DCR's Virginia State Park Youth Conservation Corps Program was honored with the United States Department of the Interior's Outstanding State Volunteer program award in 2010. The Take Pride in America award cited the YCC's "... outstanding commitment to the stewardship of America's public lands and natural and cultural resources."
The program includes three elements united by the types of project, environmental education and adventure programming, and the age of the participants. These are environmental stewardship programs, not summer camps; the young person will work hard, sometimes in difficult conditions including deep mud, hot sun, and mosquitoes and flies.
Here's a video featuring a few crewmembers who participated.
Youth Corps projects are visible, tangible and meaningful. Crewmembers often return to the parks where they served and appreciate their projects for many years. Projects have educational aspects, are environmentally sound and fulfill an unmet need in the park.
Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) - This is a three-week residential program. Crews live in the park for three weeks. Work generally takes place in the daytime, and environmental education and adventure opportunities fill evenings and weekends. Crewmembers work and live as a team. Crewmembers also complete several projects throughout their park. Recruitment is targeted to attract youth from diverse backgrounds. Young people with a strong background in environmental education are encouraged to apply, but young people who have never experienced a park setting are welcome as well. An executive director and YCC coordinator handle the recruitment and selection of crewmembers and supervisors. Selection is based heavily on the quality of responses given in the application. Site selection and project planning are handled by park staff.
Youth Service Corps (YSC) - Through this non-residential program, service is used to re-engage at-risk and court-involved young people with their community and the environment. It runs Monday through Friday. Young people generally arrive at the park's corps site at 8 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. The state parks partner with local youth service providers or organizations that generally work with at-risk youth. The partner provides meals and transportation and selects participants. Generally the partner also provides staff experienced in supervising the youth involved. Environmental education and adventure programs are offered in lieu of work during the day or added on the weekends or evenings, depending on the agreement with the partnering organization. Agencies that help at-risk youth and interested in learning more about this program should contact us.
Youth Development Corps (YDC) - This is a weekend program held during spring and fall. Crewmembers arrive on Friday nights, prepare a meal and set up camp. On Saturday, they work on a conservation project, much as in the YCC, but of course the scope of the work is limited by the short duration of the event. This program is particularly helpful to parks that lack adequate facilities to support longer summer programs. On Sunday the young people take part in outdoor activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing and interpretive hikes. This program is still in the planning stages.
Of the three programs, only the YCC requires potential participants to fill in an application form. The other two are by invitation of the executive director.
Crews typically have 10 members, ages 14-17, from diverse backgrounds, as well as three college-age or older crew supervisors. The crew lives in the park in a structured work program. The crew is closely supervised by professional park staff and committed adult volunteers. By day, crews work on important development and maintenance projects, and after hours crewmembers enjoy recreational activities and learn about the environment, team-building, work life and job readiness.
The corps program aims to promote youth development, including disadvantaged young people, and provide a cost-effective way to raise environmental awareness and strengthen the stewardship of Virginia’s valuable natural resources. The program combines work experience, education and life skills within the framework of environmental and community service. Crewmembers receive a $500 stipend for successfully completing the program. Bear in mind that this is not a summer camp. The program is for devoted and driven young people who apply for the program themselves. They should seek their parents only for permission to participate. Anyone found to be detrimental to the overall well-being of their crew will be sent home.
The program targets a broad cross-section of youth, including “at-risk,” economically disadvantaged, college-bound, high school, dropouts and disabled youth. This diversity breaks down traditional social and economic barriers and provides a rich and challenging experience for each participant. A recent study shows that youth corps programs have a particularly positive impact. This program accomplishes what policy-makers of all political stripes want: A program that provides young people the opportunity to serve their state and the community while learning the values and skills necessary for the workplace and personal financial stability.
It is equally essential to help communities help themselves gain a larger stake in caring for our natural heritage. State parks are the natural setting for engaging citizens in such an environmental and developmental partnership. For youth service, the program offers practical conservation projects that can be completed in the time allotted by each session. It allows young people to witness and appreciate the immediate benefits of their work. For example, surveys indicate that visitors use trails more than any other park offerings, yet funding shortfalls make upkeep difficult. Trail maintenance, safety and accessibility are chief objects of the corps’ work. Wildlife and native plant conservation and support for interpretive facilities are also high priorities.
In-kind support from local groups, such as parks’ friends groups, is important and essential to the program. The groups want to help the young people, while corps participants help the parks. Various citizen organizations with few financial resources are able to contribute towards providing environmental education, logistical support, outreach, publicity and even help with recruitment. These groups also help promote the benefits of the program. The crewmember application will be available on Jan. 1, 2015.
Three crew supervisors are assigned to each crew of 10 to 14 crewmembers. Supervisors are directly responsible for overseeing activities of the young people from the time they report to the time they depart. Supervisors create a supportive atmosphere conducive to learning; they motivate, develop and discipline team members, ensure their well-being and help plan events. They also transport crewmembers to field sites, in a vehicle provided by the program, and they work with crewmembers in field projects. Supervisors also ensure that crewmembers are prepared for upcoming activities. The crew supervisor is the authority who must occasionally be a friend, parent, counselor and mentor. The role is demanding, but the reward comes in seeing crewmembers develop positive work habits essential to future employment. Supervisors build a team atmosphere and lead crewmembers to adopting a deep appreciation for environmental and community stewardship.
Crew supervisors must be able to work in and lead a team. The work can be physically demanding, requiring the use of field tools and hiking to remote areas while carrying heavy backpacks. First aid and safety training are required and will be provided during training. Supervisors must be comfortable working in rural, outdoor, marine and freshwater environments. As well, applicants should have some conservation education, experience or both, as well as experience in managing high school students. Supervisors may apply for up to two non-overlapping sessions.
The lead supervisor coordinates crew activities and serves as liaison with park staff. He or she coordinates meals and works with other supervisors and crews to make sure safety guidelines are followed and that logistics run smoothly.
Position offers are contingent on a criminal history record search and verification of two professional references. The principal purpose for requiring such personal information is to process your application for acceptance into the VSPYCC program; the information will not otherwise be disclosed to entities outside Virginia State Parks without your prior written permission. Also, VSPYCC policy prohibits the use of illicit drugs, alcohol or tobacco products while working with youth. VSPYCC members must be substance and tobacco-free throughout the entire session and during training (see below). Supervisors will receive a $1,800 stipend and $350 dollar travel stipend upon successful completion of the program.
In 2015, supervisor positions will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis so apply early. Applications will be available on Oct. 1. Supervisors must attend a training session June 11-14 at Twin Lakes State Park. Lodging and meals for the session are covered. Supervisors also must report to their respective park a day before their session starts. The three weeks of working with their young charges are intense. Supervisors must be onhand the entire time - 24 hours a day, seven days a week - and stay in contact with YCC directors every day to brief them on happenings at their park.
Applicants may choose the session but not the park. To learn more about the commonwealth’s diverse natural resources, participants are placed in a setting distinct from their home. VSPYCC coordinators choose applicant placement and reserve the right to reject applicants who refuse a specific park assignment. Participants are responsible for their own transportation to the park. To facilitate carpooling, program administrators will provide contact information on other participants, but the YCC will not make the arrangements.
New corps members are preferred each year, but a participant may be selected to take part more than once if exceptional prior performance merits it. Selection is based heavily on the quality of responses given in the application. Remember, this is a work-at-will program. If upon arrival or during the session a crewmember or supervisor chooses not to help with a project, that person will be sent home and receive no stipend (see below).
Stipends are given upon completion of the program. If a crewmember or supervisor is sent home at any time before the program is concluded, a stipend will not be given to that person.