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NPS Week 2017 – A Project with NJYC Phillipsburg
Name of Corps
New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg
Location of project
Gateway National Recreation Area – Sandy Hook Unit
When did the project take place?
Describe the project. What did the crew do?
The NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg (NJYC) has long wanted to work with the National Park Service in some capacity. When we saw the developments within the Dept. of Interior’s ‘Youth Initiative’ to Play, Learn, Serve & Work in our national parks- we saw the perfect opportunity to do so. Through our relationship with the Corps Network (TCN), and previous experience with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) on a Hands-On Preservation Experience (H.O.P.E.) Crew project at Hinchliffe Stadium, we were presented with a unique opportunity to perform historic preservation activities in a National Park- in this case, a complete demolition and reconstruction of the porch of the Park Headquarters (Building 26) Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook Unit.
Gateway was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and is still recovering. Fort Hancock Historic District (a decommissioned US Army base at Sandy Hook) is comprised of over 60 structures in varying states of decay after seeing years of harsh weather given its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The Park HQ building (formerly the Commanders Quarters) was severely compromised because of storm damage. Given its essentiality of function, and its prevalence as the primary structure in the Unit that visitors interface, NPS allocated resources from Hurricane Sandy relief funds to reconstruct the porch on the HQ building. Even with funding, NPS staff at Sandy Hook would be hard pressed to perform the task given due to additional backlog of routine maintenance work to be performed. Enter the NTHP, and the H.O.P.E. Crew program – which would secure the services of an approved historic preservation expert to guide and train NJYC members in the craft of preservation.
NJYC embarked on this project with high hopes and a lot of enthusiasm. We were challenged both physically & mentally. We learned about historic preservation and about the region in which we were working. We also learned about ourselves and what we were capable of. We came away from the project with a newfound respect for the diligence and exacting detail of recreating our history. We discovered in ourselves a respect for not only the craft, but for the process. Working with wood and stone, our labor echoed traditions that humans have been performing for millennia. Through preserving history, we are also ensuring the legacy of our work will continue; not only through the results of our efforts, but also in the hearts and minds of our Corpsmembers who developed an appreciation for hard work through the lens of recreating the past.
How did this project partnership help the park? What issues did this project address?
The immediate impact of this project in the community at Gateway was complex; First, and most prominently there was the visual impact – both NPS Staff and visitors of the park noticed what was going on and it fostered many conversations that might not have otherwise happened. The porch of the Sandy Hook Unit’s Headquarters was dilapidated, damaged and in in need of serious repair. Improving the image of the very building representing the
public’s interface with the park was imperative! Park Service employees even seemed excited that there was a presence of a program like Youth Corps on site, prompting many conversations on how NJYC could serve at Gateway in other capacities. From a visitor’s perspective, our presence offered opportunities for interactions with the public that allowed us to explain why were there. For example, CM’s were able to converse with one gentleman, Mr. Peter Bach – a visitor to the park and business owner from Sydney, Australia- He commented on the crews’ hard work and how it related to a business owner like himself – he would’ve hired any of our guys.
Secondly, the project had a lot of people promoting it. The NPS, TCN and NTHP were all promoting the project via emails, newsletters, websites and social media. We even had NJTV news do a story on the project. This promotion through varied mediums garnered a lot of attention and became a great recruitment tool as well.
What skills did Corpsmembers use/learn on this project?
All aspects of construction: Framing, Trim work, Roofing, Painting, etc., Basic Masonry, pointing
Quote from Corps staff about the project/about the partnership with NPS
Michael Muckle, Program Director at NJYC of Phillipsburg said, “Our HOPE Crew Project at Sandy Hook was, in retrospect, my proudest accomplishment to date in NJYC. Having wanted to partner with the NPS of any project for the longest time, I found the synergy arising from this multi-faceted partnership of the NPS, The Corps Network, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and NJYC was infectious. As a program director, it opened my eyes to what was possible.”
Quote from NPS staff about the project/about partnership with Corps
Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator Pete McCarthy said of our work:
“The National Park Service has enjoyed hosting the New Jersey Youth Corps as part of the HOPE program, the crew has done a great job in the rehabilitation of the Building 26 porch which has created an outdoor laboratory for the group to expand their skills in historic preservation and construction.”
Additionally, John Harlan Warren, External Affairs Officer for the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway NRA said:
“The Building 26 porch restoration would not have happened nearly this soon, or at this little cost, if it wasn’t for New Jersey Youth Corps Phillipsburg and HOPE. Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook Unit was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and it is still recovering. While we work on water supply, housing for park employees and other major points, we have set aside issues like the dilapidated front porch of our Headquarters building, which was structurally unsafe and looked terrible to visitors. By restoring the historic porch, not only do NJYC youths learn valuable career and workplace skills, but they also make us in the National Park Service look good—literally.”
Gateway NRA Superintendent Jen Nersesian said at the ribbon cutting event,
“We couldn’t be more happy with the results of this project. The work that was done in spectacular!”
Quote from Corpsmember
(what did you learn…what did it mean to serve at a National Park…etc.)
Corpsmember Khalil Little expressed, “We actually get the privilege to get to come here and work on this building. We get to learn about our history, and learn those things to make us better employees as well. Plus, we get to be at the Jersey Shore for the summer, getting paid to do all this. How could you not appreciate that?”
Corpsmember Phil Young said, “I thought I wanted to pursue a career in the culinary arts, but after this – I’d have to consider construction as well.”
Corpsmember Tyler Corter was thankful for the opportunity. Having some experience on construction crews before, he gained a heightened appreciation for the level of detail in some of the trim work. “I never thought I’d be able to participate in something as satisfying as this. I’m having fun.”