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July 8, 2024

Contact: Lawrence Hajna (609) 984-1795
Caryn Shinske (609) 984-1795
Vincent Grassi (609) 984-1795


(24/P025) TRENTON – The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection today kicked off its fourth annual Youth Inclusion Initiative program, which partners with community-based organizations to give young people from overburdened communities the opportunity to learn about various careers in the environmental field through interactive skill-building activities. For the first time, participants will have opportunities to work on projects in their home communities, ranging from cleaning up parks to planting community gardens.

A group of people posing for a photo  Description automatically generated with medium confidenceSince its inception in 2021, the summer program has grown from 18 participants to nearly 80 this year, and from two host organizations to eight this year. Beginning as a State Park Service workforce development program, the Youth Inclusion Initiative has been continually updated and expanded to become a far more comprehensive program that provides exposure to nearly every program area within the DEP, as well as private and non-profit environmental organizations. The program runs from July 8 through August 16.

“After months of planning between DEP and our partner organizations, we are pleased to welcome this year’s group of young people to our headquarters in Trenton to kick off this special summer experience,” said Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette. “Our environmental professionals are eager to share their passion for protecting the environment with these young people in hopes of sparking an interest in environmental careers.”

The program focuses on providing opportunities to participants, ages 16 to 20, from communities that have disproportionately less open space or historically lack natural lands access. During today’s kickoff at DEP headquarters, participants were introduced to DEP’s senior leadership, learned about the functions of the department and the services it provides the public, and got acquainted with the activities planned for the summer. The orientation also featured engaging career spotlight presentations by staff from the department’s Office of Emergency Youth Inclusion Initiative participants use nets to collect aquatic insects from a stream. Management and Office of Environmental Justice.  

For the next six weeks, eight community organizations will facilitate the participants’ journeys as they learn from DEP professionals about careers in water and air monitoring, natural resource management, wildlife conservation, and more.

This year’s partner organizations, formally called Community Host Organizations, include:

  • Neighborhood Improvement Association (Trenton)
  • Rutgers-Camden
  • The Work Group (Camden)
  • Ranch Hope (Salem)
  • Boys and Girls Club of Garfield
  • Groundwork Elizabeth
  • Ironbound Community Corporation (Newark)
  • United Community Corporation (Newark)

A new addition to the program is community project days for participants to work on an environmental project within their home communities. These projects help them bring improvements to their neighborhoods, boosting community and self-pride. Activities include park cleanups, installation of environmental education exhibits, and planting of community gardens. The DEP provides the partner organizations with funding for the projects.

“We empower tomorrow's leaders through our Youth Inclusion Initiative, driving meaningful change and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Elizabeth Dragon, Assistant Commissioner for Community Investment and Economic Revitalization. “This year, our enhanced curriculum includes dedicated weekly days for participants to engage in tangible and impactful environmental projects within their communities.”

The program was also expanded to include a rehearsal day focusing on public speaking skills and mock interviews, crucial components of an individual’s professional development. Throughout the summer, participants will continue to take part in resume and cover letter writing sessions and attend presentations from guest speakers. Several of the program’s guest speakers work alongside the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development to open career pathways to sustainable green jobs for those from underserved communities.

In addition to growing as a young professional, participants will spend most of their time gaining technical skills through hands-on activities such as conducting a mock environmental impact investigation, collecting macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects) from a stream to determine water quality, handling fish at the state trout hatchery, and designing a park with Green Acres staff, among other activities. The program also includes a visit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office.

DEP’s award-winning Youth Inclusion Initiative directly supports the Murphy Administration’s goal to build a diverse, inclusive environmental workforce equipped with the skills to expand the state’s green economy and advance environmental justice. Community Host Organizations help the state work towards achieving that goal by teaming up with the DEP to recruit the program’s participants, and plan and supervise their summer experience. Additionally, the organizations promote their continued growth by helping them identify next steps, such as furthering their education.

Here is what this year’s Community Host Organizations, which includes several who have partnered with DEP in past years, have to say about the Youth Inclusion Initiative:

  • “We've dedicated extensive time and effort to meticulously prepare for the launch of the YII summer program. Our intention is to empower our youth through the experiences with DEP, fostering a deep understanding of environmental stewardship and career pathways,” said Octavia Sutphin, President of Neighborhood Improvement Association. “This initiative underscores our commitment to nurturing future environmental leaders and promoting inclusivity within DEP, ensuring a sustainable and vibrant future for our communities.”
  • “Rutgers University—Camden is proud to continue to host the Youth Inclusion program on the Rutgers-Camden campus this summer. Over the past three years, we have seen interest in the program grow, with students desiring increased opportunities to connect their interests with a better understanding of how they can work towards environmental justice in and around the city of Camden,” said Nyeema C. Watson, Ph.D., Senior Vice Chancellor - Strategy, Diversity, and Community Engagement at Rutgers University-Camden. “The NJ Department of Environmental Protection has been a great partner in ensuring that our young people get a full breadth of experiences, across the entire state of New Jersey, and show them the variety of career paths that can they access.”
  • “The Work Group is ecstatic to be a part of the DEP’s Youth Inclusion Initiative for our second year. This is a wonderful opportunity to provide young adults with exposure to an array of career opportunities that otherwise may be completely unknown to them,” said Ariel Wapnick, Climate Corps Supervisor at The Work Group. “We are so pleased that the NJ Department of Environmental Protection has committed to supporting youth in this way. Our participants are eager to learn about their environment and better their community through our community-based project.”
  • “Ranch Hope is excited to partner with The Huddle and Councilmembers Tim Gregory and Jamal Long to help bring the Youth Inclusion Initiative and its incredible opportunities to Salem City,” said Jonathan Cummings, Director of Community Missions at Ranch Hope. “We're thrilled to provide summer work to 10 youth from the community who will be exposed to a myriad of different jobs and ideas around conservation and preservation that they can use not only this summer, but in the future as well.  The planned projects for Salem will help clean, beautify and enhance the city and will encourage community engagement and participation as well.”
  • “The Boys & Girls Club of Garfield is proud to support and host our committed young environmental advocates as they advance sustainability awareness and environmental education in our community,” said Laura Camarena, Associate Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Garfield. “With months of dedicated preparation, we're launching the DEP's Youth Inclusion Initiative which will help us transform our community garden into an eco-learning hub, where this valuable education can continue even with younger populations in our club community. This initiative is a testament to the passion and leadership of our youth, who are not just preparing for future environmental challenges but are already spearheading change.”
  • “Through the NJ DEP Youth Inclusion Initiative, youth in Elizabeth get to spend a once-in-a-lifetime summer learning about how the DEP makes a difference in assessing, monitoring, and improving our state’s environment. They also get to share in building a local project in their own hometown using their new experiences as a foundation for action,” said Jonathan Phillips, Executive Director for Groundwork Elizabeth. “We know that the lessons learned, the friendships, and opportunities to impact our community locally will help elevate the hopes, dreams and possibilities for success of our cherished youth as they move from youth to career choices.”
  • “The Ironbound Community Corporation is proud to enter its fourth year of participation in the DEP Youth Inclusion Initiative, a program that has consistently grown and positively impacted our young participants,” said Charles Barlow-Richardson, Director of Programs at Ironbound Community Corporation. “Year after year, we've had the pleasure of witnessing the transformative effects of this initiative on the youth involved. As we welcome a new group of participants this year, we're excited to see them embrace the opportunity to learn about environmental preservation and become the next generation of environmental stewards.”
  • “At United Community Corporation, we are honored to join the esteemed list of host agencies for the Youth Inclusion Initiative, funded by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection. This program represents a transformative opportunity for our youth to embark on career pathways in the green economy and community responsibility,” said Craig Mainor, Executive Director for United Community Corporation. “As municipalities and private companies increasingly recognize and capitalize on the impact and potential of green spaces, environmental stewardship, and community building, this initiative aims to equip young individuals with the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to thrive in this dynamic sector. We are excited to be part of this impactful program and look forward to fostering the next generation of leaders in green construction and sustainability.”

For more information about the Youth Inclusion Initiative, visit

NJDEP PHOTOS/Top: Orientation Day group photo; Bottom: 2023 program participants collect aquatic insects from a stream to measure biological health