A greener look for Clinton HS

Thinking Green. (l-r) Ursula Chanse from Bronx Green-Up, Carlos Davila, Juan Rivera, and (inside greenhouse) Marcel Bent put the final touches on the newly-built greenhouse at Dewitt Clinton High School. Photo courtesy of the Osborne Association

Carlos Davila of Soundview is a reformed ex-con with little work history.

He ran into trouble after peddling drugs and was later sentenced to community service to avoid prison time.

He’s since stayed on the straight and narrow, helping the world become a greener place while boosting his job prospects.

Davila was one of fifteen ex-cons volunteering to build a greenhouse for Dewitt Clinton High School on behalf of the nonprofit Osborne Association and its Justice Community. The job readiness program is not mandatory, but a benefit to ex-cons with virtually no employment history, according to its website.

The new addition complements the school’s already-existing garden, whose tomatoes and kale made their way on to the menus at several high school cafeterias last year.

Ray Pultinas, an English teacher and amateur botanist, stood alongside Davila as they jiggered the plastic boards that insulate the heat. For Pultinas, the garden’s larger purpose served as a way for 4,000-student body to understand “where real food comes from.”

Building a resume

In building a greenhouse, volunteers build a resume that’s largely lacking in legitimate work, making it difficult to land work. Their job hunt struggle is further stigmatized by their criminal background.

Osborne’s Justice Community serves as a job readiness program, offering ex-cons the chance to fulfill their community service while polishing their resume.

Davila notes his involvement with Osborne has been uplifting so far, infusing a different meaning that he couldn’t find in his former life.

“I actually feel proud of myself because I always felt that I wouldn’t be anything,” said Davila, 19.

To a certain extent, the greenhouse served as a metaphor to turn things around, “re-boot toward a more positive future,” as John Valverde, the nonprofit’s executive director, saw it.

“Projects such as this one are really critical in re-establishing young people’s ties to their neighborhoods,” said Valverde.

Their time, geared towards ex-cons 18 to 24, is just one aspect to that step. In Davila’s case, the Soundview resident is working toward earning a General Education Diploma.

“I’m more focused on getting my GED, going to college, and doing what I have to do for myself to do better in life,” said Davila, who wants to start a construction firm that intends to hire ex-cons.

For now, he’s working on getting his OSHA license to work at a construction site.

“I want to prove my family wrong,” he said, “to show them there’s more to life than doing illegal things.”

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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