Impact Story: Frenchburg Job Corps Advanced Forestry program propels once homeless student forward

Submitted by Alicia Bennett, Public Affairs Officer, U. S. Forest Service Job Corps

The character of up-and-coming female leaders is shaped by the challenges they overcome. The stories of these women are worth telling and the story of Nancy Perez Ramirez, a 22-year-old graduate of the Frenchburg Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (CCC) is one of those. Ramirez is typical of the students who enroll in a CCC seeking a hand-up—not a handout. The eldest of four sisters, she was raised in Arizona by immigrant parents. Her father found work where he could—sometimes spending years away from the family—working in the fields, as a landscaper, and finally carving out a career in construction. Neither of her parents spoke English and Ramirez had to quickly learn the language to translate for her parents.

Frenchburg Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry Conservation graduate Nancy Perez Ramirez works on a prescribed burn on the Sault Sainte Marie Ranger District on the Hiawatha National Forest in April 2024. USDA Forest Service photo by Jessie P. Spencer.

Ramirez initially dreamed of a career as veterinary technician. After earning a scholarship at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff,  she enrolled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. She, like many individuals during that dark time, struggled emotionally. Unable to maintain her grades, Ramirez lost her scholarship and dropped out of school due to lack of funds. Ashamed and fearing her parent’s disappointment, she chose to work low-wage jobs while couch surfing with friends. Still, she was unable to cobble together the funds to keep a roof over her head. She found herself homeless and for a few months found shelter in a friend’s car–also homeless–to avoid sleeping on the streets. Realizing her situation was untenable, Ramirez finally returned home to her family.

Ramirez learned about the Job Corps program from her younger sister. Having enjoyed outdoor activities like camping, fishing, and hiking during her childhood, she already had an interest in forestry. She applied to the program on-line and was accepted at Timber Lake Job Corps CCC, nestled on the top of a mountain on the Mt. Hood National Forest.

Ramirez thrived at Timber Lake over the next year. As her forestry studies progressed, she began nurturing a new dream of one day becoming a park ranger. “My, ‘Ah-ha’ moment came last March when I was working on a thinning project in a scenic area on the Mt. Hood,” said Perez. “It was so hot—I was hiking, sweating, and carry a chain saw and thinking, ‘What a wonderful view. I love this so much!’”

After graduating from Timber Lake, Perez enrolled in the advanced forestry conservation program at Frenchburg Job Corps CCC in October 2023. Frenchburg’s working partnership with the Cumberland Ranger District on the Daniel Boone National Forest provided Ramirez with excellent work-based learning opportunities. One project Ramirez particularly enjoyed was assisting Kentucky Fish and Wildlife with the release of approximately 3,500 Rainbow and Black Rock Trout into the Red River Gorge.

Frenchburg Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry Conservation graduate Nancy Perez Ramirez works on mop-up of a prescribed burn on the Oconee National Forest in George in February 2024. USDA Forest Service photo by Colleen Urffer.

Ramirez also participated in a “Women in Fire Module” on the Oconee National Forest in February 2024, where she learned her way around a Type 6 engine and gained additional experience using drip torches to light ignitions on a prescribed burn. Already armed with her Sawyer A certification and experienced with the pole saw and hand tools, working on a 400-gallon engine provided experience working with a pump. Deploying on this and other fire assignments allowed Ramirez to save $8,000 to help in her transition to living independently off-center.

(l-r) Frenchburg Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry Instructor Jessie P. Spencer and Advanced Forestry graduate Nancy Perez Ramirez and student Dave Smith the Overlook of Lake Superior on the Hiawatha National Forest on April 16, 2024. Qualified as Firefighter Type 2s, Ramirez and Smith were members of a crew that helped prepare six unit totaling close to 1,000 acres and helped burn 900 acres on the Hiawatha National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Jessie P. Spencer using self-timer.

Last October, Ramirez applied for over 30 positions with the Forest Service and other land management agencies across a variety of disciplines. She began receiving responses to her applications in February 2024 and started sifting through offers. Ramirez ultimately accepted a position as GS-04 seasonal forestry technician on the Gila National Forest that provides housing. The job lasts through November 2024. Wanting to remain in Glenwood, New Mexico for at least the next two years and having experience the challenge of navigating the quirks of USAJOBS, the Federal Governments Official Job Site, she has already begun searching for her next career opportunity.

(l-r) Frenchburg Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center wildland fire Crew Boss Craig Pyett observes Advanced Forestry graduate Perez Ramirez cut down a tree during a prescribed burn on the Hiawatha National Forest on April 20, 2024. Qualified as a Firefighter Type 2, Ramirez was a member of a crew that helped prepare six unit totaling close to 1,000 acres and helped burn 900 acres on the on the Sault Sainte Marie Ranger District on Hiawatha National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Jessie P. Spencer using self-timer. USDA Forest Service photo by Jessie P. Spencer.

During her years at Timber Lake and Frenchburg Job Corps CCCs, Ramirez watched other Job Corps students drop out of the program. It has taken a certain amount of grit for Ramirez to get where she is today and her advice to other students is to remember their motivation. “Focus on yourself. Don’t get caught up in the drama and get distracted from your purpose. Always if you’re give the opportunity to go out in the field to do something extra, take it,” she said. “Everyone’s experiences and situations are a little different but keep pushing forward and give it your all.

Frenchburg Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry Conservation graduate Nancy Perez Ramirez cuts down a tree during a prescribed burn on the Hiawatha National Forest on April 20, 2024. Qualified as a Firefighter Type 2, Ramirez was a member of a crew that helped prepare six unit totaling close to 1,000 acres and helped burn 900 acres on the Sault Sainte Marie Ranger District on the Hiawatha National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Jessie P. Spencer.

Impact Story: Oconaluftee Job Corps’ Young Advanced Forestry Training Program Yields Results

Submitted by Alicia Bennett, Public Affairs Officer, U. S. Forest Service Job Corps

Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center’s (CCC) most recent graduation in marked a promising milestone for its youthful advanced forestry program. Since assuming leadership of Oconaluftee Job Corps CCC Advance Forestry program in late 2022, Instructor Tavaris Evans has been excelling in training his students for careers in conservation. A total of six graduates have completed the program  and all three advanced forestry graduates who walked across the stage in April 2024 interned with and accepted entry level positions with the Forest Service. Four of the six advanced forestry graduates have accepted job offers from Forest Service units while one chose to join the California Conservation Corps. Another recent graduate will be submitting applications to the agency in the near future. The recent three graduates have headed off to states with contrasting forest ecosystems and the story of each graduate is unique.

(l-r) Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry graduate Ero Moya and Forestry Conservation graduates Alexander “Xander” Mercer and Montel Filmore prepare to walk across the graduate stage during the center’s April 2024 graduation ceremony. USDA Forest Service photo by Randa Holland-Jobe

Ero Moya enrolled after completing the Inland Empire Job Corps’ landscaping trade. As part of the advanced forestry training program, she completed USDA Forest Service Forest Inventory & Analysis plot survey and urban forestry training before accepting a forestry technician position with the Southern Region’s Timber Strike Team.

Dwayne Smith received his certification in urban forestry from Great Onyx Job Corps CCC before enrolling in advanced forestry. He completed multiple wildland fire and camp crew assignments throughout the country, with stops in Oregon, Florida and North Carolina before traveling to the Big Piney Ranger District on the Ozark National Forest to begin his work as a forestry aide.

Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Forestry graduate Montel Filmore works on a tree mitigation on the Hiawatha National Forest . USDA Forest Service photo by Derek Goodwin

Hannah Davis completed Oconaluftee’s forestry conservation and wildland firefighting program before enrolling  in Oconaluftee’s advanced forestry program. After an eight-week work-based learning detail with the Eastern Region’s Timber Strike Team she was she was picked up as a permanent member of the team.

Oconaluftee’s forestry program has been just as successful in placing graduates. Alexander, “Xander” Mercer (Xander) earned his Firefighter, Type 2 (FFT2) certification, Wildland Chainsaw, and Off-Road Driving training while enrolled in Forestry Conservation & Wildland Firefighting program. Mercer completed a work-based learning assignment as a timber marker/cruiser on the Reserve Ranger District of the Gila National Forest where his super job performance led to a career position as a forestry technician in timber sales preparation.

Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry graduates Dwayne Smith and Ero Moya and Forestry Conservation graduate Xander Mercer learn how to conduct forestry plots from the Southern Region Research Station Forest Inventory & Analysis Forester Joshua Kirby. USDA Forest Service photo by James Lawler.

Forestry Conservation and Firefighting graduate Montel Filmore earned his Firefighter Type 2 credential, chainsaw certification, off-road driving training and first Aid/CPR certificates while enrolled. After completing a work-based learning detail on the St. Ignace Ranger District–where he worked in a variety of program areas including timber management, recreation, and trails maintenance–he accepted a career position with the Hiawatha as a forestry technician.

Oconaluftee Job Corps forestry instructors are proud of these graduates They are eager to observe their accomplishments as they pursue careers that directly support the agency’s out-come oriented goal of delivering benefits to the public while sustaining our nation’s forests and grasslands. The public is invited to attend Oconaluftee Job Corps Open house on August 9, 2024, in celebration of Job Corps 60th anniversary.

(l-r) Smokey Bear poses with Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Advanced Forestry Instructor Tavaris Evans, Advanced Forestry Graduate Dwayne Smith, student Shane Rivera, and Advanced Forestry Graduate Ero Moya at the Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and the Southern Region Research Station Forest Inventory & Analysis training event in May 2023. USDA Forest Service photo by James Lawler.

Impact Story: Brandon Roberts – Melding Art and Conservation

By Emma Fantuzzo

Brandon’s Background:

Brandon Roberts – a former optician and bartender who now works as an artist and a member of Louisiana Conservation Corps (LaCC) – describes himself as “Organized Chaos.”

Born and raised in Jacksonville, FL, Brandon worked as an optician for a decade before deciding it was time for a career change. Like many healthcare professionals, Brandon felt burnt out at the end of the pandemic and wanted to reconnect with his roots,

“I always knew I was a nature lover,” he said.

While he received pushback from friends and family over his career change, Brandon felt inspired by nature and wanted to do something that made a difference.

The following two years would be a catalyst for Brandon’s future as he began bartending in Jacksonville, FL and gained a small audience for his passion: creating art.

“[The bar] had 20-foot exposed brick walls and I just saw an opportunity to fill it with something. So, the general manager, who was very supportive of my artwork, was like, you know, you really should start displaying here.”

Brandon says his art has been described as, “post-apocalyptic, nature takes over.” He incorporates manmade items he finds in nature with pieces of nature, hoping to convey the spirit of the place he found the items, as well as the importance of conservation and stewardship.

With nature as his muse, Brandon’s art truly took off when he joined LaCC.

 

 


Corps Experience:

Brandon came across a job posting for LaCC three days before they closed their application for the season. Though he did not have field experience, he says that he had gained a deep respect for nature through his art creations and wanted a way to give back.

LaCC ended up being not only a great fit, but a way for Brandon to expand his artwork and be inspired to create new pieces.

Looking back on his Corps experience, Brandon says that one of his favorite projects was laying gravel for a trail that allowed people with limited mobility to access nature.

“Seeing people come birding, and watching the trail fill up, was really rewarding,” he said.

He remembers one night in Grande Isle when he was the only person out on the beach at night.

“I walked out because it was a meteor shower and I saw 200 shooting stars within an hour and there was no one for miles either direction.”

Brandon says that at times like these, he takes a snapshot in his mind to try and recreate it later.

The wetlands of Louisiana are a huge inspiration for Brandon’s creations. His fellow Corpsmembers like to help out by bringing him objects they find while working that they think Brandon could use in his art or might like. They find his art fascinating.

Brandon has had several pieces on display at the Shaw Center for the Arts in Baton Rouge that were inspired by his time with the Corps.

“I’m thinking of the Shaw centerpiece that I had made because [the Corpsmembers] just saw it as a clump of netting and trap that then all of a sudden looks like a mermaid’s treasure.”

 

 

 


Looking Forward:

Brandon’s time with LaCC is coming to an end.

Going forward, he plans to continue to grow his art business while also maintaining a job, even if just part-time, to connect with others. He plans to work for a native landscaping company called Let It Be, a company he worked with during his service term.

Brandon’s Shaw Center art pieces tell the story of his experience with LaCC and how it influenced his art. The pieces are going to continue being exhibited at another location in a new city for three to six months. He also has a solo exhibition in September called “Swamp Witch” it will run the whole month at Blue bonnets Swamp Nature Center in Baton Rouge.

“[Corps] really build strength physically as well as mentally. You learn how to how to adjust to obstacles,” said Brandon. “There’s people all over the country and all over the world doing what we’re doing, and all these little bits and efforts are collectively making that difference that we want.”

Update from The Corps Network’s Government Relations Team – May 6, 2024

By Meghan Shea

Read this blog from The Corps Network’s Government Relations Team about recent updates from Washington and what they mean for the Service and Conservation Corps community.

 

 


Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations

By the end of March 2024, President Biden signed all twelve Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills into law with the first package of bills being signed into law on March 8 and the second on March 23. The first package included the Agriculture; Energy-Water; Military Construction – Veterans Affairs; Transportation-HUD; Interior – Environment; and Commerce, Justice, Science bills. The second package of six appropriations bills included the Labor, Health, and Human Services bill that funds AmeriCorps and the Department of Labor. Below are some highlights for Fiscal Year 2024 funding.

AmeriCorps

  • AmeriCorps State and National: For Fiscal Year 2024, AmeriCorps State and National will receive $557.094 million. This is flat funding from the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.
  • National Service Trust: For Fiscal Year 2024 the National Service Trust will receive $180,000,000, a reduction of $50,000,000 from the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.

Department of the Interior

  • For Fiscal Year 2024, the Department of the Interior overall will receive $14.7 billion, $398 million below the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.
    • National Park Service (NPS): For Fiscal Year 2024, NPS will receive $3.3 billion, $150 million below the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.
    • Bureau of Land Management (BLM): For Fiscal Year 2024, BLM will receive $1.4 billion, $81 million below the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.
    • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA): For Fiscal Year 2024, BIA will receive $2.46 billion, $15.62 million above the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.
    • S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS): For Fiscal Year 2024, USFWS will receive $1.7 billion, $51 million below the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.

Department of Labor

  • All the accounts listed below were funded at the same level they were in Fiscal Year 2023.
    • Apprenticeships: For Fiscal Year 2024, the enacted level is $285 million.
    • Job Corps: For Fiscal Year 2024, the enacted level is $1.76 billion.
    • Reentry Employment Opportunities: For Fiscal Year 2024, the enacted level is $115 million.
    • YouthBuild: For Fiscal Year 2024, the enacted level is $105 million.
    • WIOA Youth Activities: For Fiscal Year 2024, the enacted level is $948.13 million.

U.S. Forest Service

  • For Fiscal Year 2024, the U.S. Forest Service will receive $3.8 billion in non-fire funding. This is $157 million below the Fiscal Year 2023 enacted level.

 


Fiscal Year 2025 Appropriations

On Monday March 11, 2024, President Biden released his Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request. This budget request is not legally binding but is the Executive Branch stating what its priorities are for the coming fiscal year. Below are the details on the requests for several accounts that Corps receive federal funding through.

AmeriCorps (The Corporation for National and Community Service)

  • AmeriCorps State and National
    • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $557,094,000
    • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $557,094,000
    • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $591,336,000
  • American Climate Corps: Within the President’s Budget Request for AmeriCorps, there are several call outs for the American Climate Corps (ACC).
  • AmeriCorps State and National: The $591,336,000 request for State and National “includes $23 million to grow ACC grants that will support 1,766 AmeriCorps members and build on AmeriCorps’ critical efforts to mitigate climate change threats.”
  • Salaries and Expenses: The $127,104,000 request for Salaries and Expenses “will provide $15 million to fund an ACC hub. This investment will include staffing and technology to support the ACC in addition to support for recruitment and related information, training, and partnership development to engage relevant stakeholders in successfully executing the initiative.”
  • Legislative Proposal: In the appendix for AmeriCorps Fiscal Year 2025 budget request, there is a legislative proposal for $8 billion in mandatory funding to support an additional 50,000 ACC Corpsmembers annually by 2031 and to provide job training and service opportunities on a wide range of projects that tackle climate change. This legislative proposal would require new or amended legislation by Congress.

Department of Interior (DOI)

  • Bureau of Land Management – Management of Land and Resources
    • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $1,368,969,000
    • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $1,261,612,000
    • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $1,395,249,000
  • National Park Service – Facilities Operation and Maintenance
    • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $938,677,000
    • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $914,164,000
    • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $974,000,000
  • Cost Share Waiver
    • In the General Provisions section of the Office of the Secretary’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2025, there is text for a cost share waiver for Public Lands Corps Act (page 396).

U.S. Forest Service

    • National Forest System
      • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $1,974,388,000
      • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $1,863,557,000
      • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $2,007,149,000

Department of Labor (DOL)

    • Apprenticeships:
      • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $285,000,000
      • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $285,000,000
      • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $335,000,000
    • Job Corps
      • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $1,760,155,000
      • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $1,760,155,000
      • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $1,764,376,000
    • Reentry Employment Opportunities:
      • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $115,000,000
      • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $115,000,000
      • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $120,000,000
    • YouthBuild:
      • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $105,000,000
      • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $105,000,000
      • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $105,000,000
    • WIOA Youth Activities:
      • Fiscal Year 2023 Enacted: $984,130,000
      • Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted: $948,130,000
      • Fiscal Year 2025 President’s Budget Request: $948,130,000

 


American Climate Corps

 

President Biden’s State of the Union Address

During his State of the Union address on March 7, President Biden highlighted the launch and his goal for the American Climate Corps, stating:

“And patterned after the Peace Corps and Ameri Corps, I’ve launched a Climate Corps to put 20,000 young people to work at the forefront of our clean energy future. I’ll triple that number this decade.”

It is tremendous that the American Climate Corps was included in the State of the Union address.  This is a speech that goes through countless drafts and is reviewed by numerous people and agencies –– for the American Climate Corps to be included in the final draft, that the President then gave to the nation, is something for us all to be proud of.

 

Earth Day 2024 Announcements

To celebrate Earth Day this year, President Biden gave a speech in Prince William Forest Park, a National Park Service site in Virginia that was developed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. During his speech, President Biden announced the launch of the new American Climate Corps (ACC) recruitment website. The White House Earth Day Fact Sheet can be found here and President Biden’s Earth Day remarks can be found here. These announcements included:

  • The launch of ClimateCorps.gov, the new recruitment website for the ACC.
  • A new partnership with the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ (NABTU) non-profit partner TradesFutures.
  • ACC Corpsmembers will now have access to a streamlined pathway into federal service after a recent update to modernize the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Pathways Programs.
  • Three more states, Vermont, New Mexico and Illinois, are launching new state-based climate Corps programs, building on the ten existing states that have already launched climate Corps programs.
  • The launch of Energy Communities AmeriCorps, which will place ACC Corpsmembers in energy communities across the country to support projects in communities that have powered our nation for generations.

CPA Team Profile: NPS MAT Coordinator Seth Nelson

By: Emma Fantuzzo

About the CPA Team:

The Corps Project Assistance (CPA) Team was created by The Corps Network for the purpose of aiding the National Park Service (NPS) in scoping out and creating cost estimates of facility-related projects. These projects are meant to be carried out by crews consisting of NPS and Service and Conservation Corps members in small to medium sized parks. These parks often lack the staff capacity and funding to undertake the work on their own.

The CPA Team works with the National Park Service Maintenance Action Team (MAT) to identify and coordinate project work. We spoke with Midwest Regional MAT Coordinator, Seth Nelson, about his Corps experience with Minnesota Conservation Corps and how it led him to a career with the National Park Service.



Q: How did you get involved in Corps?

Seth: I began as a Corpsmember with a Corps called Minnesota Conservation Corps (MCC). We worked for a few different agencies regularly, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota DNR and Koochiching County Lands and Forestry.

While working for Voyageurs National Park, I liked the idea of working in a boat every day and being on the water. I grew up spending time and recreating on the lake. So, it was one of those things that made me say “Hey, this could be a really cool deal if I could end up working here.”

I was also drawn in by the AmeriCorps education award stipend. I hadn’t gone to college and so the idea that I could get money toward college after serving for with MCC, led me to join.

Q: What were memorable takeaways from your Corps experience?

Seth: A big highlight for me was that I found what I wanted to do for my career. Before the Corps, I had never been exposed to National Park work. I had been to Voyageurs National Park before, but I didn’t really think of it as a place where I could work. Working with the Corps, doing work at different campsites, building new trail systems, boardwalks and bridges and maintaining the other trails systems I grew to love the work there.  I worked through the youth Corps at Voyageur National Park for close to four years.

Q: What did you do after your Corps experience and how did you end up at NPS?

Seth: After working in Voyageurs for several seasons with the Corps, the Maintenance Supervisor at Voyageurs pulled me aside and said he liked my hard work and work ethic so he asked me to come and work there for him as a seasonal maintenance worker the following year, so that is what started my National Park Service Career.  That fall I used my education voucher that I earned through the corps to help me go to college for Parks and Recreation Management.  I would go to school every fall and work for the National Park Service in the summers for the next 4 years.

I ended up working six seasons as a seasonal employee at Voyageurs for anywhere from four to six months depending on what I was doing with school. When I graduated, I began looking for a full time job in the Park Service and landed a Park Superintendent position for the city parks department, which was a great gig out of college. I got the position because of my Corps and NPS background. I did that for two years but as a guy who likes to be outside and working in nature, the city environment wasn’t my element, I needed to be back working with the woods and water.

I kept in contact with people I met at Voyageurs and one day I got a call about a permanent position that was open there, I applied for that position and got it and that’s how I ended up back with the NPS but as a permanent employee this time.

The position was called an FMSS Specialist, and I did maintenance inventory, wrote projects, managed park fleet and assisted on projects throughout the park.

After a couple years in that position, I got a Maintenance Supervisor position, which was really cool because I was able to work with Corps again. I was hiring Corps and bringing them on. I would have up to three Corps a year working in the park for me with different projects. It was great to go from starting at the Corps level and then be bringing Corps on to work with NPS. I brought on all different Corps: Student Conservation Association, Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, Montana Conservation Corps, American Conservation Experience, etc.



Q: What do you do in your current position?

Seth: In my current position I manage a fund source for the Midwest Region of the Park Service and also get to work with the corps again as 15% of my funding must go towards youth projects and corps, so I am very involved with the corps now, even more so than when I was a supervisor.

I am working with nine Corps projects this year alone from my fund source. I work directly with the Corps leadership to get the agreements written, the budgets signed, projects developed and placement of the corps in the parks.

My focus with Corps is to get them into newer, smaller parks that have never had help from Corps before.

Smaller parks are a bit apprehensive of getting a corps crew because they don’t have many staff to oversee or assist with the youth projects but through my experience working with the corps I am able to work with them and help them through the process.  Depending on the project, the corps typically don’t need much oversight and once shown the project and what outcomes the park would like, they can take it from there and go to work.

It is beginning to take traction and now small parks that have never had Corps before are wanting to work with them every year.

I feel as if I have come full circle from a new member of a corps to now developing projects and funding several corps throughout the park service, it is a pretty good feeling and I plan to continue working with corps and providing as many opportunities I am able too.

Q: What advice do you have for prospective Corpsmembers or Corpsmembers looking for a career with NPS?

Seth: What I would recommend to those folk is just take advantage of everything you can, the experiences, the training, all that and work hard, do your best. It gets noticed.

You will especially be noticed if you’re out front and willing to take stuff on and doing a great job when you’re there.

Whether you are interested in maintenance, cultural resources or natural resources, interpretation or law enforcement, there is something in the NPS for you.

The Park Service isn’t going to chase you, you have to chase it. Go after it, reach out to those people. Keep in contact with your supervisors and let them know your intent.

 

CPA Team Impact Story: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

By: Emma Fantuzzo

About the CPA Team:

With support from the National Park Foundation, the Corps Project Assistance (CPA) Team was created by The Corps Network to aid the National Park Service (NPS) in scoping and creating cost estimates for facility-related projects at small and medium-size parks across the country. These parks often lack the staff capacity and funding to undertake the work on their own. The projects are meant to be carried out by crews consisting of NPS staff and Service and Conservation Corps members.

Over the past two years, the CPA Team has scoped projects across the country, several of which have been completed. The finished projects include historic preservation projects at Camp Nelson National Monument, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, and Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park

We talked with Scott Powell, Facility Manager and Acting Superintendent of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park, about his experience working with Corps and the impact he saw on the Corpsmembers.



Q: What was the project the Corps worked on and why was this work needed?

Scott: This project was focused on the replacement of 2,000 Linear feet of deteriorated split rail fencing found throughout the landscapes of Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP. These fences were in an advanced state of deterioration and by replacing them provided a restoration of the park’s historical appearance, significantly improving the preservation of cultural and natural resources as well as the visitor experiences in the park. The project was taken on by a crew of five Corpsmembers and a Crew Leader from American Conservation Experience.

Q: Why is the park partnering with a Corps program to complete this project and what are some benefits to the park?

Scott: The park partnered with Corps to not only address the issues with the deteriorated fence that was identified in the park’s Cultural Landscape Report but also to provide Corpsmembers the opportunity to learn. Corpsmembers gained knowledge and skills of things like, operational risk management, the use of hand and power tools, split rail fence construction, carpentry, and understanding of the history of NPS and Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP, and the purpose of land management agencies.
Completion of this project successfully addressed the need for the restoration of a more historically accurate cultural landscape. Replacing the deteriorated fence with new split rail improved the look of the site requiring much less maintenance for many years. This project aligns with Park’s Foundation Document in that it supports the presentation of a cultural landscape as it appeared when first constructed and provides an opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in that period of history.

Q: What were some highlights of the partnership that you observed?

Scott: Seeing the impact on Corpsmembers was my biggest highlight. Most of the Corpsmembers had never seen a split rail fence, much less removed and installed a new one in its place. It was a highlight to see these youth engaging with their hands to build something that will affect this park and its visitors for years to come. The park leadership was also able to schedule a meeting with the Corpsmembers to discuss our career paths and ways that a person can start a career with the NPS.
It is my hope that each Corpsmember took away the importance of teamwork and how to rely on other members of their team to accomplish goals. I would also hope that the members understand the importance of our nations National Park’s and their historical resources and have a better understanding of the NPS mission.

Q: Was this your first Corps collaboration and what would you like to see out of future collaborations?

Scott: This was not the park’s first time working with the Corps. The park has utilized Corpsmembers to perform maintenance on trails, help build a rip rap drainage in the park. It is always a pleasure to work with the Corps and engage with its members. The park hopes to utilize the Corps in the future by working on one of the backcountry trails or even being part of replacing the remaining split rail fence in the park.
I think that other parks looking to work with Corps should make it happen. Engaging our youth while working with the Corps to rehabilitate historical assets and landscapes is vital not only to the future of NPS but also to the future of the United States of America.


Corps Oral History: Dana Stein

By: Emma Fantuzzo

About the Corps Oral History Project:

The Corps movement dates to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s – ‘40s. The CCC offered young, mostly white, men the opportunity to work and earn money during the Great Depression. The “CCC boys” planted billions of trees, built hundreds of parks, and established a legacy of conservation across the country.

While the CCC certainly provided a framework for modern Corps, it wasn’t until the 1970s and ‘80s that a new, more equitable, and ever-evolving Corps movement began to emerge. This oral history project gathers insights from the dreamers, innovators, and leaders who made today’s network of Service and Conservation Corps possible.


Dana’s Background:

Dana Stein, the executive director of Civic Works, has been an influential member of the Corps world since the early 90s when he read about City Year, while working as a lawyer. Intrigued by the idea of Corps programming and the potential it had, Dana reached out to the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASC), the predecessor of The Corps Network, for information on the Urban Corps Expansion Project. He also connected with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend who at the time was working on service-learning issues in Maryland. As Dana put it, “Long story short, she and I founded Civic Works, and we opened our doors in 1993. I quit practicing law and have been running it ever since.”

Over the years, Dana credits his various mentors from, San Francisco Conservation Corps, Montgomery County Conservation Corps, and City Year, for Civic Works’ success. He notes that the Corps community understands the importance of helping each other’s programs thrive – something that nonprofits in other sectors don’t always have the benefit of.

Today, Dana continues to serve as executive director of Civic Works, a Corps that has grown exponentially in size and program capacity. Civic Works performs not only Service and Conservation Work such as installing solar panels, mitigating stormwater runoff, and building parks, but also operates a school, providing secondary education opportunities for students in the Baltimore area. Civic Works serves as an inspiration for the potential that Corps, and Corps leaders, can achieve.


Dana’s Insights:

Q: What was the Corps Community like when you started?

Dana: It was certainly smaller. It was proportionally more focused on conservation. I think over the years there’s been a recognition of greater needs in different areas. There’s been a diversification of the types of issue areas that Corps have worked on. The key point of the timing for Civic Works, and I know for other Corps, was when AmeriCorps was started. AmeriCorps was signed in 1993, and then we became an AmeriCorps program and AmeriCorps was, I think, significant in providing startup funding. It helped prompt a lot of new Corps to get going.

Much of the DEI work that has happened, has happened in the past five years. But nonetheless, I think that the Corps was evolving in that direction and certainly has accelerated in the past five years. It is increasingly important work. Even before 2020, we had worked with consultants in DEI space. There’s a local group called the Association of Black Charities and we hired a consultant from there to make recommendations for improving our DEI policies. We just recently completed a consultancy with another expert in DEI work and made a series of recommendations. So Civic Works is taking those recommendations and is going to incorporate them into our practices. We are also implementing them into our strategic plan, which has a DEI focus. We have work to do, but we are hopeful that we will continue to make progress. 

Q: What types of programming does Civic Works participate in?

Dana: Some of what we do might be considered urban conservation. We do some landscaping; we do urban farming which has a positive impact on green space. But a lot of our work is what you would consider to be service work. For example, I mentioned we have a high school, so we have probably 20 members that help the school by doing different things. We’ve done a lot of food distribution work. Probably 15 years ago we expanded to include working with older adults, helping them age in place through home repairs as well as social service work.

We’ve also expanded to do a lot of energy conservation work and now we’re doing more in terms of renewable energy through low-income solar installations. Traditionally, Civic Works has done more service as opposed to conservation work, but we work a lot in climate mitigation. Climate is the future. Long term, where Corps will be called upon to help and provide critical value, that’s in climate resilience.

Q: What would you say is your vision for the Corps movement as a whole?

Dana: Some of what we do might be considered urban conservation. We do some landscaping; we do urban farming which has a positive impact on green space. But a lot of our work is what you would consider to be service work. For example, I mentioned we have a high school, so we have probably 20 members that help the school by doing different things. We’ve done a lot of food distribution work. Probably 15 years ago we expanded to include working with older adults, helping them age in place through home repairs as well as social service work.

We’ve also expanded to do a lot of energy conservation work and now we’re doing more in terms of renewable energy through low-income solar installations. Traditionally, Civic Works has done more service as opposed to conservation work, but we work a lot in climate mitigation. Climate is the future. Long term, where Corps will be called upon to help and provide critical value, that’s in climate resilience.

Q: What would you say is your vision for the Corps movement as a whole? 

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen the accelerating impact of climate change. At the same time, there’s been growing efforts at the federal and state level to reduce emissions and limit the impact of climate change. So, I think the Corps will be called upon and well suited to respond to the need to try to mitigate these impacts. This can be done through more widespread adoption of energy efficiency efforts; installing energy efficient light bulbs, water reducing devices in homes, and more extensive weatherization.

We can also help with stormwater impact. We can’t do big storm water mitigation projects, but in localized areas we can help through rain gardens and other landscape practices that will reduce the very local impacts of stormwater and help cities be more resilient to heat. Civic Works is also developing a resilience hub through a state grant which will enable residents to have a place to go to charge their phones and cool down in the case of widespread power outages.

This all circles back to the original mission of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was known as the tree army, they planted three billion trees. At the time, it wasn’t called green infrastructure like we call it today, but when you think about ways to offset heat, especially in urban areas, it’s planting trees and adding green spaces. Corps like California Conservation Corps are already doing climate work like fighting wildfires, and in Louisiana, Corps help with flooding and storm surge. So, the work is already being done, but my hope is that on a more widespread basis Corps will be utilized.

Q: This year is the 90th anniversary of the CCC, is there anything else you would like to add on how Corps carry out its legacy?

You know, when we first got going, I connected with a CCC alumni chapter. About 30 years ago there were still a decent number of CCC alumni around. We brought the alums out to talk to our former members about the impact that the Corps has. The benefits of the Corps in the 1930s were largely like today. A lot of the benefits came from working on a team, from working on community projects, and learning new skills. So similar were the issues discussed, it was striking, but it also speaks to the resilience of the Corps model.

Of course, today’s Corps has improved on the CCC. The CCC was segregated, today we are striving to make progress in terms of diversity. We have also improved in our ability to respond to different needs, especially service aspects. We have expanded outside of just conservation work.

We also have room for improvement; I think there’s a role for us to be adopters of technology, not just in terms of our administrative efforts, but in terms of Corps, day-to-day operations.

Q: What impact have you seen on Corpsmembers because of their Corps experience?

We have sector-based training programs, one of them is called our Utility Infrastructure program in partnership with the local utility (Baltimore Gas and Electric) and they partner with us in providing training that will lead to jobs with their gas and electric contractors for maintaining their system. We had the CEO of the utility come in and talk with 30 trainees from a couple different classes. After the presentation, the dialogue from the trainees indicated how the program has had a big impact on their lives already. When someone finishes the program, they’re 95% likely to get a job with a living wage. It has the potential for changing their life trajectory and helping them to enter a career path.
It’s always great to hear and it reinforces that the model we’ve had in place for a long time and have built on over the years, works.
Corps work has a huge impact on communities. It has opened my eyes to things I would never have known about or learned about in terms of issues in communities. It’s been life changing for me, I’m very happy I stumbled across that article about City Year, years ago. It is incredible all the different things that have come out of it.

Impact Story: Curlew Job Corps student starts life over and grasps for the stars

Submitted by Alicia Bennett, Public Affairs Officer, U. S. Forest Service Job Corps

Meeting Samantha “Sam” Berko, it’s hard to imagine the rough start she’s had in life. Berko, currently enrolled in Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center’s (CCC) union painting trade, is confident and outgoing. If a visitor arrives at Curlew, without hesitation she makes a beeline to warmly welcome them to on-center.

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center pre-apprentice painting student Sam Berko holds a project displaying her wood burning skills. USDA Forest Service photo by Alicia D. Bennett

 

Berko arrived at Curlew on November 15, 2022. In a few months, she will graduate and travel to Clearfield Job Corps Center (Clearfield, Utah) to enroll in Advanced Collision Repair and Refinish. The United Auto Workers industry credentials and certifications Berko earns in this second, advanced pre-apprentice training program will prepare her for a position at a car dealership or independently owned body shop.

 

(l-r) Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Union Painting Instructor Doug Wilson and student Sam Berko have a bit of fun with the life-sized “Face in the Hole” carnival board Berko painted to celebrate Prospectors Day, an annual, three-day, celebration of Republic, Washington’s gold mining heritage. Festival goers could choose between the faces of two miners, one riding in a mine cart, in which to stick their faces. Courtesy photo by Sam Berko using self-timer.

 

Berko’s resilience has been forged through adversity. Her story is distressingly familiar for many of the young women who enroll in Job Corps. Raised in Grants Pass, Oregon, she spent the first seven years of her like bouncing between her biological mother and father in a custody battle. When Berko’s mother married a second time, to a man who owned his own home and with a stable job, the tables were turned in her favor and she gained full custody of her daughter.

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center union painting student Sam Berko was featured in The Ferry County View after she painted a life-sized “Face in the Hole” carnival board to help festival goers celebrate Prospectors Day, an annual, three-day, celebration of Republic, Washington’s gold mining heritage. Courtesy photo by Sam Berko.

 

A sense of normalcy and structure settled over Berko’s life until her mother died on December 9, 2017. At age fifteen, she found herself trapped in a household governed by an emotionally abusive stepfather who took out his grief and anger on her. “He told me I would never amount to anything,” Berko reflected “He said that the only way I could be successful was laying on my back for men’s pleasure.” Berko related her story with no sense of grievance or victimhood. You even detect a sense of empathy towards this man despite what she endured. “I was a constant reminder of her to him.”

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center union painting student Sam Berko uses metal technical stilts to stand over a bench she wood burned and then applied a custom-colored wood stain and air brushed painted a skeleton. Photo courtesy of Sam Berko.

 

Berko has labored hard to process and overcome her abusive past, but unsurprising, she battles bouts of depression. Still, she lives her life guided by a principle of staying strong through tough times. “The past is in the past. You can either run from it or learn from it,” she said. “When the world turns upside down, make the best of it.”

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center union painting student Sam Berko (laying on ground, front row) worked on Supply Team 12 on the Bedrock Fire on the Willamette National Forest during the summer of 2023. Berko shared that it was an eye-opening team building experience where she had to adapt her independent mindset to one where she relied on others after being a solo player most of her life. Courtesy photo by Sam Berko using a self-timer.

 

Berko eventually left home. In succeeding years struggled to make ends meet working minimum wage jobs. Expenses ate up her meager salary and her life was punctuated with periods of homelessness where she would tent camp or live in her car. “I realized I can’t just keep getting dead end jobs where I can’t climb up,” stated Berko. Last year, with winter approaching, she decided Curlew Job Corps was her last best chance to start life fresh.

After a health condition prevented Berko from enrolling in forestry conservation, she enrolled in union painting. “Doug Wilson, my painting instructor has seen me at some of my low times and he’s definitely pushed me to become better in my trade,” stated Berko. “He gave me the belief I can do anything I put my mind too. He has helped me become better person, helped me keep my head on straight and focus on what I want to do.”

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center pre-apprentice painting student Sam Berko powder coated a U.S. Forest Service sign, constructed on computer numerical control machines  by Curlew union welding students, to prevent it from rusting. The sign was given away as a raffle prize for Curlew’s Open House. USDA Forest Service photo by Sam Berko.

 

CCCs have long incorporated a union-operated pre-apprenticeship training model includes a paid job where student earns industry recognized credentials and participation in classroom learning and work-based learning, all under the instruction of a mentor. Berko completed three internships over the last year. The instructors that operate union trades excel at supporting motivated students like her and they encourage female students to enroll in pre-apprenticeship programs. Union trades are still a reliable pathway to the middle-class and women continue to be under-represented. For Berko, it has been a once in a lifetime opportunity that she said has set her up for life.

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center union painting student Sam Berko sands a piece of wood before wood burning. USDA Forest Service photo by Alicia D. Bennett.

 

Berko will spend 18 months earning her certifications at Clearfield Job Corps and then plans to work at a Toyota Manufacturing plant for five to seven years. “With enough experience under my belt and if I’ve saved enough money, I can open my own car detailing and body paint shop,” she explained. The business name she’s chosen–Sam’s Masterpiece– is eponymous.

 

Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center union painting student Sam Berko wears metal technical stilts painters used by painters during drywall application or to paint in high and/or confined spaces when a ladder is unsuitable. USDA Forest Service photo by Doug Wilson.

 

Having watched her stepfather run his own business, Berko recognizes the challenges of operating a small business. “I’m definitely thinking that I will have to go from being a small-town country girl and move to a somewhat big city to make sure I have enough revenue and business coming my way to keep my shop open,” she reflected. “I’ll detail cars and do body work. I want to create artwork and watch it drive down the road. I feel like I’m grasping for the stars, but in reality I know it’s something that I can do and I can manage.”

 

Union painting student Sam Berko (center on metal technical stilts) prepares to represent Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center during the Prospectors Day parade, part of an annual, three-day, celebration of Republic, Washington’s gold mining heritage. USDA Forest Service photo by Doug Wilson.

Share Your Favorite Pics: FY23 Annual Report Cover Contest

Does your Corps have stand out photos from this past year? We know you do! Now is the perfect time to share them. We invite member organizations of The Corps Network to share your favorite pictures from 2023 to be considered for the cover of The Corps Network FY23 annual report.

We are looking for eye-catching images demonstrating what makes our diverse and resilient Corps programs great. We’re specifically hoping to see photos showcasing Corpsmembers in action and the impacts of their work. See below for a more detailed criteria.

Please note that almost every photo submitted will be used in the report or in other documents and resources produced by The Corps Network in the future, even if your Corps’ photo doesn’t make the cover. We sincerely appreciate all the content we’ve received in past cover photo contests.

The last day to submit photos is Friday, January 19, 2024. The report will be published in March. Thank you for your participation!

[Photo in banner: FY22 annual report cover photo, New Jersey Youth Corps of Philipsburg]

Criteria/Suggestions + How to Submit Entries

  • Each Corps may submit up to 6 photos.
  • The deadline to participate in the contest is Friday, January 19, 2024.
  • Photos must be high resolution (300 dpi preferred).
  • Please provide a few details about the photo (where was it taken, who is in the picture, etc.).
  • Let us know if there is a specific person who should receive photo credit. Otherwise, we will credit your organization.
  • Preferred file formats are .jpg, .jpeg, .png. (if you have .heic pictures, please considering converting them to .jpeg files using a free tool like this).
  • Please no images that don’t include people. We want to see great photos of Corpsmembers at work.
  • Both landscape-oriented and portrait photos are welcome.
  • Please no photos that have been heavily edited or have an obvious filter applied.
  • Photos taken within the past year are preferred.
  • Remember – even if your picture is not chosen for the cover, we may use it elsewhere in the report or in other resources from The Corps Network.
How to Submit Your Photos

Please email entries to Edward Kim, [email protected]. Don’t forget to include a few details about each photo and if a specific person should receive credit. If your photos are too large to send in one message, feel free to send in multiple emails or use a file sharing service like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, or WeTransfer. We can’t wait to see and share your entries!

Impact Story: A Job Corps Mobile Kitchen knocks it out of the park supporting the Colt Fire

Submitted by Alicia Bennett, Public Affairs Officer, U. S. Forest Service Job Corps

Oops . . .they did it again. Who you ask? Job Corps students manning a mobile kitchen that spent two weeks preparing three meals a day to the 150 personnel responding to the Colt Fire at Seeley Lake. The successful track record of the three Job Corps mobile kitchens has national catering contractors looking over their shoulders. The significance of Job Corps’ culinary support is even more apparent considering that prior attempts by other catering services fell short of fire contracting standards.

 

Flatwoods Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center Camp Crew members were deployed on August 29, 2023, to support the Colt Fire at Seeley Lake. L-r second row: Mya Frost, Lee A-BinBin Bartosch, Keshawn Shaw, Feredinand Nizigiyimana, Maximus Ramos, Jade Bourg. L-r first row: Cook Cassie Boyd, Camp Crew Boss Robert Collins, Job Corps National Office FAM Cook Anthony Hansen. USDA Forest Service photo by Kenneth Andren.

 

“After hosting three caterers for the Colt Fire this summer, Job Corps is hands down ‘the best’,” according to the evaluations. “The first caterer’s food was not great, the second was not clean. Job Corp is providing good food and are extremely clean Job Corps deserve a shout out. Maybe we could just go with them in the future and skip the others.”

 

Flatwoods Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center mobile kitchen crew serve Colt Fire responders from a sparkling clean kitchen. USDA Forest Service photo by Anthony Hansen.

 

Upon arrival, the Flatwoods Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center students and staff operating the Job Corps mobile kitchen promptly stepped in. With no break in service, they continued to serve the responders with unwavering diligence for a two-week stretch.

 

Flatwoods Job Cops Camp Crew and Colt Lake Fire Incident Management Team off-load surplus food from the Job Corps mobile kitchen to donate to the Seeley Lake Elementary School. USDA Forest Service photo by Kenneth Andren.

 

Job Corps students are taught that providing support on a wildland fire is an honor. Students chosen for fire assignments are committed to performing at the highest level. Even operating under a newly hired kitchen supervisor and food unit leader trainee, the crew, consisting of one cook, two crew bosses, and seven AD-camp crew students, functioned smoothly as a team. The meals they prepared, paired with exceptional customer service, not only filled the stomachs of responders but also maintained high-quality standards.

 

Flattwoods Camp Crew: (Left to Right) Maximus Ramos, Jade Bourg, April Ramos, Keshawn Shaw, Mya Frost. USDA Forest Service photo by Kenneth Andren.

 

Job Corps mobile kitchen chefs purchase the highest quality of food their budgets allow and they are conscious not to waste food. At the Colt Fire, the culinary team’s efficient resource management resulted in surplus food. This allowed for food donations to local charities, including “Meals on Wheels” and the “After School Brown Bag Program,” a much-needed resource for students suffering from food insecurity.

 

A happy battalion chief get’s ready to enjoy a meal prepared by students operating a Job Corps mobile kitchen at the Colt Fire at Seeley Lake. USDA Forest Service photo by Kenneth Andren.

 

Work-based learning opportunities provided by fire deployments are critical to the success of the Job Corps program and the exceptional performance of the Job Corps mobile kitchen highlights the important of delivering high-quality meals for those on the front lines of emergency response.

The Job Corps mobile kitchens are part of the Job Corps Wildland Fire Program. The kitchens have finished their deployments for the 2023 season but will be back in action in 2024. Contact Mobile Kitchen Partnership Coordinator Kenneth C. Andren, Jr. at [email protected] or 605-490-3814 to order one up for your next training event. If you order a mobile kitchen for a Type 3 fire in the IQCS system, please note that a 72-hour time frame is needed from receipt of the resource order. Be a hero to your firefighters and order a Job Corps mobile kitchen to feed your firefighters!