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2020 Project of the Year Finalists
Read about the finalists for the 2020 Project of the Year Award!
We are inspired by all of these phenomenal nominations.
The winners will be announced in December and will be recognized at Thrive: The Power of Community –
The Corps Network’s 2020 National Conference, February 9 – 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Stories are arranged in alphabetical order by Corps name.
Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC)
& Partner Corps
Museum Fire Disaster Mitigation
The Museum Fire started on the outskirts of Flagstaff, AZ in July 2019, burning through nearly 2,000 acres before it was declared fully contained in August. After the flames were out, however, residents worried about the threat of floods: monsoon season was coming and burned landscapes do not absorb rainwater well. Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC) offered to help with flood mitigation efforts, but, when faced with the magnitude of the task, AZCC realized they needed assistance and called upon Corps in neighboring states. In late July, three AZCC chainsaw crews removed debris from water channels in threatened neighborhoods, reducing the potential for water buildup. Then, over the next 30 days, 16 crews from five different Corps deployed to Flagstaff to help with various mitigation efforts. Crews cut down and removed debris and created and installed sandbag barriers. In total, 86 Corpsmembers from Arizona Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps and their Ancestral Lands Program, Mile High Youth Corps, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps-Taos and Texas Conservation Corps created 3,168 pallets of sandbags, distributed and installed 580 pallets of sandbags, and cleared almost 60,000 square feet of water channels. This critical mitigation work was instrumental in protecting more than 400 homes and 35 businesses from post-wildfire flooding.
Southern Utah University –
Intergovernmental Internship Cooperative (IIC)
Visitor Use Management
In recent years, Utah’s national park sites – including Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Cedar Breaks – have seen markedly increased visitation. This is good news for the outdoor economy, but park managers worry what these visitor numbers could mean for community relations, the visitor experience, and the integrity of the parks’ natural and cultural resources. Jason Pitts, a local resident and Dixie State University Professional in Residence, had a potential solution. Jason created a software program called ParkData to improve visitor tracking, but what they needed was a team to apply the software. In partnership with Zion, Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks, Jason recruited staff from Dixie Tech and Dixie State University and then invited Southern Utah University’s IIC to recruit and hire a team of computer science interns. Nine Visitor Use Management Interns received over 60 hours of training in research methods, GIS, counting hardware and software, programming, and project management. Over the summer, interns collected critical data, helping parks monitor, in real-time, information including traffic at entrance stations and use of parking lots, shuttle buses and trails. This data will be used to help develop apps that will assist park users in planning their visits and assist park staff in knowing where to target their attention. Conversations are underway to expand the ParkData intern program to other parks in the region.
The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Hoʻokupu Center
The Hawaiian word ho‘okupu, means “offering” or “to make sprout.” Kupu’s new facility, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Ho‘okupu Center, is an offering to the community and a place where Kupu programs develop Hawai‘i’s next generation of environmental stewards. Officially opened in March 2019, the facility is the realization of a seven-year capital campaign. Housing a commercial kitchen, training rooms, classrooms and meeting spaces, the Ho‘okupu Center is designed to support Kupu’s youth training programs and offer opportunities for the broader community. The space has already hosted nearly 100 events, including educational workshops around such topics as conservation, sustainability, Hawaiian culture, and community service.
A sustainable facility, the Ho‘okupu Center includes a Net-Zero energy rated photovoltaic system, an EV charging station, farm-to-table preferred cuisine, and natural lighting systems. With the opening of this facility, Kupu is now able to offer a culinary training program. Kupu has already hired four youth into full-time paid culinary internship positions; trained 16 Opportunity Youth; and serviced over 200 events. Students learn in the center’s commercial kitchen, cater events, and go on field trips to local farms, fish auctions, and the fish market to better understand the food system. The Ho‘okupu center is truly a space for and by the community.
Larimer County Conservation Corps (LCCC)
Colorado State University (CSU) Summer Program Partnership
For the past two decades, Larimer County Conservation Corps (LCCC) has provided opportunities for young people to learn and serve in Rocky Mountain National Park. This premier park location attracts many aspiring natural resource professionals to the program, but, until this year, the Corps has not been an option for students in the Colorado State University (CSU) Warner College of Natural Resources. Students are required to complete a summer field class, making it challenging to find summer employment. LCCC worked with the park and CSU to try and address this conflict with some creative scheduling. The Corps decided to push their start date later than usual to accommodate the end of CSU’s first summer term in mid-June. Working with the University, LCCC recruited eight natural resource students to serve a nine-week term. The crew had 100 percent retention, completing a range of projects, including installing 39 rock steps, constructing two puncheons, clearing 1,100 drains, and maintaining 26.5 miles of trail. The park, LCCC and CSU were all pleased with the outcomes of this pilot and hope to expand on the program. As a Corpsmember said:
“This experience increased my ability to work outdoors and increased my knowledge of trail work and federal natural resource careers…This experience was formative in my career in natural resources and helped me put my foot in the door in natural resource work.”
Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC)
Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Program
Los Angeles County has the largest food insecure population in America, with 1.3 million residents struggling to put food on the table. At Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC), young adults help feed the hungry and correct a wasteful food system through the Corps’ Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Program. Awarded a grant by CalRecycle in 2017, the program began operations in 2018. In partnership with Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND) food bank, Kroger, LA Compost, and CalRecycle, the program hinges on the service of LACC Corpsmembers, who travel through the city to recover up to 3,100 pounds of food waste daily from supermarkets, convenience stores, and restaurants. Edible food is distributed by MEND food bank to feed 30,000 people every month. Inedible foodstuffs are routed to local schools for community garden composting. In the future, excess waste beyond the needs of school gardens will be directed to Kroger’s anaerobic digester in Compton for conversion to biofuel. In one year, Corpsmembers rescued 376,000 pounds of food. Corpsmembers gain skills in food safety, customer service, and logistics, and learn about sustainability.
New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg (NJYCP)
“Plan Bee” – The Pollinator Project
The rolling farmland outside Phillipsburg, NJ offers NJYCP the perfect environment to engage Corpsmembers in sustainable agriculture. Wanting to introduce young people to all stages of the food production cycle, the Corps began offering training in the ancient practice of apiculture, or beekeeping. To date, NJYCP’s programs and projects have relied on the collective experiences and knowledge of Corps staff. For this endeavor, NJYCP relied on help from their local 4-H chapter. Getting the program started also required drawing on the Corps’ other talents: they used their woodworking skills to build and repair hives and used their landscaping and gardening skills to install native plants to support pollinators. Over the past calendar year, 30 Corpsmembers served over 1,000 hours on The Pollinator Project. Twenty-six of the 30 participants successfully completed the NJYCP program and nearly all of them have secured employment or entered college or another training program. Corpsmembers overwhelmingly cite work on “Plan Bee” as influential to their success. The program teaches environmental sustainability, helps Corpsmembers overcome fear of nature, and gives them a sense of responsibility and confidence. Considering NJYCP’s nature as a “second-chance” program, the name “Plan Bee” – which was coined by Corpsmembers – is especially meaningful. In 2019, Corpsmembers harvested over 40 pounds of honey, leaving plenty behind for the bees to winter-over. The program has created a lot of “buzz” in the community and raised the Corps’ profile. As the program demonstrates, “communities thrive when they are tended to.”
Montana Conservation Corps (MCC)
Pulling Together in the Musselshell: A Cooperative Weed Management Project
A cycle of floods and wildfires over the past decade has resulted in an explosion of weeds along the length of the Musselshell River, a 340-mile-long wildlife-rich tributary that serves as a lifeline to the region’s agricultural economy. Habitat values and the productivity of agricultural lands are suffering, but, with limited coordination between private landowners and under-resourced public land agencies, efforts to control noxious weeds have been inefficient. In response, Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) leveraged AmeriCorps members to coordinate the rich social networks of rural communities and create the Musselshell River Cooperative Weed Management Area (MRCWMA) – one of the largest such weed districts in the nation. MCC secured funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to support two interns, two youth crews and four adult crews to bring stakeholders together, establish local priorities, and, for the first time in Montana, strategically mitigate invasive species on a watershed scale. Corpsmembers led implementation of mitigation projects that treated over 300 acres and helped establish a “bug bank” to assist landowners in biocontrol efforts. Most importantly, the efforts of the AmeriCorps members have helped inspire the community in this rural area of the Northern Great Plains to unite for a common purpose.
Northwest Youth Corps (NYC)
Rainbow Conservation Crew
Northwest Youth Corps’ move to create a single-identity LGBTQ crew began when it recognized the need to be much more purposeful in supporting this community. The Rainbow Crew provides a space for LGBTQ youth to find community and support. Participants can build job skills, self-esteem, and leadership abilities in their own way. What started as a short-term pilot serving nine young people in 2017 is now a fully-fledged summer-long program. With support from the National Park Foundation and project partners, the Corps fielded two crews in the summer of 2019, serving a total of 20 young people. Corpsmembers participated in 450 hours of education and accomplished a great deal of work, including controlling invasive species and performing trail work at Mt. Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. More important, however, are the less tangible benefits. As said by a Rainbow Crew Corpsmember-turned-Crew Leader: “When I joined the first LGBTQ crew at 16, I was forever changed by the sense of belonging and support that I felt, for the first time in my life, as a queer person, from queer people.” Members of single-identity crews like the Rainbow Crew feel freer to share stories, discuss common challenges, and enjoy the company of others with whom they identify and can be inspired by. This comradery can be particularly important for LGBTQ youth, a population that faces significantly higher rates of homelessness and suicide. As one Rainbow Crew parent said, “Y’all are building more than trails and footbridges. Y’all are building confidence and strength in our kids who are at highest risk. And so, thank you!”
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park Wildland Fire Crew
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – CO, based in Steamboat Springs, CO, has a longstanding relationship with Rocky Mountain National Park. In 2019, however, the two collaborated for the first time on fuels reduction. Utilizing The Corps Network’s cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, RMYC-CO fielded a crew of 10 AmeriCorps members. All Corpsmembers received their Red Card wildland firefighting certifications, S-212 chainsaw certifications, and first aid/CPR certifications. Additionally, the park provided the crew with a Search and Rescue course and certification. Throughout the summer, the crew provided much-needed support on four Search and Rescue operations within the park. Over 10 weeks of work, the crew far surpassed goals, clearing 55 acres of ground and ladder fuels and removing 2,000 cubic feet of slash from roadsides. This created a 450-foot firebreak that will serve as a critical area of control in the event of a wildfire. As fires continue to grow in size and frequency across the west, programs like this will become increasingly important. RMYC-CO hopes the success of the fuels reduction program will lead to future opportunities.
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – New Mexico
(RMYC – NM)
Taos Pueblo Native Cutthroat Trout Project
During the summer of 2019, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – NM fielded its first crew comprised entirely of Taos Pueblo youth. With support from the U.S. Fish and Wild Service, Corpsmembers spent 10 weeks conducting environmental monitoring and removing non-native species that have impacted the integrity of the Rio Lucero and the Rio Pueblo watersheds. Both tributaries serve as important habitats and breeding areas for native fish such as the Rio Grande Cutthroat, a culturally important species for the Taos Pueblo people. Over the course of the season, Corpsmembers removed 375 invasive fish, conducted over five miles of trail restoration, and evaluated six miles of river. Developed in partnership with Taos Pueblo Tribal Government, this collaborative program is the first of its kind in the region. Though the program is still in development, the response to this initial season has been very positive. There are plenty of project possibilities and now other Divisions and Programs at Taos Pueblo are thinking how RMYC-NM crews can support various needs. For instance, they are exploring partnerships with the senior citizen program and the Taos Pueblo Day School. Both partnerships could help provide Corpsmembers with mentoring and tutoring. For the Corpsmembers and the community, the program is a point of pride.
San Jose Conservation Corps and Charter School (SJCC)
Paradise, Butte County Fire Recovery
The Camp Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history. In November 2018, wind-driven flames burned more then 240,000 acres, reduced thousands of homes to ash, and killed dozens of people. Thousands of survivors were displaced, sleeping in cars, tents and overcrowded shelters. San Jose Conservation Corps (SJCC) arrived in Butte County to assist survivors from the towns of Paradise and Davis. Corpsmembers and staff lived in tents on the runway of the Davis Airport, serving six-day, 10-hour shifts. The Corpsmembers served alongside other local and national organizations, offering food, water, clothing, bedding and, many times, an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Corpsmembers and staff also cared for domestic dogs and cats displaced by the fire. They helped feed the animals, bathe them, clean their living spaces, and provided walks and playtime. Some of the animals had been injured in the fire and needed extra love. Mobilizing on short notice and operating six-day shifts, a three-hour drive from home posed a new logistical challenge for the Corps, but the stress was nothing compared to the hardship the survivors had endured. For Corpsmembers and Corps staff, the project was humbling and emotional, but it helped the Corps and participants realize their ability to be of service in times of need.
Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC)
Montezuma Inspire Coalition
In 2018, after two years of planning, the Montezuma Inspire Coalition (MIC) received a $1.8 million, three-year grant through the Great Outdoors Colorado Inspire Initiative to encourage youth and families to connect to the outdoors. With this funding, several organizations in Montezuma County are working together to create places to recreate, provide culturally-relevant programs, and create pathways to outdoor stewardship jobs. Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) is the ‘pathways’ component of the grant, providing service opportunities to young people ages 14 – 18. Thanks to this initiative, SCC’s Youth Program out of their Four Corners office has grown exponentially. In 2017, the program served 16 local youth. In 2019, they employed 63 local youth in eight crews and offered two specialized internships. Youth built trails in a renowned local mountain bike area, helped maintain school garden spaces, gained hands-on ranch experience, worked with the city to improve a heavily-used dog park, and made town trails more sustainable. In addition, Corpsmembers toured ancient ruins at Mesa Verde National Park and with the Anasazi heritage museum; toured larger scale agriculture operations; and learned about various career pathways. This initiative allowed SCC to grow existing local relationships and develop several new partnerships. As they said, “Working with multiple community partners has strengthened our organization, our community, and allowed us to serve more youth than we could do alone.”
Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire (UCC)
Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire (UCC) gives Opportunity Youth the chance to serve and learn at national forests and monuments in Southern California. Over the years, however, many Spanish-speaking Corpsmembers noted that these beautiful destinations only provide educational and interpretive services in English. Many of them saw their own families unable to fully enjoy these public places. To address this issue, UCC formed a Corpsmember/Community Team to engage stakeholders and conduct surveys to get the opinions of communities of color. They found that hundreds of Spanish-speaking residents loved the parks, but indeed felt excluded from these resources that their taxes help fund. With support from the National Forest Foundation, UCC launched Los Naturalistas, a bi-lingual Spanish naturalist training and interpretative program. Los Naturalists is based after the University of California Naturalist Certification Training Program; it is important to note, however, that the UC training had never been translated to Spanish before. Under the guidance of two instructors, 12 Corpsmembers met every Saturday for over four months to learn how to lead stewardship activities and tours in both English and Spanish. The trainings were intense, but the Corpsmembers were committed: all 12 successfully completed the program, earning naturalist certifications and college credit. At forests and monuments, these new naturalists began offering tours in Spanish with a Latino cultural twist. Los Naturalistas continues today, creating equity in our parks and demonstrating to Corpsmembers that they can not only be part of the solution; they can lead change.
Utah Conservation Corps
Urban Community Farm
In 2013, Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) gained management of a one-acre plot of land on the Utah State University campus. In 2018, UCC recruited one full-time AmeriCorps VISTA and three AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates to help solidify and formalize the Corps’ previous efforts to convert the un-landscaped land into a farm. The UCC Urban Community Farm began its second year of production in 2019 with one full-time AmeriCorps VISTA and four AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates. At the end of the summer, the project also utilized a four-person UCC AmeriCorps field crew to dismantle a greenhouse donated by the College of Engineering and move it across campus. The farm started with the goal of encouraging healthier eating habits among Corpsmembers and reducing the Corps’ carbon footprint, but, as the scale of the project grew and the harvest exceeded the needs of UCC field crews, UCC staff wanted to make a positive contribution to community food security, especially to the student population at USU. In 2019, the farm donated over 3,400 pounds of fresh produce to food pantries and students in need, more than double the amount donated in the previous year. This is especially impressive considering UCC had no previous experience with farming. Going forward, the Corps hopes to expand the program and learn from the success of other Corps-operated farms.
YouthWork Conservation Corps
Adult Community Experience (ACE) Corps
In 2018, YouthWork began partnering with the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Adult Community Experience (ACE) Program and Transition Center. The ACE program is designed to provide support and training to young adults with mild cognitive impairments, autism and/or other developmental disabilities. YouthWork and their partners recruited and placed autistic youth ages 17-26 in YouthWork’s AmeriCorps program, which operated during the school year and through summer 2019. In addition to completing valuable community service projects, youth learned job skills, as well as skills in financial literacy, independent living, interviewing, public speaking, and customer relations. They also worked on their résumés and applied to jobs at local businesses with which YouthWork has partners.
Corpsmembers served 15,000 hours in 2018 and 2019, providing high quality services to over 50 area non-profits and government agencies. Among other accomplishments, the youth constructed nearly 100 picnic tables, replaced over 2,000 feet of boardwalk and stream crossings, planted more than 10,000 trees, and helped restore and construct some 50 miles of trail, including a new 1.5-mile-long Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-rated trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Most important, however, are the changes in the Corpsmembers. Serving in the community and earning certifications has helped participants gain confidence and become more comfortable working with others. This program provides a model for how other AmeriCorps programs can engage autistic youth in meaningful service-learning experiences.