With the unemployment rate hovering at 7.4 percent, jobs are a hot commodity in Knoxville.
For one local organization, employment opportunities for Knoxville's youth lie not in the retail or food industry, but in more obscure areas, like weatherization and the improvement of a structure's energy efficiency.
Founded only four years ago, SEEED, or Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development, grew out of dissatisfaction with existing youth programs in Knoxville. Executive director Stan Johnson and social equality director Joshua Outsey founded SEEED together, having both experienced unsatisfactory leadership at another organization.
"We got to a certain point where some men had started to eliminate their risk factors for death, incarceration and the use of drugs," Johnson said. "We got to this brick wall and it was like once I'd eliminated my risk factors, now what do I need to do to still be successful and a leader? The leader of our organization didn't really have an answer for that."
Johnson recalled participant frustration, as well.
"Young people actually came to me saying, 'we're tired of programs that don't end you up anywhere,' so I said, 'What're you going do about it?'"
That simple question set SEEED into motion.
In 2009, Johnson visited California and Washington D.C. where he was first exposed to the concept of green economies and the stimulus package. Seeing potential for job growth, Johnson formed a board which began to meet regularly.
"We wanted to develop ourselves," Johnson said. "It wasn't your process to make me whole; it was my own process to make me whole. And these are things that I've seen in myself that I needed to deal with."
"We want to take young people off the streets and give them something to do," Outsey added.
Today, SEEED does just that.
The organization's GED program had 23 participants last year, with five earning their GED, three gaining admittance to college and 10 now enjoying employment, with the rest continuing to work on their diploma.
Next spring, SEEED will accept another crop of 8-10 young people to its unique program. Though the basics of science, math and solar and wind energy are explored, the curriculum is not entirely tailored to "green" jobs. Providing instruction involving interviewing, handshakes and eye contact, SEEED offers versatile life skills and generalized advice as well.
In addition to educational programs, SEEED attempts to address other sustainability issues in the Knoxville area.
Last year, the nonprofit held Green The Block, an event addressing the food desert existing in certain areas of Knoxville. SEEED planted 54 fruit-bearing trees in the community and gave away 70 more.
"We said to homeowners, 'Do you want a tree?' And we planted it for them," said Laurel Bowen, SEEED Development Coordinator.
In mid-October, SEEED will be holding its annual Music Harvest Fest in Market Square. Music from several genres will be featured. While admission is free, donations will be accepted. Serving as their largest fundraiser, money will be funneled back into SEEED and its projects.
"Before we started touching other people and affecting their lives, we all focused on our own personal development," Outsey said. "And then once we saw, wow, I can come from this level to this level and then continuously be raising up. It fuels us and gives us passion to go help other young people."