants in how to operate and maintain “green infrastructure” – landscape features such as “rain gardens” that prevent pollution from entering streams and rivers. Cleaning up urban waters such as DC’s Anacostia River and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor depend on widely installing such landscape features, and they must be maintained frequently to be effective. The Kingman Rangers initiative is the only one in the region comprehensively preparing people for careers in this increasingly important environmental sector.
Antonio Allen, 30, is one of three members of the inaugural class of Kingman Rangers. As a lifelong resident of Washington, DC, he had no knowledge of the island’s existence prior to joining this program, but it didn’t take long for him to develop a deep commitment to its stewardship. The Rangers share many striking similarities – most are single fathers and primary caregivers to young boys and have histories disrupted by crime and run ins with the legal system, and all are committed to setting a positive example for their sons. These shared experiences and goals have united them as a team.
While securing a job is the end goal, Ranger Coordinator Herbert Starks sees their time on the island as much more valuable than that. This is a sentiment shared by both Antonio and new addition, TJ. In fact, TJ Fogle, 30, has recently begun volunteering on the island daily as he awaits a slot to open on the team. He refers to the evolving landscape of DC as his motivation, citing this job as his way of being a part of its evolution. The Rangers are putting in the work and getting back a sense of pride and community, which is something that can be much more powerful than punching a clock.
“The satisfaction from building something and seeing the result. It’s something that you can contribute to, that becomes yours, and that is powerful,” said Herbert.
Despite the hard work, the heat, and the long days it may be surprising to hear that none of them complain about their jobs. Antonio says, “We became a family, we enjoy working together, and we all want to make Kingman better.” TJ adds, “it’s a good mental escape from whatever else is going on in our lives.”
One of the Rangers’ key responsibilities is monitoring the Anacostia’s newest trash trap at Gallatin Street in Northeast, just next to the DC-Maryland line. Surrounding the trash interceptor is a “grass pave” area, which is a variety of green infrastructure. Both Antonio and TJ were eager to learn new skills in the operations and maintenance of green infrastructure, which could help them secure long-term employment in the landscaping industry.
When they aren’t on the island, the Rangers are working with Living Classrooms’ workforce development team to build critical job readiness skills such as professionalism, financial literacy, resume development, and interview techniques. Whether in the classroom or in the field, the Rangers agree that the job is teaching them the value of teamwork, discipline, how to “work smarter, not harder,” and a healthy dose of patience.
The men also share a deep understanding of the opportunity this program is providing to them, and they don’t take it for granted. In fact, a chance to get to work and learn new things is at the same time highly sought after and hard to come by. There is currently a waiting list of men who are looking forward to joining the Kingman Rangers. Perhaps a great example of the program’s impact is in the case of now former Ranger, Petey, who was recently placed in long-term employment after struggling to find work. It turns out, all he needed was someone to take a chance on him and give him the opportunity to prove himself. That positive reference opened new doors to him.
Antonio and TJ are both looking towards their future and hoping to follow a similar path. Antonio is anticipating that this experience will help him obtain a job as a contractor of green roofs—another form of green infrastructure — on new construction projects. No matter where their careers may take them, both men agree that their investment in the island will continue.
“I see the vision of what Kingman can be,” says Antonio. “A getaway, a place of peace. The potential is limitless.”
Kingman Island is a rare jewel, indeed. It now has the power to build a pathway towards a positive future for countless men and women who are trying to unlock their limitless potential as well.