I was not a "good student" in high school. Like many teenagers, I didn't have a sense of purpose and didn't believe in myself. Perhaps that's what drew me to teaching--wanting to provide youth with direction and experience with success. However, after teaching for three years at an urban Milwaukee high school, I still didn't have an answer to the question, "How can teenagers feel successful and gain a sense of purpose in their world?"
Then I spent a summer teaching experiential education in nature. It was here that I saw students become self-directed and aware all through the students being put in the driver's seat. Not long after, my wife and I founded Teens Grow Greens. This is what I was meant to do.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, I envisioned my life as an adult outside of Wisconsin. With everything I witnessed growing up on the northside of Milwaukee, I truly believed that my I needed to be somewhere else to grow and achieve the success I wanted. So that’s what I did, I moved to Chicago for college and spent two years there but life does not always work out the way you want it to, so I moved back.
This is where my viewpoint of Milwaukee changed. While working at Outpost Natural Foods, I learned that so much about food, but it also gave me the chance to run into a high school teacher of mine.
Charlie saw the potential for me to grow with Teens Grow Greens and that helped offer different opportunities for me to continue that growth. Public Allies was one of those opportunities that has changed my life forever and that opinion I had about Milwaukee changed drastically. Teens Grow Greens is offering that opportunity for me to do so and I couldn’t be happier with the growth and fire it is has developed within me, but I am more excited about what Teens Grow Greens has to offer to Milwaukee. My journey is just beginning!
I am a Milwaukee native with over 20 years of experience working with youth and young adults in the community. My passions include the development of youth & adult programming that assists in facilitating holistic human development; and helping others learn how to do so, as well. I've been blessed to earn a PhD in Urban Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and have taught there as an adjunct instructor for past six years. Utilizing both my academic and community experience, I believe that it is my duty to build and to be a bridge; assisting in the creation of critically sound and contextually effective programming practices.
Being a part of the Teens Grow Greens family will allow me to work with an awesome team that shares my values, continue to pursue my passions, and contribute to the positive transformation of the Milwaukee community!
I was fortunate as a teenager to get my first job working in a greenhouse, which is where everything started to come together for me. Through learning to grow things and working outdoors, combined with my love for science, I found a connection to the earth. I became fascinated with environmentalism and its relativity to things like social justice, economics, and politics. I always loved school and was a diligent student who was eager to continue my education in college.
So when I had to choose a major it was simple. So in 2013 I graduated from UWM with a degree in Conservation and Environmental Science. During school and after graduating from UWM, I continued to find work in horticulture, and have since realized it’s the type of work I enjoy most. I’ve worked in the service industry, retail, and business, but still get the most fulfillment from growing and caring for plants.
I’m excited to work for Teens Grow Greens because I get to use my skills in ways that are even more meaningful. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, so it’s important to me that I participate in its growth. Giving teens the skills to become leaders is exactly what this city needs. I think it’s a great way to instill important values, while teaching work ethic and career skills at the same time.
Manager of Farm-to-Fork Initiatives
I was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, where I spent my formative years being raised by a single father who cared for three children while working two jobs. I graduated from Walden III High School, but did not achieve academic success until young adulthood. My passion for urban agriculture, indoor horticulture, and food systems began during adolescence, but it bloomed in adulthood after working with high school students on service learning projects that revolved around growing food and food systems.
As a personal project, I am currently developing an edible food forest by installing fruit trees, shrubs, vines, and multi-functional perennials on a quarter-acre lot designed with permaculture principals in mind. In the coming years, I hope to have the small-scale lot serve as an example of a localized food system. Beyond that scope, I hope to learn more about food sovereignty and how youth can become agents of change. I intend to continue my education by pursuing a graduate degree and learning more about how to improve the Milwaukee community through emerging industries, employment opportunities, and revitalization efforts.
Working at Teens Grow Greens is incredibly exciting and fulfilling in that it allows me to harness my personal and professional interests while making a positive impact within the the city. So much of the work we do at T.G.G. involves collective decision making, and it is invigorating to be a part of that process. Our work has the capacity to change habits and enrich lives, and it is through this transformation process that I find the most excitement and fulfillment. I am eager to learn and grow alongside local youth who have the ability to effect change within their own lives and the communities in which they live.
South Side Educator
I’m Manuel Irias better known as “Manny” and I’m the new South Side Educator for Teens Grow Greens this summer. I’m originally from Guatemala, I speak spanish and english fluently and I’m currently attending Cardinal Stritch University.
I’m double majoring in mathematics and education and I hope one day I can become a high school math teacher. Stand for love and respect for everyone, I believe that everyone is special and unique in their own way.