SCA: HELPING KIDS TO HELP THE ENVIRONMENT
BY MARCI CORNELL
A group of laughing, mud-covered teenagers at the banks of an urban river on a Saturday morning. Mud wrestling? Youthful hijinks? Nope. Participants in the Student Conservation Association's Duwamish Youth Initiative planting native grasses along the banks of the Duwamish River.
"SCA has made a special commitment to enlist young women and youth of color who live in the Duwamish corridor to help restore and preserve the watershed to the year 2000," said Chukundi Salisbury, regional director of the organization's Conservation Career Development Program.
"Our kids devote the second Saturday of each month to working in the area, restoring it to the way it used to be, and making it a better place to live." They have completed numerous revegetation and bank stabilization projects along the shores of Seattle's most significant urban river.
Yes, the teenagers appear to be having fun. And they're also working hard. By the end of the day, they often are covered with dirt and rubbing sore muscles. But they, like everyone at
SCA began in 1967 as the vision of Elizabeth Titus Putnam, who conceived the idea of a student conservation corps while in college. Based on the model pioneered by the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, she outlined a program using student volunteers to accomplish badly-needed conservation work in national parks.
Each year, thousands of youth work with natural resource professionals throughout the nation, as they have since the program was launched in 1957. All programs operate in cooperation with sponsoring partners, including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management, as well as with state agencies and private organizations.
Locally, SCA youth have worked at Mount Rainier, on portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, and constructed trails in the North Cascades National Park every year.
"SCA volunteers do a tremendous job," praised Ed Gastellum, Assistant Superintendent of the North Cascades Park. "They have a great work ethic, an excellent attitude toward the environment, a strong interest in learning, and work well with park staff. SCA helps the park achieve its goals. Without their help, we couldn't get the job done."
"A legacy of exemplary service has been the hallmark of the Student Conservation Association in its ongoing partnership with Mount Rainier National Park," said William Briggle, superintendent of the Mount Rainier National Park. "Visitor
With the passage of President Clinton's national service initiative, The National Community Service Trust Act, SCA was presented with a new opportunity of participating in the country's "domestic Peace Corps," dubbed "AmeriCorps." SCA coordinates approximately 300 positions in AmeriCorps environmental service across the United States for Americans who engage in national service and then receive financial assistance with their education.
In this SCA/AmeriCorps program, youth can work for up to 11 months, and can earn up to $4,750 to pay for their education (plus a weekly stipend). Many enrolled in the program have just completed school and are paying off loans, others are taking a semester off, while still others are high school graduates earning funds for their future education.
Projects have ranged from aiding in the reintroduction of the endangered Yaqui fish at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Dexter National Fish Hatchery to wetlands restoration at Everglades National Park.
"By giving youth opportunities to work out in nature and supporting environmental education, SCA is developing a new generation of natural resource stewards," said Sue Sander, member of the National SCA Board of Directors and president of Shapiro and Associates, a Seattle-based environmental consulting firm. "What better way to ensure our children have a wonderful world to live in than to teach them how they can be a part of the conservation and restoration process."
Through SCA's national high school program, 16 to 18-year-olds can work for a month at a time in magnificent outdoor settings on public lands. No experience is necessary, just a willingness to perform hard physical work and be committed to working with others.
Participants live in tent camps near the work site, far from the interference of area visitors. They share duties with other crew members as camp cook, take responsibilities for helping their crew complete its work, and learn from agency officials about careers in conservation. Each day, crews tackle a conservation project, often in the back country. The work is often difficult, but rewarding.
"I think it's the smartest way I could have spent this summer," commented Mary Roland of her volunteer work with the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon. "I learned more in a few weeks about myself and my career than I would have ever learned from a whole shelf of books."
"SCA was quite a different experience," agreed Andrew Stumpf, SCA high school program participant after working in Oregon's Malheur National Forest. "I loved it beyond belief, saw things I never saw before, and had a real sense of accomplishment that I was making a difference for others."
After a month of work, the youth crews take a one-week recreational backpacking or canoe trip. Here they put newly learned outdoor skills to work, and enjoy the land they have worked so hard to improve.
In the early 1980s, SCA launched an urban youth initiative, which has evolved into a year-round career, leadership, and academic training program known as the Conservation Career Development Program (CCDP).
Inaugurated in Seattle in 1993, the local CCDP provides opportunities annually for approximately 150 high school students that goes beyond the one-month back country experience. SCA makes a year-round, six-year-long commitment to CCDP participants, which includes guidance and assistance with high school, college and career placement in natural resource fields. Of course, SCA expects a corresponding commitment from program participants.
Each month, CCDP youth attend 20 hours of formal, competency-based training. During the fall semester, they focus on basic academics and preparing for college. Workshops include SAT preparation courses, college tours, resume writing and interview workshops. During the spring, participants are exposed to career options in the conservation sciences through field trips to local parks, watersheds, natural resource management sites and recreation areas. Conservation professionals routinely attend weekend CCDP sessions and speak with students about career options and academic requirements.
Throughout the year, CCDP participants are required to help with community revitalization projects, including one large-scale project each spring such as EarthWork Seattle, which is sponsored by SCA and local businesses. Each summer, participants spend four to six weeks living in wilderness areas where they work side-by-side with conservation professionals to complete natural resource management projects such as revegetation and erosion control work. Working with trained adult supervisors in groups of eight to 10, participants gain valuable hands-on skills while they do conservation and preservation work.
Some of the local projects completed by CCDP crews include installation of fences and planting of native vegetation to control erosion caused by over-grazing along Newaukum Creek; revegetation of the banks of the Duwamish turning basin using intertidal salt marsh plants; and a revegetation project at Stampede Pass, near the headwaters of the Green River on U.S. Forest Land.
"Spending the summer in the back country was an unforgettable experience for me," said Seattle CCDP participant Athena Dodd. "I found the utter isolation to be the most valuable part of living in the wilderness. Except for what you brought within yourself, there were no distractions from what was real. There was none of the dissatisfaction experienced in the city, where needs are irrelevant and desire becomes the only thing clamoring for response."
The CCDP is the only program of its kind in Seattle that offers a six-year commitment to participants who dedicate themselves to the program. Through the CCDP, Seattle's urban youth are provided with a unique hands-on educational experience, a safe after-school place to study in SCA's resource center, mentor relationships and encouragement.
Through the CCDP, participants are offered hands-on work experiences and career counseling services that will improve their prospects for employment, regardless of what career track they eventually choose. Also, with each successful CCDP revitalization event, participants are gaining confidence and developing an even stronger sense of ownership for their communities.
Yes, it's hard work. But it's also fun. Especially when covered with mud.
Marci Connell is executive director of the Student Conservation Association.