Local Teens Gain Valuable Work Experience

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Story by Elisha Shumaker, EDN
Photos by Brandon Preo, EDN

It can be difficult for a teenager to find a job, especially in the current economic climate.  It can be even more difficult to find a job that teaches them the skills needed to enter the work force, as well as the opportunity to participate in meaningful community-based conservation projects with their peers.

Northwest Youth Corps (NYC), based in Eugene, has been providing such an opportunity to local youth since 1984.  Starting with 52 young people in their first year, the organization has been able to influence the lives of over 14,000 youth during the course of their 27 year history.  This summer local teams of twenty young people ages 16-19 committed their time to working with the organizations OutDoorOregon (ODO) program .  Projects completed by this year’s crew included working in collaboration with Springfield’s Willamane Park & Recreation District to remove invasive plant species to improve walking and bike trails, and decrease the occurrence of illegal camping in the area.

A crew member works to roll a log at the Cougar Mountain site.

Another undertaking the organization arranged involved working with the Upper Willamette Watershed Council (UWWC), Lane County Waste Management, and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to clear overgrown blackberry brush that had become an ecological threat to the Nelson’s Creek habitat.  They also spent time collecting native seeds to aid in a future meadow restoration project.  The crew spent their last week of work performing trail maintenance at Cougar Mountain, near Creswell, clearing poison oak, building rock crossings, and preparing a log to be used as a bridge on the trail.

The NYC works in conjunction with Americorps, and offers a wide range of other services that provide youth in Oregon communities as well as Washington, California, Idaho, and Arizona with similar opportunities.  Some of the services provided include an accredited alternative high school based at the NYC’s local campus, ten residential Conservation Corps programs, and a partnership with Cycle Oregon Conservation Team.

The benefits reaped by the youth involved in these projects include financial compensation, high school credit, as well as far reaching intangible assets such as cooperation, leadership, teamwork skills, and stewardiship.  The agency aims to provide an education-based work experience that fosters the development of critical job and life skills.  In addition to their tedious work schedule, the crew are acquainted with members of the conservation community, including forest rangers, crew sponsors, and crew leaders who provide daily instruction on important topics such as resume building and employer/employee interactions and expectations.

Program Manager Abby Wellumson interacts in the field with a crew member.

The youth are also introduced to opportunities for future careers within the field of conservation.  When interviewed by EDN, Program Manager of the ODO, Abby Wellumson, stated “The greatest benefits of this program are that it gets local youth out of doors, away from overwhelming digital influences, connects them with nature, and builds work skills.”

One local youth involved with the recent project at Cougar Mountain, Anya Gearhart, attested to NYC’s relevance in her life.  This summer’s work opportunity was her second time working for the organization.  Gearhart said that before joining a camping crew in Washington last summer, she had been on a downward spiral that included poor decision making, such as dropping out of high school.  Working through NYC was influential in helping her regain focus and determination, as well as begining to realize the things she was capable of.  From her experience, Gearhart told EDN, “I’ve learned that I have a strong work ethic, and have gained confidence in my abilities.”

Crew Leader Peter Chesser instructs members of NYC.

The not for proft organization is funded through several grants and a variety of gifts and donations.  For example, grants from local utility provider, EWEB, allowed for NYC’s main campus to develop a sustainable and energy effecient system.  This has alllowed the organization to cut their energy costs, enabling them to focus their financial resources on the further development of programs that benefit youth.  Another major contributor to the NYC has been the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps, which helped fund the recent project at Cougar Mountain.

Wellumson stated that the NYC is currently looking for more staff and youth to join their ranks for a work project to take place in the fall.  Orientation will be held this Saturday (Aug. 26th), those interested in taking advantage of this opportunity are urged to contact NYC through their website.

More information about the other groups mentioned in the artcle, can be found on their websites:

1.)  Americorps
2.)  Oregon Youth Conservation Corps 
3.)  Cycle Oregon Conservation Team

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