Gary Cloutier is a Rhode Island native who returned to the Ocean State on May 14 as executive director for Groundwork Providence, a nonprofit dedicated to the greening and cleaning of the metropolitan Providence area through several initiatives.
On June 22, Groundwork received a $200,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grant it will use to improve and continue its environmental job-training program.
PBN: What made you return to Rhode Island?
CLOUTIER: I saw this opportunity arise and I wanted to continue my career in public office, but I had been termed out of office after two terms. It seemed like a way to continue to be active and work on behalf of the public, but in a nonprofit setting.
PBN: Can you briefly describe the purpose of Groundwork Providence?
CLOUTIER: It started out in 1982 as Keep Providence Beautiful. It was very successful and had a lot of popular, public support. In 2000, it joined the Groundwork USA national environmental trust based in New York’s Hudson Valley. It was in 2002 when we started to do job training with EPA–funded grants, which was a little confusing at first because training for brownfield cleanups is not as easily defined as, say, picking up litter.
PBN: Part of the program’s central focus is planting trees. Can you elaborate?
CLOUTIER: We have stewardship of the only two private tree-planting programs in Providence, Trees 2020 and Providence Neighborhood Planning Program. In the Providence program we plant about 400 trees per year, for free, in any neighborhood that wants them. In the 2020 program we plant them essentially for cost. Our goal this year is to put 1,000 trees in the ground, with a stated goal of working with the city to plant 40,000 trees by the year 2020.
Another program is the GroundCorps, a sustainable-landscaping company. It employs something called the “virtuous circle,” where we employ our job-training graduates. It’s a for-fee business service where we go out and do landscaping and plant trees. It gives them experience and hopefully makes them more attractive to hire in the job place. We have had about a 75 percent placement rate with our graduates.