By Hannah E. Jones
This summer, nine local high schoolers are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work at Atlanta’s iconic Oakland Cemetery. Through the Historic Oakland Foundation’s new Youth Landscape and Hardscape Team (YLHT), the students will learn the ins and outs of maintaining a historic cemetery.
YLHT is a six-week summer employment program for students ages 15 to 18, allowing them to explore careers in landscaping, horticulture, hardscaping and masonry. From now until mid-July, the teenagers will work 25 hours a week and get paid $12 an hour.
Throughout the program, students will work closely with skilled professionals, take field trips to see how others do landscaping and hardscaping, and attend weekly workforce preparedness classes to learn financial literacy, resume writing and communication skills.
The newly-minted employees were able to choose between the landscape and hardscape teams. The former group learns about different types of plants and best practices for mowing, pruning and planting. The latter focuses on how to build graves, refurbish old plots and care for the headstones.
The Oakland team launched this initiative to arm Atlanta’s youth with important skills as they step into the workforce while also introducing them to different career opportunities. Additionally, YLHT provides a safe space for productive activity while school is out.
“College isn’t for everyone — it may be for you, it may not be for you — but [the program] provides them with those hands-on skills,” said Director of Education and Youth Programs Charvis Buckholts, who is heading the program.
He added: “From a holistic perspective as well, it gives them a place to be safe. They know what they’re going to be doing throughout the day, they don’t have to worry about that.”
There seems to be a demand for this type of initiative, as the team received 38 applications for the program’s first year.
At the end of the summer, the students will have completed a restoration project at what’s nicknamed the “Greenhouse Valley,” which is the area surrounding the cemetery’s greenhouse. Students who successfully complete the program will be invited to apply for the YLHT Leadership Track, where students will co-manage a first-year cohort while also learning leadership skills, project management and small business fundamentals.
In addition to gaining critical workplace skills, the students will learn about the importance of historic spaces and maintaining them for generations to come.
“A lot of our kids don’t know about the history behind their city or sites that have helped shape who they are,” Buckholts said. “This landscape and hardscape opportunity is not only for [teaching] the students the skills, but also giving them the opportunity to be in a space where they can learn about themselves and how history has shaped who they are, and take those core values to help them be model citizens who engage better with the community.”