Limitless Vistas prepares young residents for green jobs
9th September 2013 · 0 Comments
By Susan Buchanan
New Orleans East resident Darryl Lutcher, a former theater major, never thought he’d be an environmental technician at consultants Ardaman & Associates, Inc. in Jefferson—where he’s worked since February. He attended Loyola after graduating from St. Augustine High in 2005. Performing in plays at Anthony Bean Community Theater and being a full-time student caught up with him, however. His grades suffered, he lost some of his tuition assistance and decided to take time off to organize his finances. “Looking back, I was young, serving two masters—theater and school—and I was a bit of a knucklehead,” he said last week.While grocery shopping in mid-2011, his mother happened to learn about Limitless Vistas from Matilda Tennessee, the group’s director. Limitless was founded in New Orleans in 2006 by Patrick Barnes, president and CEO of BFA Environmental in Florida, to tap youth in hurricane-recovery efforts. Lutcher’s mother encouraged him to apply for the training. After some resistance, Lutcher warmed to the idea, visited the Limitless office on Prytania St. and was accepted in the group’s fall 2011 program.
“We had classes and hands-on work, all intensive, very focused on the task at hand,” 26-year-old Lutcher said. “One week it was water management, another it was soils, a week for HAZWOPER or hazardous waste, another for weatherization, a week for Dept. of Transportation training. And at the end of each week, we were tested.”
Their instructor was Sherry Calloway, a practicing geologist for twenty years. “She poured her knowledge and enthusiasm into us,“ Lutcher said. “And as classmates, we helped each other get up to speed.“ Out of his starting class of fifteen, twelve students completed the program. “Many of us—including the five guys I’m in frequent touch with—are working or studying in environmental fields now.”
Calloway, an environmental program manager at Limitless Vistas, last week said her classes are a mix of people who finished high school or college. “Everyone’s got their strengths and we have no hierarchy,” she said.
Lutcher gave a presentation about Limitless Vistas at a regional planning commission meeting on brownfields early last year, and was approached by a staffer at Leaaf Environmental, LLC in Gretna. He was offered and accepted a job at Leaaf. “As a technician there, I did waste monitoring for a dig-and-haul for the new McDonogh 35 School off St. Bernard Ave.,“ Lutcher said. ‘They took out the contaminated dirt and brought in new soil.”
But that work slowed as the project advanced. “I needed something more, so I put my resume out, got a call from Ardaman, and within a week—in February of this year—started working there.” Ardaman, Florida-based geotechnical consultants, has a number of offices there and in Louisiana.
“As an Ardaman field technician, after others drill down, I take soil samples, classify them and ship them to the lab,” Lutcher said. “I also make concrete samples, take them to lab, then wait 28 days and do tests on them to see if the cement’s strong enough for new building foundations.”
Lutcher graduated from St. Aug months before Katrina. “Back then, we didn’t have much environmental awareness, and I wasn’t exposed to it in high school the way kids are now. I realize now that our future in south Louisiana depends on the way we treat the environment. I’m glad to be in a field that can provide some solutions to coastal problems.”
Nonetheless, he was surprised to find himself as the only young Black man at a well-attended public meeting of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council on Aug. 28 at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans. “Middle-aged Black men and women spoke during the comment period but I didn’t see anyone like me there,” he said. Lutcher said environmental fields are wide open in Louisiana, and he encourages young people to consider Limitless Vistas.
Lutcher hopes to attend college part time in New Orleans while working at Ardaman, and he wants to major in geology.
Over 300 students have completed Limitless programs since they began seven years ago, Tennessee said. Programs are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington, D.C.-based Corps Network, the City of New Orleans and Oxfam America. Limitless Vistas and BFA Environmental have partnered with the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and Veolia Water on job training in water and wastewater treatment.
“Eighty to 85 percent of our students receive at least one certification,” Tennessee said. “Most of them have been certified for 40 hours of national hazardous waste operations from Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” she said. They’ve earned certifications for 40 hours of asbestos and land awareness training from Louisiana’s Dept of Environmental Quality; ten hours of OSHA construction safety training; and varied hours of training for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s incident command system.
The educational value of the group’s 3- to 4-month training programs to date has been about $6,500 per student, including certifications, Barnes said. “But these programs are subsidized so students haven’t paid anything,” he said.
Limitless Vistas will accept applications from 18- to 24-year old from October 21 to November 1 for a six-month enviro-training program, starting late this year and including community service. It will be funded by a grant from the Corps Network. Students will receive a small living wage during the program and an AmeriCorps scholarship of $2,700 on its completion, Tennessee said.
In April, Patrick Barnes was recognized by the White House as a 2013 Champion of Change: Community-Resiliency Leader. Early in his career as an environmental geologist in New York and New Jersey, Barnes noticed that contaminated sites were often in low-income or minority communities. “The consultants and contractors doing the assessment and cleanup work didn’t look like residents of those areas,” he said. That discrepancy was also apparent when he started working in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and Georgia.
Lutcher said Limitless Vistas has opened many doors for him, and he credits his mom for giving him a push in the right direction. “For anyone interested in becoming an environmental technician, one thing to be aware of is you’ll be outside in the heat and the cold,” Lutcher said. But that hasn’t bothered him much so far.
This article originally published in the September 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.