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Rising Sun Partnership Evolves

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“Absolutely! I think the Green Economy has the incredible opportunity to build an alternative, equitable economy,” says Rising Sun Energy Center’s (Rising Sun) Director of Adult Programs, Elena Foshay, who oversees Rising Sun’s Green Energy Training Service (GETs) program, which targets adults with barriers to employment and dislocated workers.

Since 1994 Rising Sun has evolved from a modest renewable energy education center into a leading green, workforce development, environmental education and retrofit services organization serving communities around the California Bay Area. Its humble beginnings may have sprouted as an educational tool but it was in Berkeley where students asked for more.

As any healthy, emergent organization will do, Rising Sun looked internally and externally and then adapted and evolved. To accommodate these questions and needs of its youth participants, Rising Sun expanded programming by partnering with local governments, water districts and regional utility. In 2000, California Youth Energy Services (CYES) was established as a summer and after-school program that trains and employs youth aged 15-22 to provide free “Green House Calls” for efficiency upgrades to homes in their community.

Within ten years the CYES program grew from training and employing 15 youth and serving 300 residential clients in the City of Berkeley to employing over 100 youth and serving over 3000 residents throughout Contra Costa, Alameda, Marin and Solano Counties by 2013. Adopted throughout the Bay area region, Rising Sun continues to be seen as a successful youth violence prevention program. Its mission is to empower individuals to achieve environmental and economic sustainability for themselves and their communities, with a focus on underserved populations.

Through the CYES program, youth learn valuable skills in outreach and marketing, customer service, energy efficiency and cultural competency. They grow as professionals, expertly serving residents in their community and partaking in weekly professional development workshops. However, given the short length of the program, Rising Sun found itself wanting to offer more in terms of a long-term green career track.

It was in 2008, through federal recovery dollars from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) that Rising Sun developed the Energy Training Services (GETS), not only for youth in the CYES program, but for adults with significant barriers to employment and a need for additional support to gain and maintain employment.  These programs offer valuable skills training needed for the 21st century economy; they have been internationally recognized, while simultaneously contributing to climate action solutions through energy and water conservation.

Yet, “The barriers to employment that keep our graduates from getting hired are still there” Foshay admits, despite a “supposed recovery” in the economy. “Low-Middle Income (LMI) communities tend to get jobs as security guards, direct sales, retail and in restaurants or hair salons.  In the Bay Area somebody is selling a service...or contractors are hiring, but they are not hiring for well paid, permanent employment, but on call/temporary jobs.”  And to make matters worse, “they cut food stamps for able-bodied workers. Everyone who goes through our program is on food stamps. If they could get a job, they would, but they can’t because there is a whole list of barriers.”

Rising Sun has had success, despite the challenges, because of a strong Community Workforce Agreement (CWA) in Berkeley, where it is based.  Because the City of Berkeley wanted local and community hire outcomes, Rising Sun’s graduates are beginning to access union career pathways and jobs. In addition, this year, Rising Sun was particularly excited about the invitation by Emerald Cities Collaborative to participate in the nationally approved pre-apprentice training program, Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3).

As a member and active partner in ECO, “a facilitator that brings together stakeholders that produce tangible outcomes”, Rising Sun was awarded approval, by the local Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, to administer the MC3 curriculum. Jodi Pincus, Executive Director, shares, “this is great! We can build stronger relations with the unions. It is a nationally recognized curriculum. Our graduates can now go to the unions and say ‘I’ve been through your accredited MC3 program’. And hopefully, that will give them a leg up and an opportunity for long-term gainful employment on a solid career track.”

Rising Sun’s GETS program serves mostly LMI African American males, and this new MC3 certification will strengthen its already recognized training program with eight weeks of training that include job readiness and soft skills, applied math, training in basic construction skills, training in energy efficiency and building science, case management, job placement assistance, and now the Building Trades Multi-Craft Curriculum.

Their training track record is impressive, with over 1000 youth, 400 adults, 80% Low-Middle income, serving 20,000 households in energy and water measures that have saved $13.7 million dollars, equating to $93.4 million kW energy saved.

What continues to excite Rising Sun are the new partners that help them better serve the hard to employ.  For example, another Emerald Cities Oakland’s (ECO) member, Allen Temple Baptist Church, is committed to designing and installing a large (~200kW) campus solar project. Both Rising Sun and Allen Temple Baptist recognize they have mutually supporting talents and resources. While Rising Sun can provide the construction and energy efficiency skills training and potential pathways to union careers for ATBC community and congregants, Allen Temple Baptist church, which is celebrated for their work in supportive life skills, can administer classes as GED attainment, financial literacy, childcare, anger management etc.

“With limited workforce training dollars available”, EC Oakland director, Tara Marchant acknowledges, “these partnerships need to be encouraged. They will shift how organizations, cities and societies collectively redesign the health, spirit and economic well-being of local communities.” Pincus concurs, “we must leverage organizational resources and competencies to provide greater services to those who need it the most. That is our mission and that is our work.”


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