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Adventure, opps abound: Northwest Youth Corps to celebrate 40 years of service

Through a successful combination of the outdoors, work ethic, and personal drive, the Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) will soon celebrate its 40th year as a nonprofit, with a goal to transform the lives of the youth who participate in the program and increase values in the community.

The stats don’t lie: since 1984, the nonprofit has accumulated 29,116 partcipatnts contributing to 3,518,480 hours of conservation service-work, and $28,554,687 paid to youth and young adults.

Jeff Parker, the executive director, said the 40th year of service, “is proof that NYC is both a strategy and a solution to many of the challenges that we face in society.”

The nonprofit centers around programs helping participants gain fundamental job skills and experience through initiatives that better the planet.  

“There are very few places you can go where tomorrow I can put a tool in your hand that you can be making a difference in the climate,” Parker said.

The nonprofit partners with land management agencies and like-minded non-profits across the West to complete high- priority conservation projects designed to improve the lands and communities. Typical projects include trail building, fuels reduction, habitat enhancement, or stream restoration.

Northwest Youth Corps this month announced it was one of the 2023 recipients of a National Park Foundation Service Corps grant. The award nods to the program’s success within its National Park Service partnership, having contributed 158 youth and interns, alongside 106 crew and 52 intern participants within the National Park Service. 

Throughout the year, the participants:

  • Maintained 41 miles of trails
  • Constructed 1,520 feet of new trails
  • Obliterated 45 social trails
  • Built 31 trail structures
  • Maintained 366 drainage structures 
  • Removed 34 cubic feet of marine debris
  • Removed 22 acres of noxious weeds
  • Installed 4,947 native plants
  • Planted 28 pounds of seeds
  • Washed 4,000 plant pots
  • Applied 400 feet of weed cloth
  • Collected 1,000 native seeds

Some of the sites included Crater Lake National Park in Southern Oregon; John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in north-central Oregon; Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial in western Washington; Mount Rainier National Park in west-central Washington; Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in central Idaho; and Manhattan Project National Historical Park in New Mexico.

The programs put participants in better footing to reach their career goals, whether it be educators, doctors, or wilderness rangers. Programs include residential conservation crews for both youth and young adults, local community crews, community wildfire protection crews, an internship program for college-aged participants, and a fully accredited high school.

“I got so much more out of the program than I had ever expected to. I got to develop a lot of work skills, like my chainsaw training, plant identification, and all sorts of things like that. And as a person, I grew more than I ever have,” said Jasper Hanson, a 21-year-old from this year’s Expedition Crew of the Young Adult program. “I learned a lot of conflict resolution skills and how to coexist in such close quarters for such long periods with other people. Physically, I’ve never been healthier from working long days and eating good scheduled meals. I grew professionally, personally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually in just five months.”

That program focused on chainsaw training for Sawyer Certification and invasive removal, specifically blackberries and scotch broom bushes, and developed recreation, like campground maintenance and fire pit replacement. He also helped with habitat restoration of an aspen grove to promote their growth and the habitat of the elk, and beaver dam analogs to restore the wetland environment and encourage the beavers to come back.

“While it was one of the most challenging things that I have ever willingly done, it was so much more than worth it,” Hanson said.

Linna and Mike Straub, native Oregonians of Hood River and Springfield, have been a part of the NYC for several years, and have had six of their own kids go through NYC along with some of their foster kids. 

Their first child, Mary, participated in the youth camping program in 1986. From there it became a family tradition. Two of their kids, Mary and Jim, work in forestry management and state organizations for forestry because of the opportunities they saw after participating in NYC. 

“It’s unique in the fact that it’s pretty unusual nowadays for teenagers to be exposed to a strong work ethic,” Linna said. “It’s a real benefit for kids to go into it not knowing that they’ll be able to really do something that hard because it’s hard physical work, it’s a new experience for them.” 

The opportunities the NYC provides can be used as stepping stones toward a career in natural resource management, outdoor recreation, forestry, or working for other environmental nonprofits. Or it can be used to gain easily transferable job skills, travel to new places, meet new people, and spend weeks immersed in the nature of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

The NYC is about 40% male, 40% female, and 20% non-binary or transgender. Racially, about 30 to 35% is noncaucasian. The nonprofit is proud of both sets of statistics as conservation and natural resources have been primarily a white male career pathway and demographically, the percentage of noncaucasian participants is much higher than in the local area.

The goal for the future is “to reach deeper into the communities, working with community partners to create wraparound services for our participants,” Parker said. “NYC wants to be able to have a good hand off for a young person that comes from somewhere to us, and then we hand them off to the next thing — whether that’s academia or a community organization that is providing continued job search support for them.”

For Parker, celebrating a 40-year milestone only has him looking toward the future.

“It’s really about looking at the next 40 years. What’s the impact we’re going to have going forward as an organization and a management team and leadership team? There’s no question about the impact that we can have. The only question is, what’s the ultimate scale? How much deeper impact can we have on our communities across the Northwest?”

If interested, there are several programs through the NYC, including: 

  • Youth programs (benefits: stipend and school credit)
  • Youth community program (ages 15-18)
  • Youth camping program (ages 16-18)
  • Backcountry leadership program (ages 16-19)
  • Young adult programs (benefits: stipend and AmeriCorps education award)
  • Young adult program (ages 19+) 
  • Community wildlife protection program (ages 19-26) 
  • Leadership development program (ages 19-26) 
  • Internships/staff
  • Internship program (benefits: stipend and benefits based on position)
  • Field staff (ages 21+) (benefits: varies on position)

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