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Meet the crew planting trees in Denver neighborhoods

The Park People started this pre-apprenticeship program to help Denver plant 60,000 trees in the next three years.

DENVER — Denver has big goals of planting tens of thousands of trees over the next few years to meet their climate goals. But they're about 200 workers short to get it done. 

The Park People started a pre-apprenticeship program to start to fill the gap. Here are the stories of the first Treeforce crew, all hired after being incarcerated.

(Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited for context and clarity.)

Mario Aragon, 50 

Credit: KUSA

I was pretty much in gangs since I was 13.

My parents are from San Luis in the valley, but I was born and raised in the Northside of Denver, Colorado.

My dad taught us we always had to work.

Later on, I grew into gangs. I guess it was just the wave at the time...the 90s. My brother was a warlord. It just became addicting.

I just got out of prison in 2019. I was successfully discharged in February.

I got introduced to Second Chance. Man, they go above and beyond. They introduced us to the Park People.

We all know trees, but we really didn’t know about trees.

There’s so much we didn’t know that was important to us. Even for mental health, especially in the lower income neighborhoods. So that’s what we’re trying to drive home.

This right here just sparked something in me.

Once we do our graduation, we got an apprenticeship for 3 years.

Especially me being 50, it’s time to focus.

Jebar Cannon, 21

Credit: KUSA

I’m from Milwaukee out in Wisconsin. I came from a very bad neighborhood, and I did a lot of things I wasn’t proud of.

I did five years out there. I was incarcerated.

I moved here in July, the same day I was released.

I just wanted a new chapter…to start over.

My aunt is a veteran, so she worked with an agency that helped veterans, so she was connected with Second Chance.

They had a new program coming, and I was like woah, I don’t know about urban forestry. I don’t know nothing about trees.

I used to climb trees a lot when I was younger, but now I look at trees differently.

I’m grateful to have this opportunity. To prove to my family, I’m not a failure.

Go Bucks.

Jose Salazar, 30

Credit: KUSA

My first arrest was at 12 years old. I ran from a group home to find my family, because I was in foster care. From then on, I was in and out of jail.

In May I decided to get sober. My life was falling apart.

I heard about Second Chance Center and how they help with recidivism. They told me about the tree program, and it has to do a lot with what I want to do as far as ranching.

My goal is to have a 700-acre ranch. I want to do bison and help the environment and the ecosystems.

I jumped in two feet first, didn’t hesitate.

I love it.

My main goal by the time I die here is to end all racism. And heal the environment from the carbon footprint that we have left.

Editor's note: This story previously misrepresented where Salazar spent time behind bars. The story has been updated with the correct information.

Brad Broswick, 42 

Credit: KUSA

I’ve been out for two years. I’m off parole. Just like these guys, I was introduced to The Park People by Second Chance Center.

The simple truth is I need as many good looks as I can right now. While incarcerated, I was accused of assaulting an individual.

I’m looking at doing another 16 on top of the 16 I’ve already done.

I met a guy planting new seedlings in the fire-burn areas.

I’m getting old, climbing ropes all day doesn’t seem like a 20-year plan for me. Don’t get me wrong, if I was a younger man, I’d be all for it.

I feel more fulfilled knowing about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

I’ve always cared about nature, but this particular aspect of nature is more enlightened to me.

If I don’t get convicted, then I’m hoping to get in on the ground floor of a nursery business.

Isaiah Ferris, 35

Credit: KUSA

I’m a Denver native, born and raised here.

Really, when I got out I didn’t know what I was going to do. I ended up landing a warehouse job for a year and a half up until now.

Kevin got a hold of me, with Second Chances and said, ‘Hey man, you interested in urban forestry?’ And I was like, ‘Hm, I don’t know what that is, but yeah, sure!’

Man, my mind was blown away, and I knew right then I wanted to be a part of this. Become an arborist and be a part of taking care of trees.

We need ‘em for cleaner air, need ‘em for more shade, to cool the earth down, help fight against global warming a little bit.

For me, I want to do a more intense apprenticeship program through the Front Range Community College, and that’s a three-year arborist program.

My family’s proud of me. I’m proud of myself. I changed. I did a 360.

It feels good being on the other side of things. Being a productive citizen, going to work, coming home, taking care of the kiddos. It’s a whole new lifestyle. It feels good, it really does.

RELATED: Nonprofit hires people who live on the streets to help restore Civic Center

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