Youth Development

growing the next generation of environmental leaders


Groundwork USA and our network of Trusts offer quality environmental education, stewardship, employment, and leadership opportunities for young people, most of whom are low-income and/or youth of color. We believe that communities are a source of rich expertise and human capital. Through our youth development programming, we’re investing in the future of individuals and their communities, providing platforms for young people to effect change in themselves, in the built and natural environments in which they live, and in our society as a whole.

Across the Groundwork network, we’re creating a cradle-to-career pipeline through our youth development programs:

  • For 4- to 14-year-olds, we prioritize exposure to and exploration of environmental concepts.
  • For 14- to 18-year-olds, we provide opportunities for stewardship, leadership development, and job training in conservation through our flagship Green Team model.
  • For 18- to 30-year-olds, we offer intensely focused environmental job training programs that provide opportunities to learn and grow on the job, build employment readiness and skills, and afford participants access to professional networks, careers, and a competitive advantage in the conservation, environmental, and community development fields.
  • Cultivating Youth Leadership
  • Learning Through Hands-On Nature Activities
  • Training the Green Jobs Workforce
  • Bridging the "Diversity Gap" Between Conservation and Urban Youth

Cultivating Youth Leadership

Groundwork Cincinnati Green Team
Groundwork Ohio River Valley Green Team

The Green Team is Groundwork USA’s principal youth-serving program, operating within nearly all Groundwork Trusts. Collectively developed over the last 20 years by Groundwork affiliates nationwide, the Green Team is a paid, neighborhood-based conservation leadership program that works with intentionally small groups of 10 to 15 high-school-age youth at each Groundwork Trust site. The Green Team model strongly emphasizes urban environmental restoration, job readiness, and service-learning as vehicles for young people to develop their abilities to lead and work with a team, hone their financial and emotional literacy, and strengthen their awareness of the intersection of local and global issues in our communities.

Over the summer (and, at some Groundwork Trust sites, throughout the year) Green Team youth receive extensive environmental education, build their community and conservation skills, and learn to work professionally and effectively as a team.

In addition to their paid work, Green Team members are required to complete community service hours through a variety of Groundwork programs such as maintaining parks, and trails and gardens developed by Groundwork Trusts, mentoring youth in schoolyard gardening programs, coordinating river cleanups, recruiting their peers as volunteers, and more.

Highly trained youth leaders oversee the Green Team in each location, and emerging youth leaders are invited to represent their Green Team at Groundwork USA’s National Youth Summit, sponsored in part by the National Park Service.

Through the Green Team model, Groundwork Trusts:

  • Offer in-depth, high quality, hands-on community and environmental development experiences for youth in their neighborhoods and on public lands;
  • Emphasize leadership development, group interaction, peer cohesion, and mutual accountability
  • Teach youth about conservation while demonstrating the relevance of their work to their own lives and to their communities
  • Cultivate an understanding that the environment is an accessible built and natural resource that youth can transform and protect within their own communities;
  • Provide skills training and advanced work opportunities; and
  • Foster career path awareness and career mentorship.
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Learning Through Hands-On Nature Activities

Student scientists investigate insects on native foliage at Groundwork San Diego's EarthLab
Student scientists investigate insects on native foliage at Groundwork San Diego’s EarthLab

Several Groundwork Trusts work with school-aged children (aged 4 to 14), offering creative in- and after-school programming that is age-appropriate and tied to curricular standards and frameworks. Learning opportunities for this age group demonstrate the scientific method, reinforce science and math curriculum with hands-on activities, and provide minimally programmed exploratory activities in natural settings that allow children to get dirty, utilize their imagination, have fun, and experience a sense of wonder in the great outdoors.

Training the Green Jobs Workforce

Groundwork RI's Groundcorps
Groundwork Rhode Island’s GroundCorp program provides valuable, paid, hands-on work experience in landscape design and green infrastructure to young adults as they search for permanent employment.

Several Groundwork Trusts operate job-training programs for young adults aged 18- to 25. where access to living-wage jobs, positions with opportunities to grow into careers, and employment readiness training is limited, and where a college education may not be a given.

While these are job-training programs first and foremost, they are also life-coaching opportunities, designed to meet trainees where they are in life with “wrap-around” support to help them:

  • Find balance and stability in a sometimes tumultuous world;
  • Build transferable employment skills;
  • Navigate the job search process; and
  • Secure meaningful and relevant jobs, living wages, and opportunities for career growth and learning over time.


Graduates of Groundwork job training programs become unique assets in the marketplace because they’ve come of age appreciating the importance of environmental and urban waters conservation efforts in distressed neighborhoods. Groundwork job training programs seize an emerging nationwide opportunity for our country’s most marginalized populations to achieve gainful and steady employment in positions that truly make a difference in the world.

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Bridging the "Diversity Gap" Between Conservation and Urban Youth

Groundwork youth in Yellowstone National Park, 2013
Groundwork youth in Yellowstone National Park, 2013

For decades, the conservation and environmental movements have bypassed urban populations. Lower income youth and youth of color, in particular, often don’t know many people who work in or visit public lands — and when they do venture into national parks and wildlife refuges, they don’t often find many people who “look like them.” With 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, the need to bridge the gap between urban residents and public lands has never been more crucial.

Through our youth development programming, Groundwork USA and our network of Trusts is working to reverse the systemic under-representation of diversity in national parks and public lands. We take a dual approach, helping urban youth develop their leadership potential through service-learning opportunities in national parks and public lands, while engaging those same youth in relevant, hands-on work to transform their own communities in tangible ways.

By connecting urban youth with National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges, and the federal conservation agencies with urban communities, we seek to instill an appreciation of the natural environment along with an understanding that the environment isn’t something inaccessible and “out there” — it’s a built and natural resource that youth can change and protect within their own communities.

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