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PeoriaCorps searches for a new cohort to implement green infrastructure in the city

PeoriaCorps participants
PeoriaCorps participants.

The City of Peoria is once again seeking candidates for its six-month workforce development pre-apprenticeship program under PeoriaCorps.

The AmeriCorps-based program focuses on community service, creating a skilled and equitable workforce, green infrastructure implementation and maintenance, as well as combating the combined sewer overflow problem within Peoria. Amelia Hufeld Ohlrogge is program director of PeoriaCorps.

“The most important thing for us is that we want people to understand that PeoriaCorps is really for everybody … anybody that's looking for an opportunity to serve their community and also to build workforce development skills, maybe someone who struggled with any kind of job barriers in the past, and whatever those may be we're very open. There's virtually nobody we can't take,” explained Ohlrogge.

The organization is willing to consider candidates with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds or criminal backgrounds that may have presented an obstacle in the past, said Ohlrogge, noting while the target audience is young adults ranging from age 18 to 28, anyone is welcome to apply, though having certain ambitions are helpful.

PeoriaCorps program director Amelia Hufeld Ohlrogge
Jody Holtz
PeoriaCorps program director Amelia Hufeld Ohlrogge

“Specifically, people who want to give back to their community, work outdoors because it is outdoor work, and also who would benefit from the workforce development aspect of it and career exploration,” said Ohlrogge.

The program was born out of the need to address the combined sewer overflow problem Peoria has been struggling with for years. Ohlrogge said this is the most pressing issue the city is currently facing.

“We're used to…seeing new stories about the storm water issues, and it's not just a problem for Peoria. Any city that has this older infrastructure…especially as old as Peoria is going to have this issue. So it's a known problem, and we're really just trying to take that green approach,” said Ohlrogge.

That approach includes things like bioswales, native plants, tree planting, and litter pickup as ways to alleviate storm water buildup in the sewer system. While Ohlrogge said new green infrastructure sites are constantly in the works, one that is currently being maintained is the MacArthur bioswale.

“So when the MacArthur bridge was being rebuilt, the bioswale was put in there with native plants…that absorb a lot of water so you don't have that same degree of runoff that you would have if we didn't have those plants planted there. So they're able to take on a lot of water, they don't need a lot of maintenance…they can tolerate the salt that's coming off plows in the winter,” explained Ohlrogge.

Projects like these model the work that participants can expect to take on if accepted into the program. Ohlrogge stressed that in addition to showing members what environmental stewardship looks like, they also will have an opportunity to build an impressive skill set complete with a certification that is useful within that industry

“Our participants also complete the curriculum and are able to sit for the exam to obtain their national green infrastructure certification, and that is a credential that is industry recognized nationwide. So our participants, once they obtain their credential, they can take that credential anywhere in the country,” Ohlrogge said.

Applications for the pre-apprenticeship program opened at the end of July. The organization is hoping to begin its new cohort in September.

For people who would like assistance applying for the program, call 309-494-8844 and ask for either Amelia or PeoriaCorps crew supervisor Darren Graves. Applications also can be accessed online on the city’s website.

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Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant development director, assistant program director, host of WCBU's newsmagazine All Things Peoria and producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.