Submitted by eschneider on
AmeriCorps Staff


Not even the sweltering heat could hold back Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff and AmeriCorps CEO, Michael D. Smith from serving. They got to work creating green spaces in Baltimore, Md. with AmeriCorps members who serve with Civic Works.  

Baltimore has approximately 16,500 vacant lots. While some of these vacant spaces are slated for redevelopment, an estimated 65% of them are in communities without development demand. Civic Works’ community partners identify vacant lots and small, undervalued public parks that attract trash and debris for cleanup. And that where AmeriCorps members come in. Serving with Civic Works’ Community Landscaping Team, they help improve the grading, install native plants, trees, and grasses, install rain gardens, bioswales, and other best management practices, make vacant spaces more usable, encourage residents to maintain them, and reduce the flow of nutrients and sediments in stormwater.  

Joined by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Civic Works Executive Director Dana Stein, Emhoff and Smith served alongside AmeriCorps members at three separate garden sites. From digging in the hot ground to planting perennials and trees, they dusted off their gardening skills to plant the very first rain the garden in Baltimore’s Mount Clare neighborhood. 

“We need to rebuild all of our communities, and if you think about infrastructure, even planting trees and having clean air and clean water, places for people to actually congregate, and that’s what’s so amazing about what we learned here. We are reclaiming this vacant lot,” said Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.  

It's not the first time the second gentleman has come out to serve with AmeriCorps. He joined a similar project in DC during AmeriCorps Week. He may be an honorary AmeriCorps member soon enough. 

“One of my favorite things about being second gentleman is learning about all the programs we have… like AmeriCorps,” said the second gentleman, adding he will do anything he can to lift up these programs. 

Civic Works is one of more the more than 100 environmental and conservation corps in the AmeriCorps network.  More than 5,700 AmeriCorps members have served in Civic Works since 1993. Their mission is to strengthen Baltimore’s communities through education, skills development, and community service.  Each year, 100 AmeriCorps members, 100 job trainees, and 2,000 volunteers come together to “build brighter futures” through workforce development programs and operating a public high school; grow healthy food and green communities through community landscaping and urban farming; and create safe and affordable homes for older adults who want to age in place and families who want to save energy. They’ve made a large and lasting impact in their community. 

During the visit, the second gentleman, AmeriCorps CEO, and Baltimore mayor spoke with groups of AmeriCorps members about why they joined and what they’ve learned.  Then they picked up shovels, picks, and loppers and joined in the work.  Their first stop was planting perennials to hold rainwater in the ground and reduce storm water drain overflow. 

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, AmeriCorps CEO Michael D. Smith and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott plant trees with Civic Works AmeriCorps Members in Baltimore.

At station two, they weeded an old rain garden.

Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, AmeriCorps CEO Michael D. Smith and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott weed an old rain garden with Civic Works AmeriCorps Members in Baltimore.

At station three, they planted trees.  

Second Gentleman, AmeriCorps CEO and Baltimore Mayor plant trees with AmeriCorps members.

During his visit, Emhoff said, “we need to do everything we can to combat what is a climate crisis. And I'm going to keep working with AmeriCorps on projects like this and other projects that they do throughout the country.” 

AmeriCorps couldn’t agree more. For nearly three decades, AmeriCorps has provided significant funding to support conservation corps and this investment is making a big impact.

In 2021, 16,000 AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers: 

  • improved more than 400,000 acres of parks and public lands; 
  • treated 14,500 miles of trails or rivers;  
  • weatherized or retrofitted more than 7,000 homes or public structures;  
  • protected or restored nearly 1,000 structures after natural disasters; and
  • provided environmental stewardship education and training to more than 200,00 individuals. 

This summer, AmeriCorps made an initial investment of more than $63 million in new AmeriCorps grants to support more than 10,200 members who will carry out environmental stewardship, disaster services, and climate change projects in rural and urban communities across the country over the coming year. The agency will make additional climate and conservation focused grants in the coming weeks.  These resources will help AmeriCorps programs like Civic Works address a top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration: tackling the crisis of climate change.

Group photo of mayor, AmeriCorps CEO, second gentleman, and AmeriCorps members

Following the tree planting, Emhoff again visited with the whole team of AmeriCorps members.  
 “People like you who are helping the communities,” the second gentleman stated. “That’s what we need.”