Len Price of Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa was selected as a 2016 Corps Legacy Achivement Award Winner. We interviewed Len to learn more about him and his experience in the Corps movement. Click here to read Len’s bio.
How did you become involved in Service and Conservation Corps? What were you doing before?
My knowledge of the Conservation Corps did not occur until my Legislative days. In the 1990s, the Corps ( known then as MCC or Minnesota Conservation Corps) was part of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and as such was funded through the budgeting process for that State Agency. As a committee member of the Minnesota State Senate Finance Division that had jurisdiction over that budget, I heard about the program and supported its funding. In the state budget proposal for the 2001-2003 budget there was no funding offered for the Minnesota Conservation Corps. I was approached by Corps members at one of my senate Legislative Town meetings to try to figure out how to prevent the proposed cut to the funding and in essence end the Corps’ existence.
I was then Chairman of the Senate Finance Division for Natural Resources and championed the Corps funding and held the position through the Legislative process and conference committee for the State Budget and the Corps emerged with funding to keep it intact as a 501 c 3 nonprofit and saved from extinction.
I was not reelected to the State Senate in the next election (2002), and was asked to join the Corps Board of Directors in 2003. With a bleak outlook for funding, the Executive Director for the Corps left. I was asked to apply for the position, was hired, and began work as the Executive Director in January of 2005. I am retiring December 31, 2015 after 11 years of service.
Prior to the ED position at the Corps (2005-2011), I was a classroom teacher at a suburban high school for 34 years (1965-1999) and concurrently a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate for 20 years (1983-2002). I have always had an interest in youth issues-employment and training. The Corps work seemed like a good fit.
Who are some of your heroes? What did they do to inspire you?
Among my heroes are my parents, both hard working Greatest Generation individuals who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two. They gave me the values and ethics that have guided my life. The late Minnesota State Representative Willard Munger gave me the inspiration and tenacity to use the legislative process to help protect and sustain natural resources. I was also inspired by President John Kennedy’s challenge, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. I took that to heart and became a social studies teacher.
Describe some of your most memorable experiences working with Corps programs.
Every day there are memorable experiences associated with the Corps and Corps’ programs. To see first hand the change in youth and young adults after their term of service or completion of a project or a days’ work provides me with great satisfaction. To give individuals a chance to have new experiences outdoors and be involved in a tactile manner; to see the personal growth, the skill changes, the attitude changes and the appreciation of caring for the environment and each other; and the improvements made to a stream, trail, shoreline, forest, landscape, or a public place and the team spirit that develops in the process provides me with a very warm feeling. As an example, I’ll not forget the day a crew of six teenagers, including two deaf corps members, successfully and safely dismantled a problematic beaver dam in the Minnesota wilderness. They carefully and strategically repositioned themselves in order to extract each carefully constructed stick in the beaver dam. They emerged from the water coated with mud, filthy and smelling like the rank water in which they toiled for about 45 minutes. The joy on their faces of such an accomplishment is etched in my mind. They wore the mud proudly like medals for the rest of the day. Together with their crew companions they had experienced a once in a life time activity. The face of the crew leader reflected the elation of a job well done…of what a successful day had become.
Given your experience, what is the primary piece of wisdom you could provide to Corpsmembers?
As a corpsmember, remember it is okay to ask questions, to learn new things, to be supportive of team members, and to relish the new things that you can experience. You are not alone in not knowing. Embrace the chance, the adventure and be supportive of others.
What is the primary piece of wisdom you would provide to staff at Corps?
As a staff person, you have the chance to influence your charges, your crew, in so many ways. You are a mentor, a role model, an authority figure, a counselor, and an influence for life. Ask participants in programs from the past and they will likely share the profound ways that you affected them emotionally. Staff in leadership positions, carry the burden of perpetuating the reputation of the Corps movement and sometimes the sustainability of the Corps mission. It is you that must take up the mantle for the future of the Corps and national service- you must be an advocate, an educator to the public, that does not know or understand what the Corps is and what impacts it has on individual lives and the social good and value-added that Corps programs produce. You must be the storyteller and the role model.
In the future, what developments would you like to see happen in the Corps movement?
If I were king, I would require all high school graduates and school drop-outs to serve at least one year of service in a community and service activity before they pursue post- secondary schooling or work related training. Ideally it would not necessarily need to be just in the natural resource world. It would allow time for many young people to have some world experience, grow up a bit, and help many worthy causes and the needs of communities. Exception to the requirement would be for military service. As king I would not hesitate to provide the necessary funding to make such a worthy and noble cause become reality.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
I hope my legacy is that I was part of caring for others and my community and that programs like Corps will be in existence for opportunities forever. Participation to that end will help us take care of public places and spaces and” restore resources and change lives”.