Five questions with KNOX Executive Director, Ron Pitz, Hartford’s 2017 Neighborhood Builder®

Bank of America selected KNOX with its Neighborhood Builders® grant for the outstanding work they do in and for the Hartford community. Bank of America Hartford President, Kevin Cunningham, speaks with Ron Pitz, executive director of KNOX, about the organization’s goals and its local impact in Hartford.

Kevin Cunningham: KNOX has been working to keep Hartford green for decades, but some people may not be aware of the extent of the tree plantings and number of community gardens. Can you talk about the work you do for the community and share the mission behind KNOX?

Ron Pitz: Our mission aims for each resident, business and organization in Hartford to collaborate for the strength, beauty and health of Hartford. We firmly believe long-term solutions to Hartford’s social, economic and health issues lie with participation from the people of Hartford. We’re there to teach, to provide leadership and to stand by their side for the next 50 years.

KNOX trains or employs Hartford residents for green jobs — all are facing a steep climb. KNOX’s mentorship, cross-industry and hands-on job training brings these men and women to a place where their past mistakes are truly the past. Whether the challenge is a conviction, a health issue or lack of education, KNOX works with individuals for at least a year. Most often, support continues for years. These young men and women then become a tried-and-true positive influence on the city. Hartford Youth Corps members working with KNOX maintain 20 community gardens and 30 community landscapes annually. They empower 3,000 volunteers to green the city every year. The Tree Crew plants over 500 trees a year, maintains another 3,000 and will inventory over 50,000. Those community gardens empower Hartford residents to grow over $400,000 worth of produce annually — Hartford’s largest local food source.

Kevin Cunningham: Bank of America has been a longtime supporter of KNOX, but this year we’re especially thrilled to be awarding your organization a Neighborhood Builders® grant of $200,000. What specific programs or needs within the organization will benefit from the funding?

Ron Pitz: This generous grant from Bank of America will help us expand our impact in the Hartford community by strengthening our workforce development programs and meet our significant staffing needs. These funds will also be invested in fund-raising and fee-for-service outreach activities. All-in-all, this grant will allow us to not only continue the work we’re doing in the city, but also explore opportunities for serious growth.

Kevin Cunningham: Can you go into more detail about those workforce development programs and tell me about the urban incubator farm?

Ron Pitz: Our workforce development programs provide green jobs, landscaping, and life skills training to underserved Hartford youth, giving them the skills necessary to secure gainful employment, manage adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Our aim is for program members to earn a living wage one to two years after program end. Our program members are economically disadvantaged, and many have had prior involvement with the criminal justice system, making it difficult to secure employment. Many come into the program without a GED. While gaining highly employable skills and self-confidence, members preserve and protect the city’s urban forest and bring beauty to their neighborhoods. This is more than a job training program; it teaches Hartford’s inner-city youth one of the most important life lessons: how to affect change in one’s community while improving one’s life.

Our urban incubator farm program helps recent immigrants with farming backgrounds succeed in an urban setting, allowing them overcome social and economic barriers to employment. Many immigrants in the city live below the poverty rate, which ranks as one of the highest in the nation. This farm provides these individuals with the land and training to achieve financial independence.

Kevin Cunningham: In addition to Bank of America, what other significant partnerships does KNOX have in the city?

Ron Pitz: Each program has collaborations and partnerships built into it. Our workforce development programs work with Our Piece of the Pie, the City of Hartford and a variety of recruitment sources. We also employ private and nonprofit trainers to supplement KNOX’s expertise. Our educational programming partners with after-school programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Hartford Police Athletic League to provide environmental education. Our largest partnership as an organization is with the City of Hartford. Through this partnership, we plant 500+ trees a year. If the city hired a private contractor, all the neighborhood collaboration and intensive aftercare would vanish. Those jobs would leave Hartford as well. At the same time, we’re able to achieve these results at a lower cost as we can seek matching funds and have no mandate for profit.

Kevin Cunningham: Bank of America employees always enjoy volunteering for KNOX events, especially tree plantings and park cleanups. Does KNOX have any other upcoming events that Hartford residents and other corporate employee groups can participate in?

Ron Pitz: Yes — we are always looking for more volunteers to support the work we’re doing. We have one-day community greening volunteer events for individuals and groups. These include tree plantings, community cleanups and work in our greenhouse or on our farms. Volunteers also have the opportunity to be programmatic and administrative interns. Skill-based volunteer opportunities are available as needed, including financial trainings, website development, landscape design and organizational evaluation.


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