Every summer, Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) offers over 150 youths ages 14-17 the opportunity to serve in Virginia State Parks. The teens live in the parks for three weeks, make lifelong friendships, and perform outstanding service work.
Through the YCC program, teens gain valuable experience as they work together on projects like trail maintenance, construction of new park facilities, and park beautification. They can also help remove pesky invasive plant species, construct a new canoe launch, and even create elements for a natural playground for children. It takes hard work and commitment, but park visitors enjoy the benefits of this hard work for years to come.
“Each year it’s something new,” said Josh Ellington, park manager at Twins Lakes State Park, who has worked with the YCC program since 2004. “They come in not knowing what to expect and leave a completely different person.”
A typical workday in the program consists of waking up by 6:30 a.m. to a physical training session, followed by breakfast. Then, crewmembers work on their daily project until 4 p.m. with a break for lunch.
After a day of hard work, it’s time for some games and team-building activities. Youths participate in environmental education and conservation activities hosted by the park’s interpretive staff. Crewmembers learn about the parks they are serving and ways they can improve their habits at home.
“You might learn about the environmental aspects, and we also like to emphasize the value of the work they’re doing,” said Nancy Heltman, visitor services director for Virginia State Parks. “We try to find at least one thing during their stay that’s a sustainable project that they can say, ‘Look, I’ve accomplished this.’”
After dinner, teens take part in enriching evening activities like night hikes, owl walks, and even astronomy. Crewmembers are encouraged to keep a daily journal to remember new experiences. Finally, it’s lights out at 10 p.m.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for fun activities. The crew’s hard work during the week is rewarded through weekend extravaganzas to other nearby parks, trips to museums, and recreational activities. Crewmembers even enjoy tubing, kayaking, hiking, and bouldering.
Aside from the lessons learned during work projects and educational activities, YCC gives youth the opportunity to learn more about themselves and how they work with others.
“It’s been one of the best experiences of my life so far,” said Zoe Bolling, who participated in the program in 2013. “It helps you to grow up…and [learn] how to be dedicated to something and follow through with what you’re doing.”
The Youth Conservation Corps is a rewarding experience for these teens as they learn how to be responsible and reliable. They complete their own chores and are completely disconnected from technology, giving crewmembers a sense of independence while living away from home. During these short three weeks, crews are not only teammates; they become a family.
Program dates are Session One: June 26-July 16, 2016; Session Two: July 24-August 13, 2016. A full list of crewmember expectations and responsibilities can be found online. A $500 stipend is awarded after the successful completion of the program. Applications and reference surveys are due by March 1, 2016. For more information, please visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/youth-conservation-corps.