Harvesting Youth Success: Youth Outdoors with Conservation Corps

This month’s Spotlight is a guest piece from an AmeriCorps member with Conservation Corps; Maggie Barnick shares her experience with Youth Outdoors, a program which connects urban teens to the natural environment through hands-on conservation and neighborhood beautification projects.

AmeriCorps members are assigned to a four-person crew and over the course of their 10.5-month terms of service they complete both natural resource projects with their fellow AmeriCorps members and provide leadership to youth crews during the spring and fall. Since they spend most of their time working on natural resource projects during the summer they’re always excited to get back to youth work in the fall!

By Maggie Barnick

Sept. 30, 2014

As we wrapped up our final week of summer adult field work, all four of us AmeriCorps members left the shop with such enthusiasm for the following week: we would finally be meeting our fall youth crews!  I was so excited to see the enthusiasm of our youth on the first day of work—everyone was extremely enthusiastic about learning new things about the environment, seeing new parts of their community, developing new work skills, meeting new people and, of course, getting a nice paycheck!

Now, in the fourth week with our group of five high schoolers (ages 15-18) we’re beginning to bond as a team, personalities are starting to emerge and the quiet ones are definitely not as quiet anymore. This past week we were working with Youth Farm, and everyone was laughing and having a great time while working to weed the beds, build new garden rows, learn about compost and the differences between annuals and perennials, and, of course, hold taste-testing competitions with the peppers, tomatoes, and watermelons.  After finishing a cherry tomato, one of our youth said “It tastes okay, once you get past the gross part!” I’m just glad he tried one!   

Our schedules are Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, with full workdays on Saturdays.  Tuesdays are education days, where AmeriCorps crew members follow curriculums for different themes throughout the semester.  My favorite theme to teach so far this semester has been “Leadership and Group Dynamics.”  We worked with three different activities all centered around group development, including a really fun one where youth had to build an egg-protection device for an egg-drop, while using different senses to really test out their communication skills.  It really helped us build our repertoire as a crew and discuss the importance of making sure everyone is involved. 

Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors - Sprockets Spotlight

We always make sure to provide youth with lots of informal education throughout Thursday and Saturday as well.  Whenever we encounter something interesting to us, we use our own enthusiasm to get our youth excited about it, too.  Our youth members are also responsible for developing a service project of their choice based on the needs they observe within their community.  The Youth Led Service Projects are a ton of fun, and are done on the last Saturday of the Youth Outdoors program.  Past service projects have included building blue bird and wood duck nesting boxes, creating signs for community gardens and painting murals.    

I think the Youth Outdoors program is a great way for youth (and crew members and leaders alike) to get out into their community and see things they normally wouldn’t.  And you don’t have to take my word for it! Since we’re preparing for mid-semester evaluations, we spent a few minutes this week talking to youth crew members about what they’ve learned so far. While one member has stepped out of her comfort zone to take on the challenge leading her crew through the workday, her fellow crew member notes that she has learned that effective leaders also know when to take a step back and let others lead. Several youth also said they feel more comfortable interacting with new people and expressing themselves in a group. One youth noted, “I understand that nature is a chain reaction. One small thing can lead to a big change.” 

It always amazes me and gives me great pride when we look back to see exactly how much we have accomplished in such a short amount of time.  Whether it’s brush sawing a half acre of buckthorn in the span of five hours as an adult crew or working with our youth crews on clearing a seemingly endless field of burdock, it is definitely apparent that we can, and do, make a difference in natural environments in the urban communities we live in. 

Learn more about Youth Outdoors and watch a video on Conversation Corps’ Program Finder page!

Conservation Corps Youth Outdoors - Sprockets Spotlight