Above: In May, GTECH ambassador Jean Binstock organized volunteers plant flowers in an Allegheny West  public garden where artist Mary Cassatt’s home once stood. (Photo by Kelsey Shea)

A graduation in the Alcoa building on Thursday night recognized 13 Northsiders who spent the past year working with local nonprofit organization GTECH Strategies as green ambassadors to make their neighborhoods a better place.

As the first participants in the green ambassador program, Northsiders from different neighborhoods reclaimed vacant lots, raised awareness about green jobs, planned parks and planted public blueberry, sunflower and community gardens.

GTECH CEO Andrew Butcher said the program’s first year was a success, and they’re looking towards recruiting ambassadors for 2013.

“It’s been inspiring to see the work that people put into their projects,” said Butcher. “It really validated for us a really important question about investing in people and places… It produced great results.”

GTECH Strategies works to better neighborhoods with green practices by reclaiming vacant land and creating local green jobs. They also run a program that helps restaurants recycle used cooking oil into fuel.

Prior to the ambassador program, GTECH reclaimed vacant lots throughout the city, including two unused lots in Perry South and one in Manchester, which were turned into sunflower gardens.

GTECH worked in collaboration with the Northside Leadership Conference to create recruit and direct the ambassadors in their projects.

The green ambassadors were chosen through an interview process, trained and paid a small stipend to push their initiatives and complete their projects.

Butcher estimated that in the programs first year, the 13 ambassadors engaged over 300 people in 13 neighborhoods.

“You should be pleased with what you’ve accomplished,” said NSLC Executive Director Mark Fatla. “There’s a head and a heart to a community, and we can’t make your hearts any bigger. We can only grow what’s inside your head, and that’s what this program was all about.”

Kelly Day, a Brighton Heights resident working to build a wellness park in her neighborhood said working with GTECH gave her an anchor and served as a crutch for programs she was interested in pursuing before the program.

Mark Williams, a Perry Hilltop resident to planted 32 blueberry bushes in a vacant lot in his neighborhood, said GTECH was a great way to “connect with other neighborhoods.”

For a full list of GTECH projects, check the December print edition of The Northside Chronicle (available December 3).