When Rhon Hayes and Philip O’Neal began to talk about the profile and “what Van was attempting to do, it just struck us as probably the most brilliant idea we had heard in a while,” Hayes recalled. “So we started thinking long-term: if Van is successful, how will people in these low-income communities actually know about these opportunities?”
That was in late 2007.
Nearly three years later, Green DMV — their non-profit organization that promotes energy and green jobs as a pathway out of poverty in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area — is thriving.
The special guest? Jones, the man who inspired them from the beginning.
“We feel that he is a trailblazer,” Hayes said. “He’s clearly been an inspiration with just the things he’s done and he’s provided some guidance and support for a lot of the work we’ve been doing.”
That work is done through a three-pronged approach to informing people about green opportunities: a business program that targets small and disadvantaged businesses; teaching environmental literacy to kindergarten through fifth grade students in under-served schools; and reaching out to partner with community groups.
“I’m happy to say now that folks call us with almost anything green,” Hayes said with a laugh. “Our approach worked.”
When Green DMV goes into some communities to promote green initiatives, tell business owners how they can reduce their carbon footprint or sell the idea of green jobs, they know they have a bit of a challenge.
“It’s been our goal from the beginning to educate in a way that makes sense to people and meet them where they are,” Hayes said. “Because (for) a lot of people in the communities that we focus on, the only exposure they have to what it means to be green is when they hear (President Barack Obama) talk about these green jobs.”
But they don’t know where the jobs are located or how they can get one or even what someone with a green job does, Hayes explained. Green DMV fills in that gap, even with audiences that may be skeptical.
Green DMV had to change the way they communicated, exchanging some of the longer, more technical information for the bottom line. So now, when they visit businesses, rather than talking about “reducing the carbon footprint, we talk about how it saves you money,” Hayes explained. “Once we did that, (owners) were a lot more open to what we had to say.”
Hayes and O’Neal also keep an eye on green legislation, which was another reason for establishing the organization in the District area, Hayes said. One such bill that passed the U.S House of Representatives and will move on to the Senate details Homestar Energy Efficiency program, which would provide tax incentives for homeowners who make energy efficient investments on their homes.
Green DMV has a longterm plan of expanding to other cities. Hayes said he looks forward to what the organization can accomplish in the future.
“The great thing about what we do is that the benefits are unimaginable when you think about how similar a lot of inner-cities are,” Hayes said. “So we think the programs that we have created would benefit any metro area.”