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.
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!
A university and high school teacher for over 22 years, I am honored to enter into a new role as the Education Director for Teens Grow Greens. My experiences at Marquette University, Pius XI High School, The Prairie School, Vel R. Phillips School, and Nicolet High School shaped my student-centered, community-engaged ethos of transformative education. Whether students were writing to their elected officials with proposals regarding the justice system or meditating in the woods inspired by Walden, serving homeless individuals with food they’d grown in their school garden or writing to community stakeholders who would be resources for them upon their release from detention, their reading, writing, and thinking was tied in some way to authentic communication and problem-solving.
Since 2016, my work outside the classroom has become equally important. I direct ZIP MKE (zipmke.com), which for three years has collected over 2,000 photographs representing faces, places, and events from all 28 ZIP Codes in the city of Milwaukee. I also direct the annual Jane’s Walk MKE (janeswalkmke.org), which hosted over free 40 walks, bikes, and paddles last May in honor of our namesake, urbanist activist Jane Jacobs. In addition, I presented a TEDX Talk about transformative learning at UW-Milwaukee, presented as an Ex Fabula Fellow, and am the Lead Artist for ArtWorks for Milwaukee this school year, working with interns to create a photography exhibit for the LGBT Community Center. Oh, yes: my first job as a teen was at a greenhouse.
I can’t wait to see the Teens, Kids, and Staff learn . . . grow . . . and go!
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.
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.
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.
South Side Educator
After completing the Teens Grow Greens internship in 2017, I continued working as an educator and eventually transitioned to focus on the greenhouses. I stand for equal rights, animal rights, and interpersonal effectiveness. I strive to make the world a better place with everything I do. In the future I want to continue to further my education, open my own animal sanctuary and rehabilitation center, and continue being an advocate for the importance of adolescent mental health. Lastly, I advocate for veganism, the importance of buying local and empathy towards everybody.