COVID-19 impacted many low-income neighborhoods like City Heights. The shut downs and ensuing job losses particularly affected low income families. Price Philanthropies responded early in the pandemic, dedicating funding to create temporary jobs in City Heights with partner agencies to help offset residents’ financial struggles. What was intended as short term funding has had long term impacts. San Diego Canyonlands experienced a full metamorphosis through their COVID employment initiative which turned into a fulltime workforce development pipeline, providing the skills and experience individuals need to pursue careers in ecological restoration and environmental management.

“City Heights workforce funding from Price has helped us build a diverse in-house restoration team, excited and dedicated to improve their own community,” shared Clayton Tschudy, Executive Director. “By combining workforce and job training development with environmental restoration we are doubling the impact of our funders’ investments and creating an integrative strategy for community improvement that results in social and environmental change.”

This focus on community workforce has resulted in new strategies at Canyonlands including the launch of a Social Workforce program where they partner with social service organizations, like the San Diego Center for Children and the Department of Rehabilitation, to provide hands-on environmental restoration training to their participants. Jennifer Ochoa, one of the original ten City Heights residents hired as a Restoration Technician has been promoted to Outreach Program Coordinator to run the Social Workforce program.

“Working for Canyonlands has been a very rewarding experience,” Ochoa shared. “Canyonlands has exposed me to a new field of work and has given me the opportunity to learn about San Diego’s ecology and how to be a steward of the land. In just a year I have grown personally, professionally and have developed valuable relationships with my peers.”

Inspired by the success of their workforce–environment combined strategy, Canyonlands will soon be launching the Canyon Connections Internship Program, a middle and high school educational program that will give local City Heights students the opportunity to learn hands-on with the Canyonlands City Heights restoration team. Participants will develop leadership skills with student-led projects that beautify local neighborhoods through canyon trailhead garden projects along with receiving a stipend to foster the pride of earning income and helping to support their families.

Overall, Price’s seed funding changed the trajectory of the Canyonlands organization as they are now sought out to handle large restoration projects throughout San Diego, earning revenue to sustain their new program expansion. For example, recently they received one million dollar in funds from the San Diego River Conservancy to begin a workforce program focused on fire prevention.

“What began as an effort to provide employment for City Heights residents has accomplished much more than any of us expected,” shared Robert Price.  “Not only are there good jobs for our neighbors in City Heights, Canyonlands has developed into a revenue earning nonprofit through the restoration of San Diego’s canyons.  Congratulations to Canyonlands for all they have accomplished!