Zender wins environmental training grant for rural cleanup
June 20, 2013
A $200,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant will allow Zender Environmental Health and Research Group continue its environmental technician training program for unemployed rural Alaskans.
Lynn Zender is the founder and executive director of the Anchorage-based nonprofit.
“We recruit residents from rural Alaska villages to train them as environmental technicians to work within their communities,” Zender said.
The training is focused on protecting local environmental health, she said. Trainees are instructed in proper contaminated site cleanup procedures, oil spill response and home and bulk fuel tank inspection.
A large portion of the training is centered on solid waste disposal and landfill compliance. Zender said the isolation of many rural communities presents challenges for proper trash handling.
“Rural Alaska villages deal with landfill issues not found anywhere else in the country,” she said.
The 32 students are chosen after completing a detailed written application and a phone interview, Zender said. From there the applicants’ files are reviewed by a panel of EPA and Zender officials for final approval.
“It’s a pretty arduous (application) process,” Zender said.
A thorough application process is needed to assure those selected will complete the training, which can get challenging.
The training consists of two intense two-week periods conducted over six weeks with a two-week break during which students can return home or stay in Anchorage where the courses are held.
Zender said to get 168 hours of training into four weeks courses are conducted for up to 10 hours a day, six days a week if necessary.
The application process for this round of training will begin in fall and courses will start in February 2014, Zender said.
The group was awarded a similar grant in 2012 and conducted two rounds of training in 2012 and early this spring, she said.
“Part of our program is to follow-up with our graduates for a year afterwards and help them with job placement,” Zender said.
Most graduates gain employment with local governments or regional corporations, she added, in jobs with an average wage of about $18 per hour.
Travel expenses for the students covered through the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s State Training and Employment Program, or STEP.
Zender Environmental was officially awarded the grant on June 13 as a part of more than $3.2 million in EPA Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training grants awarded nationwide, according to an EPA press release. Zender was one of 16 groups throughout the country to receive such a grant, part of the agency’s larger Brownfields Grant Program.
“These grants are provided to local community job training organizations that have demonstrated partnerships with employers who have expressed a willingness to interview and hire graduates,” EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus said in a release.
“I am happy to continue to support this important and tremendously successful EPA program that has successfully placed more than 71 percent of program graduates in environmental careers since the program’s inception in 1998.”
Mary Goolie, EPA project officer for Zender Environmental, said Zender’s job placement rate is higher still, at 88 percent for the program about to enter its third year.
She added that such a high percentage of the 35 graduates from the two previous training courses found work because Zender Environmental did its homework ahead of time.
“(Zender Environmental) surveyed Alaska employers as to what kind of training they needed to hire people in their communities,” Goolie said.
She added that the preparation helped the organization win what she called a “highly competitive” grant.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].