By MARIE FIERO

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday a $200,000 grant to a local nonprofit  that helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs and housing.

“Who would think that an agency that does superfund mitigation, and air monitoring, and brown water contamination clean-up would have the ability to intersect and be part of the human condition?” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez.

Fortune Society says their mission is to support recently incarcerated people so that they can re-enter society successfully. Lopez said that Fortune Society was one of 26 organizations to receive a grant from the agency nationally because they give vocational training in environmental remediation to their residents.They run apartment buildings with almost 200 rooms, and supply residents with support to get them their high school GEDs, vocational training, and mental health care.

The organization also teaches clients about cleaning up brownfields and superfund sites.

Super funds are federal programs focused on cleaning up chemically toxic areas.

“We’re making people’s souls and environment healthy at the same time,” said Fortune Society’s Vice President of Operations Sherry Goldstein.

The training program has about a 70% success rate, said training coordinator Judy De La Cruz.

The EPA has awarded funds to the Fortune Society four times now, totaling $1 million.

The Harlem apartment building, which is called Castle Gardens, is officially green certified. The rooftop garden helps educate residents about environmental remediation. The building is completely green from the appliances to the plumbing, according to the director of facilities, Tim Sheldon. He says the rooftop is equipped with a rainwater harvesting system with a 13,000 gallon tank to catch water used in the garden, cleaning sidewalks, and in the cooling tower.

“In my background, my father was a subsistence farmer from Puerto Rico, who had an eighth grade education, struggled with language and work skills,” said Lopez. “And having programs like this is so meaningful to give people a head start.”

Sherry Goldstein and EPA’s Pete Lopez on Green Roof. Photo by Marie Fiero.