Meet Keri Wilborn, Green Workforce Academy Coordinator

Picture of Emilie Chen

Emilie Chen

Communications Manager

Portrait of Keri Wilborn, courtesy of Keri Wilborn

Keri Wilborn (she/her) has been in the role of Green Workforce Academy Coordinator for just over a year. Her role is role housed within the organization Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), but she works closely with Teresa Gaddy, Ecotrust’s Green Workforce Academy Program Manager. Together, they run many of the logistics of the five-week program that offers adults of color in Portland the opportunity to learn and network within the green jobs industry.

In this conversation, Keri speaks with Emilie, Communications Manager, about how she came to this work and what she’s looking forward to in Green Workforce Academy this year. 

Your role is hosted at NAYA, but I’m curious: how does it tie in with Ecotrust?

So the Green Workforce Academy program is operated through Ecotrust. Ecotrust is part of the Green Workforce Collaborative, and NAYA is also a part of that Collaborative. As the Collaborative moved forward with planning and with all the things that Teresa has taken on, they realized that it made sense to have another person to help coordinate this program.

So what does your partnership with Teresa look like?

It kind of shifts and changes with the seasons. We have times of the year when we’re in session [with Green Workforce Academy cohorts], and we have times of the year that’s like the offseason, when we’re planning and working with folks behind the scenes. 

Teresa’s role had kind of been everything, and now she can have more focus on building  partnerships with community members and strategically move forward with our programming. We work a lot together, but we also have our own little niches that are kind of ever-changing.

Because we’re starting up a cohort soon, my role right now is a lot of recruiting and outreach efforts. Eventually, I’ll be in the interview process for new Green Workforce participants and co-facilitating with Teresa the environmental education piece. I’ve only been here for a year and only had two cohorts since I started, so it’s definitely an evolving process.


Green Workforce Academy participants identify plants during a field training. Photo courtesy of Keri Wilborn.


Teresa Gaddy, Green Workforce Academy Program Manager (left), with Keri Wilborn (right). Photo courtesy of Keri Wilborn.

What drew you to the Green Workforce Academy Coordinator role?

I’m that person that sees things thrown in the garbage that could be in the recycling bin. I always have the environment in mind, and I’ve been like that for quite a while. It’s not just some fad thing. 

I got my degree in social work, and I formerly was in a role with NAYA where I was a parent advocate. I’ve always done a lot of direct service work, and I enjoyed the roles I’ve taken over the years. But when I saw the Green Workforce Coordinator position come up, I literally said, “I want this job.” I just went after it. So I’m super thankful that it all worked out. I felt like it was a calling for me. 

What other kinds of work had you done before?

When I graduated from Portland State University, my first job was working with the Sexual Assault Resource Center. I was a case manager advocate, working with survivors of sex trafficking and youth survivors. After a few years of that work—there was a lot of emotional toll and vicarious trauma—I had the opportunity to work with Multnomah County and still do similar work, but from a training aspect, where I was teaching community members and first responders on how to work with folks that have survived trafficking. That was a temporary position. I had a child in between there, and then I started working at NAYA. It’s hard to believe, but it’s going to be five years this summer with NAYA.


I want to bring more of our voices to the forefront when it comes to educating, empowering, and building a cohesive community and diversifying folks working in the green sector.

Are there any ways your past work experiences or life experiences have informed your current role?

As a person who identifies as Black, Native, and white as well—I’m a descendant of Hausa folks that are from West Africa, and I identify as Chocktaw and Osage—I’m bringing that cultural piece and lived experience to the work that I’m doing: growing up in Northeast Portland, knowing the history of the area, being a person that grew up doing a lot of things outdoors, and working with a lot of folks who aren’t from here. I spent a lot of time with family on my dad’s side in nature. And my mother was a gardener, and I witnessed her being connected to the outdoors as a woman of color.

I’ve seen all the changes in the community in the Portland area and the gentrification, and know that these things affect us folks of color. I want to bring more of our voices to the forefront when it comes to educating, empowering, and building a cohesive community and diversifying folks working in the green sector.

In the two cohorts of Green Workforce Academy that you’ve witnessed, what are the impacts you’re seeing?

A lot of folks talk about impacts, and they want to see outcomes around data and numbers. What we’re seeing are not just those numbers, but community connection. Empowering community. Folks that are most impacted are in these spaces together, building that confidence to go out and speak about the climate issues that are affecting them. 

[Green Workforce Academy] has also been a way to connect to other people and reconnect to the outdoors. In a way, it almost feels like I went through my first cohort as a participant. It felt almost like summer camp as an adult. A lot of people just really bonded and felt very safe in the spaces together. 

A few people [have] shared that [Green Workforce Academy] really impacted them in huge ways, especially coming out of a pandemic where folks felt very isolated and didn’t know where to go for their next job. It’s a really nice transition to what’s next for them.


Green Workforce Academy participants during a farm visit. Photo courtesy of Green Workforce Academy.


Green Workforce Academy field trip. Photo courtesy of Green Workforce Academy.

Did you witness a “spark” moment for any of the Green Workforce participants?

There’s a couple of people that come to mind. There’s one person who was just getting out of high school, and he really connected to plants and nature, in so many ways. Every time I turned around, he was holding a plant or wanting to know more about it. It was really fascinating to see. We want to continue that curiosity beyond our formal education years.

And then another individual comes to mind, who seemed to be a little hesitant to step out of her box; she was a little bit more quiet. But when we got to go and work with the arborists and get bolstered up into the trees, we almost couldn’t get her to come down because she was loving it so much. She got up higher than anybody. And it was just amazing, seeing her really come out of her shell and be really adventurous. 

I love that. Thank you for sharing. What else do you want folks to know as they consider Green Workforce Academy?

I want to emphasize that our program is for ages 18-plus, so it’s multi-generational in this space. I want folks to know that there’s space for everybody’s individual story. I feel like, within our formal education system, there’s not a lot of space for all facets of ourselves, especially as folks of color. In Green Workforce Academy, there is room for that, like how we’re impacted by climate issues and that it needs to be talked about. And how lovely it is to have a space for that conversation to happen. 

And ancestral knowledge is key to the work that we’re doing. A lot of these green jobs can go into the science world. But we also have to recognize that folks have had [Indigenous traditional] knowledge for a long time before science decided to pick it up. Within the Green Workforce Academy, a lot of the folks that we partner with honor that wisdom within the land that we’re on and honor the folks that are here surviving, thriving, and continuing.


During a debris monitoring field training with Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership and The Blueprint Foundation, participants pose for a picture, with Keri sitting in the second row on the right. Photo courtesy of Keri Wilborn.

So what is your response when people ask: how can I participate in Green Workforce Academy?

Our application is going live right now. Interested folks can go to our Green Workforce Academy webpage and fill out a live application. From there, Teresa and I get in contact with them, and then we set up interviews from there.  

Folks with questions could email me at or Teresa at If they’re not already following our Instagram, which is @greenworkforcepdx, they can follow that. They’ll see all kinds of blasts that I’ll be putting out within the next few days around how to apply.

What’s your hope for a Green Workforce Academy this year?

I hope to have a really great turnout when it comes to folks applying. I hope to expand that outreach network to folks that have maybe heard about green sector work, but haven’t stuck their foot into that place yet. And I would love to see some amazing outcomes beyond our programming, where folks are taking on new opportunities and jobs. 

Our programming doesn’t just stop at graduation. Both Teresa and I work with individuals on where they want to go next and connect them to jobs and opportunities. I post on our social media every week, and we also send out monthly updates on job opportunities, paid opportunities, internships, and other programs that are similar to ours. So I’m hoping to see more of those connections and more folks continuing in those paths, so we can really do what our goal is: diversifying the green sector in Portland and beyond. 

Thank you, Keri.

The Green Workforce Academy has been made possible in part by a grant from the City of Portland, Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund.


A photo taken from inside a canoe of eight people who are sitting facing away from the camera, paddling on a river. All people are wearing orange life jackets. A few people are wearing hoods or beanies on their heads.


A paid opportunity for Black, Native, and people of color in Portland who want to learn more about jobs in the green economy

A 2020 participant ascends a tree during a field training with Treecology. Photo by Teresa Gaddy


As Green Workforce Academy gears up for its 2022 spring cohort, we take a look at the community of partners who make the green jobs training program impactful for Black and Native adults in the Portland metropolitan area.

Images of Teresa Gaddy


As the Program Manager of the Green Workforce Collaborative, Teresa Gaddy envisions empowering young adults to have the access and agency they need to enter the green jobs sector. 

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