Written by thrivenola

Charles Aponza is another one of our New Orleans neighbors who worries about the local impact of increasingly severe hurricane seasons, rainfall, and the local impact of global climate change. “Hurricanes are continuing to come. They’re not going away. So how do we live with that? How do we make those improvements?” Executive Director of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority asks a room of entrepreneurs.

Charles was one of the first in the landscaping industry to learn that green infrastructure installations (re-landscaping lawns and green space to hold water during heavy rain) are a win-win solution for homeowners who are facing increasingly dangerous flooding.  

“Ultimately, it helps the whole community and makes your home look more beautiful,” Charles says.

Today, Charles Aponza and a team of workers stand on a completed permeable paver installation at Ms. Chambliss’s New Orleans residence. 

Six short weeks ago, this Gentilly homeowner of 30 years was unable to use her own backyard due to flooding. “That backyard just looked like it was a pool,” even after an average rain event, Ms. Chambliss remembers. Today, this yard can hold at least 4100 gallons of stormwater underground per rainfall- diverting it from the city’s pumps and slowly releasing it to prevent major subsidence in Louisiana’s disappearing coastline.

Charles always enjoyed building, but he chose to specialize in stormwater management because he felt driven to create a greener legacy for the city. However, the path into the green infrastructure industry is often hard to find. NORA Director, Brenda Breaux explains,

Green Infrastructure is an opportunity that exists here that nobody went to school for; that we’re all learning about as we go along.”

     Charles joined Thrive’s Green Business Academy: an on-ramp Black entrepreneurs who want to be part of the solution to flooding in New Orleans. Charles remembers, 

“In the beginning, if I didn’t have Thrive, it would have been impossible. Even just getting in… it’s such a small market to begin with.  So much expertise is needed to figure out how to do this well.”

     As one of the first individuals to be professionally-trained in green infrastructure, Charles holds his work to a high standard in the hopes that he can set a positive precedent: “I am just a piece of a bigger system. I want to be as conscious as possible. How do I preserve New Orleans to stay building water management which is a necessity across the country?”.  Creating stunning, flood-friendly spaces encourages residents to seek similar improvements: making the whole city more resilient. Ms. Chambliss, for example, was inspired by her neighbor’s green improvements:

“One of my neighbors had already had y’all’s program going. I looked at the driveways and the different things that were added for her in her home and I said ‘Wow. That would be wonderful for me because my yard gets flooded so I need something so I can enjoy it and my grandkids can enjoy it.’”

Thrive’s position as a prime contractor with the City of New Orleans Community Adaptation Program gives the organization leverage to connect rising Black business owners, like Charles, to the city’s official stormwater management contracts. This diversifies and de-bundles the group of business owners who benefit from government funding for green infrastructure. 

However, even with a strong network, the green infrastructure industry is growing faster than its workforce. Project managers and landscape designers struggle to find employees who have the technical skills and stormwater management knowledge needed to complete installations. Charles is one of the many business owners who spends much of his time and money training employees who have never worked in green infrastructure before.

For this project on Providence Place, Thrive equipped Charles with a well-trained green construction team: composed of individuals who have graduated from our green infrastructure workforce program, Thrive Works Green. A majority of our workforce participants are redefining their career paths after recent incarceration. Working under a mentor like Charles on a real green installation gives them the opportunity to sharpen their green construction skills while earning a livable hourly wage. 

The experience of leading the team was rewarding for Charles, as well: “It’s great to see people who look like me getting the skillsets I know transcend past here.” For Brighter Horizons Construction, a partnership with Thrive has been “huge” for overcoming employee training costs that arise because of the newness of the industry. Charles says about working with Thrive’s graduates: “I’m picking up labor that I’m not having to train myself; they’re walking in with skills…That’s a game changer!”

As for the final product at Ms. Chambliss’ property, she beams, “Y’all have created such an oasis for me and my grandchildren. Family is going to enjoy that backyard.”

Read more stories of a Thriving New Orleans:

Thrive New Orleans at NOEW 2024

Co-hosted by Thrive New Orleans as part of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW) A special Climate Resilience: Our Future Depends On It panel will take place where a panel of local and national leaders convene to speak on successfully coping with and managing the...

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