It’s an effort to improve drainage in flood-prone areas, beautify the city of Savannah and provide job training.  It’s the Green Infrastructure to Green Jobs Grant program.  And the result is that up to 500 trees are being planted on three vacant city lots.

In most cases, the lots were filled with trash and looked unsightly. “So we have identified the vacant lots that really didn’t have another use at the moment and they needed some love, says Nick Deffley, the Sustainability Director for the City of Savannah.

We found Deffley and program employees working to clear a vacant lot on Augusta Avenue.  “We will clear and put in irrigation,” he told us.  “This property on Augusta will have about 75 trees planted here, all native species trees.” 

“We’re trying to increase our urban tree canopy and help people understand the importance of trees,” said Deffley. “They’re beautiful to look at, they provide oxygen but they also absorb stormwater.”

The program is also training 12 employees like Vanessa Lawrence.  “I’m proud to be in this program, to learn about nature,” she told me.  

Lawrence hopes to get a permanent job in landscaping after the program ends.

Deffley says the employees are going through a Georgia certified professional landscape accreditation. He says some of the money from the $230,00 grant goes for curriculum for students. He says they are partnering with UGA, the University of Georgia Marine Extension, Georgia Sea Grant and the Center for Urban Agriculture at UGA. He says when the physical work and the course work is completed that the 12 will have certification that should be attractive to employers.  He also says right now there are only about 400 people in the state who have the certification that the grant employees will have at the end of the program.

“We will continue to work with them,” said Deffley.  “One of our grant partners is Work Source Coastal so they are all enrolled in that program getting training like resume building and job placement. They’re learning about tree care, they’re learning about irrigation systems, species identification so they’ve got a lot of potential opportunities.”

But it may be an opportunity for the environment that is drawing everyone together in this program.  

On East Gwinnett Street we saw the finished work, i.e. 200 trees planted in large pots. “Right now you’re going to see all these trees planted in pots so they’ll be above the ground. We’ll grow those until they mature out about one to three years,” said Deffley.  “A lot of the trees that we’re planting now in the nursery style in one to three years we’re going to be transplanting permanently on flood-prone properties, public properties, and some FEMA properties,” he said.  (FEMA according to Deffley has recently purchased some flood-prone sites in Savannah.) 

Deffley told us “Part of this whole idea is planing more trees so they can absorb more stormwater in our city.

Anterrio Quarterman is also one of those working in the Green Infrastructure Green Jobs Grant program.  As a native of Savannah, he told us he’s excited to know he is helping his city and maybe getting skills to propel him to a career.  He said he’s excited to think he could drive by the Augusta Avenue lot a year from now and instead of trash, see the trees he helped to plant. “It would mean a lot knowing that it helps prevent floods and helps oxygen and knowing how much it means to the community it will mean a lot,” Quarterman said.