What is the Virginia State Parks under the supervision of three adult supervisors. The crew completes volunteer projects in the park, participates in outdoor recreation and education programs, and cook their meals and keep their living area clean. At the end of the program they collect a $500 stipend.
The James River State Park Crew poses for a group photo at the iconic Tye River Overlook
If you believe that Virginia State Parks Youth Conservation Corps is certainly noteworthy. In its ten year history it has won a Governor's award for best youth volunteer program andUnited States Department of the Interior's Outstanding State Volunteer program award. The Take Pride in America award cited the YCC's "… outstanding commitment to the stewardship of America's public lands and natural and cultural resources."
Crew members work side by side park staff to learn skills
But I have worked with this program since we started it and I think the true testament to its value comes from the reaction of the participants. Each year I meet the youth participants near the start of the program and I always attend two of the program graduations. It is rare for me not to end up in tears when the participants talk about what the three week experience meant to them.
You might be surprised at what most of the youth identify as the best thing about the program. In a nutshell, it is the feeling that they worked hard on one or more projects and saw the results – they made a difference. I guess if you think back to your teen years you might be hard pressed to remember a project that made a difference. The team building and work environment also builds lifetime friends. I know of crew members from the very first year of the YCC that are still friends. If you are thinking this is a great summer camp experience, wipe that idea out of your mind. These youth work hard. They get dirty. It is hot. There are ticks, chiggers, poison ivy. I know that $500 stipend attracts a lot of youth to the program, but it is not anywhere close to easy money.
Like I said, they get dirty!
Upon arrival at their assigned park, the first thing the youth have to do is give up their cell phone. They will be provided access to a phone to call home in the first few days and at the end of the program. The supervisors will post pictures of the crew on our YCC Facebook page so the parents can follow along with the progress.
The YCC crews also get to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities at our parks
After the parents depart, the supervisors will start right in with team building activities. We work hard so that none of the youth know each other before they get to the program so everyone arrives on equal footing. Oh, and our programs are either male or female (no coed programs). A park tour and a dinner with park staff usually rounds out the day. On Monday they start with basic training on the safety and the use of tools and then right into their volunteer projects. The Supervisors report in every night to Gaston Rouse, our Community Engagement and Volunteerism Manager.
This year we will be holding one three week session, June 30 to July 20, 2013. We are waiting to hear about some additional grant funding and if that comes through we might be able to offer a second session. The application process is very competitive and the youth have to complete an on line application and provide the email addresses for two references that we will contact. The selection is almost entirely based on the way the youth answer the questions in the application. I can guarantee you that youth who respond with one or two sentence answers will not be selected. The application deadline for 2013 is April 13.
Listen to a podcast where I talk about the program here. Or, enjoy this photo montage video I put together based on the 2010 program.
Of all the things I have been involved in during my tenure with Virginia State Park, I believe the Youth Conservation Corps is the most important. The youth make a difference in our parks, and the program makes a difference in their lives.
Online application due April 13.