Tree Trust’s JobPrep programs are designed to transform lives and landscapes, and the Youth Conservation Corps has been doing that every summer for more than 40 years.
In this program, Tree Trust employs hundreds of young people, many of whom have never had a job before, to complete improvement projects in public parks and recreation spaces. Projects can include building retaining walls, staircases, paver pathways and patios, and boardwalks. Crew Leaders from summer 2018 shared how the summer program is transforming lives of the participants while they improve their local community.
What most impressed Crew Leader Cameron is how his crew members took so much ownership over the project in just a few short weeks. “I saw them grow so much with the project, to the point where I barely had to explain anything to them. When it was time to get a part of the project done, they’d look and say ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to use this tool,’ and I’d look and they would be right!”
Grace saw the same growth happening in her crew members. “As the summer progressed, they were able to take on tasks themselves and become their own experts. I could take a step back and allow them to talk through things. They got to start to do that critical thinking, and they started to notice they were getting better. They got more confident.”
Cameron’s crew installed a fence at Father Hennepin Bluff Park. Grace’s crew dismantled an old staircase and rebuilt it in Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park – all in just 9 weeks!
Leading the Way
Foster came to the Crew Leader position with more experience in construction, and was surprised at how well his crew of 14-21 year olds have overcome obstacles in their own lives and found success this summer. “One of my participants with autism, Mike*, really loved nature. He’s 15, and hadn’t had many opportunities to lead before.” When Foster learned that Mike had experience pulling buckthorn, he knew there was an opportunity for Mike to take on a new challenge. “I asked him to take a small group and teach them how to identify and remove buckthorn. Together they pulled buckthorn for several hours. Mike enjoyed the experience to lead and share his knowledge, and the rest of the crew loved the special project.”
In addition to removing buckthorn, Foster’s crew built a timber staircase in Plymouth.
Emily knows her participants learned a lot about hard work; they dismantled a tilting retaining wall and rebuilt it using cement blocks that weigh up to 120 pounds! Very few first jobs would be this physically taxing, and some participants in the program had never spent much time outdoors. What kept her crew positive was the relationships they built on site. “The members of my crew wouldn’t really be friends outside of this – they’re all different ages and you can tell they hang with different crowds. But they’re so close because they work together eight hours every day. During the first week, we all talked about how delicious one participant’s lunches looked. He showed up that Friday for work, and his mom had made us all food! My crew became a little family over the weeks. It really warms my heart.”
This summer was a transformative experience for the crew leaders too. Foster, who didn’t have much experience working with young people before this summer, found the work extremely rewarding. “Seeing the obstacles my crew members overcame, all the factors they can’t control in their homelife, watching them come to work and do a great job was awesome. It is making me consider changing career paths, continuing to work with young people. I feel like I helped make a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Participants in the Youth Conservation Corps finished their projects in early August, and celebrated the end of the program with ceremonies in each county where they worked. Check out the photos from the summer projects on Facebook!
The participants of the Youth Conservation Corps worked hard, in all types of weather, doing physically challenging work to professional precision. While the work is hard, the experience is more than that. Foster recalls one of his participants saying he wasn’t sure if he’d even left his basement last summer, and that he was surprised that he liked getting outside. For Cameron’s crew, the relationships and tangible results of their hard work made it worth it. “I heard my crew members saying they want to come back next year, because they’ve had such a good time – it’s great.”