Field of Teams
likes the idea that he’s doing something for more than his own gain. “It’s helping my community,” he said.
The Southeast Youth Corps is funded half by the Conservation Department’s Outreach and Education and Human Resources divisions, and half by the following partner agencies: Cape Girardeau and New Madrid Missouri Mentoring Partnership, East Missouri Action Agency and the Division of Youth Services.
Dennis Reagan, director of the Cape Girardeau group, secured funds to pay youth salaries for the Marble Hill crew. “It’s a great program. Young people gain work skills and learn about Missouri’s conservation efforts,” he said.“It’s exactly the kind of thing these kids need.”
Bob Gillespie, a natural history biologist with the Conservation Department, manages the sand prairie restoration. He coordinated projects with the crews.“What’s most important to me, is I was able to give these groups of young adults projects, fairly difficult projects,” said Gillespie. “They took pride in what they were doing, and they completed them with a fervor.”
If anyone had the fervor it was Tonya, the only girl in the 2004 Marble Hill crew. Like many of the participants, this was her first job. She knew little about natural communities prior to working with them.
“Before, I didn’t even know there were sand prairies in Missouri,” said Tonya. “I thought prairies were in deserts or something.”
With the help of a work-study internship through East Missouri Action Agency, Tonya continued working part time for the Conservation Department after the 2004 summer program ended. Then she went to work for the Southeast Youth Corps again, this time as a crewleader.
A nationwide study conducted by Abt and Associates in 1997 found that youth corps make a difference in young people’s lives. The study determined that women and minorities, in particular, increased their educational attainment, improved their ability to get and hold a job, and participated in more civic activities like volunteering and voting after their experience in a youth corps.
Having worn both crewmember and crewleader hats, Tonya agrees.
“It brings people from different backgrounds together, and it teaches them about our environment and about work ethics all at the same time,” said Tonya. “I saw a lot of changes in the boys on the crew. Like the one boy, his paycheck went to help his grandma. It made him mature a lot.”
The same study reviewed numbers and found youth corps return $1.60 in benefits, the value of corpsmembers’ work, for every $1 in costs.
In 2005, crewmembers who worked at least 300 hours received an Americorp Education Award of $1,000 each. This is money set aside in each youth’s name for college, trade or vocational school. Funding for this award comes from the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps or NASCC.
New crewmembers make minimum wage, $5.15 per hour. Those returning for their second year earn $6.15 per hour. After four weeks on the job, crewmembers are eligible for a 50 cent per hour raise.
The Conservation Department provides crewleaders, vans, tools, projects, crewleader training, environmental education and some youth salary funds. Partners provide the majority of youth salaries, job readiness training and things like boots and gloves.
Why it Works
Sally Prouty, executive director of NASCC, says she knows why youth corps works.
“I saw hundreds of young men and women come into the corps looking down at their toes. After two or three months, they would look me in the eye and tell me about their plans to get their lives in order, to go back to school, to move into jobs or college. They would talk about making good decisions and improving their chances for a better life. Every community should have a corps.”
As for Tonya, she plans on going to college next year to study either business or the environment. She says the youth corps experience helped her because, “having a job helps you set your boundaries.” Tonya said she was surprised to learn that Conservation Department worked with people as well as the land.
“I knew what the Conservation office was. But I didn’t know how involved they were with the communities.”