Green Keepers Blossom Into Year-Round Business

Green Keepers are at work throughout the Upper West Side all year round.
Green Keepers are at work throughout the Upper West Side all year round.

It’s easy to spot Goddard Riverside’s Green Keepers in the summer. They’re all over the Upper West Side in their bright green vests — trimming trees in Riverside Park, tidying up the Broadway Malls, or planting flowers for homeowners.

This year you’ll see them all winter, too — thanks to a growing slate of customers. New contracts for sanitation work on Broadway and Columbus Avenue have extended the work year, providing more stable and rewarding employment.

“Because of these new contracts, 75 percent of our people will be working year round,” said Green Keepers Business Development Director Elizabeth Ewell. “It has really allowed us to expand.” She noted that support from City Councilor Helen Rosenthal has been especially helpful in growing the sanitation business.

The Green Keepers offer expert plant care, pest eradication and sanitation services to clients including the Broadway Mall Association, Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, Riverside Park Conservancy and local block associations. While making the neighborhood more beautiful, Green Keepers also provides a valuable service to its employees: it helps them re-enter the job market after facing the challenge of mental health issues, disability, homelessness and/or substance abuse.

“I’ve learned a lot from this job and I’m ready to go forward,” said Christian, who has been a Green Keeper for 5 years. “It’s really boosted my confidence.”

Christian had struggled with anxiety and depression. He didn’t have much experience. At first he had to learn good work habits, such as calling in if he was sick or running late. Now Christian has risen through the ranks to become a Junior Crew Leader. He’s focusing on developing his leadership skills.

“It’s a very positive place. The people are very nice and I appreciate that when something isn’t right, they say it in a supportive, adult way,” he said.

Adapting to the working world takes time. Most Green Keepers spend about a year growing into the job, according to Ewell. They’re buoyed in that effort by TOP Opportunities (TOP OP), our Supported Employment program. Each Green Keeper gets an employment specialist to help him or her deal with challenges that might arise, from personal issues to problems with government benefits.

“You’re pushing them on basic things — like following instructions, and personal care. If you’ve been homeless you get out of the habit of taking care of yourself. We tell them, you’re getting paid, you need to go to the laundry,” Ewell explained.

What keeps them coming back is the promise of a job and independence. Some Green Keepers stay with the company for years; others have moved on to a variety of employers from law firms to garden stores. They’re united by their desire to work.

“Some have never had a paycheck and when you’re an adult it’s a big deal,” Ewell explained. “They start looking at the world differently. They’re invested in their work. They’re bubbly when the plants come up. They hold each other to a high standard.

“They walk with pride—and that’s the goal.”