Rhode Island Environmental
Education Association

Groundwork RI Adult Job Training Program participants display certificates of completion. Groundwork employee Stephanie Moniz is pictured third from left.  

RIEEA member Groundwork RI (GWRI) is unique among Rhode Island environmental nonprofits for its multifaceted approach to building a resilient, healthy, and just community. Through job training, economic opportunities, and social programs (such as the popular local compost venture Harvest Cycle), the Groundwork team works tirelessly to create opportunities for lower-income Rhode Islanders to find meaningful environmental jobs. 

“Groundwork is really a come-as-you-are kind of organization,” says Stephanie Moniz, the nonprofit’s Training and Education Coordinator. As a leader in the Adult Job Training program, Stephanie works with communities of color and formerly incarcerated folks to equip them with skills and certifications, which ideally make way for gainful employment in the environmental services sector. “There’s a lot of flexibility. A lot of this is learning as you go, it’s learning on the job.” 

As a formerly incarcerated person herself, Stephanie knows firsthand the value of Groundwork’s mission. She describes the folks she works with as “adults who don’t quite fit into the status quo or fit into the system as it is… I was one of those people, so I found a home with Groundwork.” 

Stephanie Moniz, once a Groundwork participant, is now the program’s  Training and Education Coordinator.

While incarcerated in Rhode Island from 2014-2016, Stephanie was part of Garden Time, a gardening “green reentry” training program. Once released, she then participated in the same Adult Job Training program she now leads at Groundwork. (The two organizations share an office space.)

There’s “never a dull moment” on the job, says Stephanie. “We get people all kinds of certifications: OSHA 40, OSHA 10, CPR First Aid. We do fundamentals of environmental literacy. We teach about waste, water, and energy. We have a stormwater management certification… that’s accredited and recognized nationwide.” But it’s not all nuts and bolts. “A lot of my training is in mindfulness-based emotional intelligence, and so I infuse a lot of that into the program,” she says. She tries to “make sure that everybody has the space to feel heard and feel seen.”

There’s a learning curve for most participants in the program, particularly as many transition into a post-incarceration life. Stephanie says managing expectations can be a challenge. “[Participants are] ready to tell you, like, ‘I’m not going to deal with this, I don’t want to deal with that,’ and I’m like – cool, you don’t have to. But let’s focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want, because that’s how you’re going to create the life that you’re looking for.”

Hands-on learning is a key component of Groundwork’s Adult Job Training program.

To help shift perspective, Stephanie aims to set a good example. “I’m willing to show up and be vulnerable and show that it’s okay to not know… it’s okay to show up and not be perfect.” She encourages participants to lean into their feelings of “perfectionism and rigidity and fear and trauma” instead of avoiding them. In an unforgiving world, Stephanie’s program is a safe space for participants to be okay with learning and growing from failure. 

Still, being out in the workforce isn’t always as supportive as the Groundwork community tries to be, and Stephanie says she wishes employers knew how difficult it can be to transition into employment. “I don’t think people really think about the level of stress and fear and trauma that formerly incarcerated folks are living with every day. Everything’s on the line, all the time. Like any slip-up, you can be back in hell. And I think employers are missing out on a really good sector of the labor market by not having grace for stuff like that.”

Despite (or maybe because of) these challenges, moments of growth, levity, and learning are treasured. Stephanie describes the “hands-on days” as a special highlight. “[Participants are] building stuff and problem solving and working together,” she says. “At the end of the day they have this sense of accomplishment and this new experience under their belt.” 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Translate »