You’ve probably seen them in their bright blue shirts out in the forest pulling weeds, planting native trees, restoring trails, or hiking up a mountain side. These are participants from Hawaii’s Youth Conservation Corps that are helping environmental agencies tackle today’s natural resource problems and care for Hawaii’s fragile ecosystems.
The Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) and other YCC programs nationwide trace their roots to the early 1930, when President Theodore Roosevelt developed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was created to provide jobs and develop a workforce of people engaged in natural resource conservation. Even after the CCC ended in 1942, YCC programs began to take root across the country. Hawaii’s YCC program started in the 1970 and continued through the early 1980, and re-started in 1995 under the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).
Now, the YCC program continues through a partnership with Kupu, a non-profit organization that matches State funds with a multitude of federal and private contributions. Youth are moved outside of the classroom and into the field to gain hands-on experience. Participants work with DLNR staff and other environmental organizations to learn about the issues and challenges facing Hawaii’s environment and how they can help sustain and steward natural resources for the future. The program has found that youth that may struggle in the classroom have done well in work-based or outdoor settings. Participation in the program can be anywhere from a few months to year-long extended internships. In many cases, interns are hired to work-full time with the program after their internship ends.
By providing an outdoor educational experience for Hawaii’s youth, the program encourages personal growth, cultural awareness, leadership skills, and an environmental mindset that participants can carry with them throughout their life. Tesla Rider, an Americorps Kupu field technician intern for The Nature Conservancy describes her internship experience by saying, “Through the HYCC program I was able to learn about the scope of threats facing the Hawaiian Islands, and was inspired by the efforts of creative, passionate, and hardworking people who have taken on the task of protecting the land. This inspiration has lead me to continue my education by pursuing a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies, so that one day I may be a driving force of positive change for the environment.”
The Hawaii YCC is not only a serviced based work program, but an educational program that succeeds in educating participants on many different levels. The Hawaii YCC helps develop the whole person and gives them the skills to succeed in future education, careers, and life endeavors. As the program gives youth the skills they need to succeed by training the next generation of leaders. Many people involved in conservation fields today got their start through YCC.
First Lady, Dawn Ige says, “Young people in Hawaii need to know there are opportunities for them in the field of conservation. I was a member of the Youth Conservation Corp upon graduating from high school, and I spent a summer working at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park doing conservation work such as removing invasive plants and restoring hiking trails. If we can open the minds of our youth to careers in conservation, we can open the door to the next generation of conservation leaders.”
The DLNR Youth Conservation Corps brings together partners and organizations like Kupu who share in the YCC commitment to protect Hawaii’s environment and train Hawaii’s youth to become the state’s future leaders. The YCC produces life changing results for members, volunteers, and team leaders. Host organizations also benefit from added help the many helping hands that the program provides. “We always look forward to each summer and finding interns and younger adults that are interested in this type of work…without these guys it would take us twice as long to accomplish anything,” said Jon Han the Division of Forestry (DOFAW) Na Ala Hele program. Communities also benefit as their children gain life changing skills from YCC that help amplify the impact on their personal lives and the community by developing young adults that will have the skills and desire to make a difference.