Field of Teams
Tall, ghost lights surround an abandoned baseball field next to the Charleston Baptist Association Camp near Benton. Rolled-up outfield fence rusts in a nearby trash pile. Two bases, overgrown with grasses and desert-like plants, remain anchored in the sandy soil.
Twenty-five years ago, local church teams spotted fly balls courtesy of those 1500-watt beacons. These days, another kind of illumination guides the teams of young men and women at work and play here. Under the summer sun these youngsters chase down native seed, swing away at invasive trees, dig firelines and, sad but true, throw out the last traces of the ball diamond.
“There’s a couple of the poles we pulled out. Here’s some of the fence we tore up. That building right there? We knocked it over,” said James, pointing out projects his seven-member team completed over the summer of 2004. “It’s one of the last sand prairies in Missouri and we’re helping to preserve it. That’s pretty cool.”
James and his crew are part of a Missouri Conservation Department summer program. The Southeast Youth Conservation Corps is now in its third year of operation. Although there are additional SYCC crews in Marble Hill, Cape Girardeau, Scott City and Pilot Knob, James’ crew is unique. At the end of the day, the members return to the same place—the Division of Youth Services (DYS) facility in New Madrid.
Those Were The Days
The idea of paying young people to improve the environment dates back to the Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1941, more than three million young men fought fires, planted trees, built parks and, most importantly, learned to care about the outdoors as members of the great social and conservation experiment called the Civilian Conservation Corps.
In Missouri, over 100,000 out-of-work “CCC boys” between the ages of 16 and 25 lived in 41 camps scattered around the state. For their work, they earned $30 a week, $25 of which was sent home to their parents.
This concept lives on as Youth Conservation Corps. Today, 32 states have Youth Conservation Corps, employing more than 23,000 young men and women annually.
Prairie Home Companions
Southeast Youth Corps members range in age from 15 to 19. They come from rural and urban settings, representing a cultural cross-section. Many members hail from low-income families.
“When you come out here, you see a lot of stuff you don’t hardly ever see. I think it’s very educational,” said Dustin, another member of the DYS crew. He