2018 Project of the Year: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps - Health Care Share Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Health Care Share program of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) recruits young adults to serve outdoors, in small teams, on tangible projects that benefit Vermont communities. Through service and meaningful employment, young adults gain a profound sense of agency and an understanding of what it means to serve neighbors in need.

With partial support from AmeriCorps, VYCC Farm Crews grow fresh, local, organic food from March through November. This food is then packaged in weekly and/or monthly shares (much like CSA – Community Supported Agriculture) and delivered to hospitals, medical centers, and community clinics. Medical centers, in turn, identify patients and employees who have distinct needs (food insecurity, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.) and would thus benefit from the program. Health Care Share recipients receive shares for six months of the year, as do VYCC Corpsmembers. Additionally, Corpsmembers receive extensive nutrition education and undergo VYCC’s Food and Finance course. 

In 2017, the Health Care Shares initiative engaged 88 Corpsmembers and Crew Leaders. Seventy-two Corpsmembers benefited from the Food and Finance curriculum, and 72 Corpsmembers and their families received a Health Care Share. This is of particular importance as most Corpsmembers come from low-income households.

Throughout the year, Health Care Share Corpsmembers completed an anticipated 50 weeks of service, totaling approximately 10,800 service hours. Additionally, 700 volunteers contributed 2,800 service hours for an estimated financial value of $16,900. By year’s end, roughly 140,000 pounds of food will have been distributed to 500 families, benefitting approximately 1,700 individuals. In addition to the Farm at VYCC, 13 partner farms benefitted greatly from labor provided by VYCC’s Farm Crews. VYCC Farm Crews are, increasingly seen as a valued, nimble, and affordable labor source for farmers during critical moments of the growing and harvesting season.

While the Farm at VYCC has enrolled Corpsmembers to work on the Health Care Share for five summers, 2017 was marked by innovation in several ways:

  1. Expansion – Historically, all farm production happened on VYCC’s nine-acre diversified vegetable and poultry farm. This past growing season, the Farm program fielded crews in three additional Vermont communities: Richmond, Newport, and Bristol. Expansion allowed VYCC to enroll more young adults and add new partners.
  2. New Partners – At each Health Care Share distribution site, VYCC facilitates the formation and operation of “FOOD” teams - Fundraising, Operations, Organization, and Decision-making. These groups are comprised of community and municipal representatives with a stake in public health, nutrition, food security, and local agriculture, as well as youth advocacy, education, and workforce development. Each community that benefits from the Health Care Share brings new partners to this collaboration. This year saw five partner farms join in Rutland. The Newport Crew worked on a community farm managed by the Vermont Land Trust. Farm crews also gleaned produce on seven additional farms to secure additional produce. Partnering medical centers and communities include UVM, Central Vermont, Rutland Regional, and, new this year, North Country Medical Center in Newport. Lastly, VYCC was thrilled that the Farm now receives AmeriCorps funding directly from the Corporation for National Community Service through the SerVermont state commission.
  3. New Education Outcomes – Piloting the Food and Finance curriculum was a great success. This course teaches Corpsmembers how to stretch a budget and, in doing so, establish healthy dietary habits.

​Because the Health Care Share directly benefits community members, there is a real marketing opportunity. VYCC has raised its public profile in towns hosting Farm Crews and seen an uptick in applications, particularly from women. Farming has become a recruitment strategy as it appears to be quite popular among young adults. Additionally, VYCC’s work in food security has attracted the attention of philanthropists who otherwise would likely not be interested in the Corps.

With pluck and determination, Health Care Shares is replicable. For other Corps interested in this type of program, they offer the following insights:

  • Virtually all hospitals have Community Benefit Funds. In VYCC’s experience, the leaders of many medical institutions have been open to innovation.
  • Because VYCC provides food to hospital patients, they consider this fee-for-service revenue, much like traditional revenues used to build and maintain trails.
  • Farms have significant labor demands for roughly nine months out of the year. As such, there are opportunities for Corps to extend the length of service beyond the summer. For example, modest investments in greenhouses not only extend the growing season, but extend the learning, work and service season.
  • Hiring is key. One needs to find a farmer and educator to help operate the program.

Of primary importance, the Farm at VYCC has increased VYCC’s capacity to offer the Corps experience to youth and young adults. Their ability to enhance learning outcomes is equally strengthened, as are their connections to the community.

Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 2

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer-fall of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences from the road.


By Jordan Katcher

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I’m focusing my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors. This summer, I’m traveling across the country, and conducting site visits with Conservation Corps that have implemented/are implementing single identity-based initiatives for underrepresented populations within the Conservation world. To read more about my research project, and to read about my upper Midwest site visits, check out my first blog post here.

For my second trip, I ventured through the Northeast region to conduct site visits with Maine Conservation Corps and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Below is a brief snapshot of my visits:


Visits in the Northeast:

Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) Site Visits – Augusta, Maine

Since I was taking a personal trip to Maine, I decided to visit Maine Conservation Corps to learn more about their opportunities for veterans. While MCC doesn’t currently have a single identity-based crew, I was interested to learn about their philosophy on an integrated model. For MCC, they believe that having diverse teams brings about new exposures, perspectives, and learning experiences for all members involved.

Throughout my visits, a reoccurring topic is the distinction and purpose behind both single identity-based crews and integrated crews: what are the benefits of either, and how do you choose which crew to implement? On top of that, individuals inhabit multiple identities at a time – all of which are on a spectrum – so how do you create program models that are inclusive of those multiple identities within a single crew?

For MCC, they’ve been working on ways to meet the mandate from AmeriCorps to provide opportunities for veterans to serve with Conservation Corps. Previously, MCC operated their Veteran Community Leader program, in which veterans came together for 11 weeks of training, and were then assigned to single-placement positions with a host site. After funding fell through, they transitioned to an integrated model with veterans serving with non-veterans on conservation crews.

MCC struggles with recruiting veterans. In part, this is because, while Maine has a higher veteran population, most of the state’s veterans are older. Additionally, MCC does not provide higher stipends for veterans. Because veterans serve on the same crew as non-veterans, it is difficult to justify paying them more for the same amount of work as their fellow crew members. However, MCC has found that they have a lot of success in recruitment when they have a veteran coordinator; someone who served in the military can better connect with potential applicants.

Resources that MCC would find useful to their organization include: (1) strategies they can implement to ensure that veterans who commit to serving actually begin their service, and (2) information about different program models, including best outcomes and funding resources.


Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) Site Visits – Richmond, Vermont

Previously, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps had a crew for blind and visually impaired members. Recently, after a few serendipitous encounters with The Forest Service, Corps That, and the Lexington School & Center for the Deaf in New York, VYCC’s goal to provide opportunities for Deaf and Hard of Hearing members came to fruition. They launched their first crew last summer using an integrated model; their crew included both Deaf and hearing members. In the future, they’d love to see multiple American Sign Language (ASL) crews for different age groups, as well as provide both single identity-based and integrated crews.

Last summer, they had two crew leaders: one was Deaf and the other was hearing, and both leaders signed. This seemed like the ideal arrangement for their integrated model. This year, they were unable to recruit a Deaf crew leader, which became a struggle for this year’s crews. VYCC is constantly evaluating and redefining their program models and resources on a seasonal basis, and presently, they implement both Silent Meals and Silent Days, where all crew members can only communicate through ASL. This not only creates a more inclusive environment for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, but it also challenges hearing members and in turn, provides for new growth opportunities in how they communicate with one another.

For VYCC, they really want to invest in Deaf-specific education curriculum, not only for their crew members, but also for their entire organization. They do provide a workshop led by a Deaf instructor that teaches about Deaf culture, which has been a great asset to their crews.

What VYCC has found is that in terms of recruitment, making meaningful connections and relationships with Deaf schools, programs, and organizations is key. They originally cast a broad net for applicants, but they’ve realized when they put more filters on crew member positions, a smaller population arises that really wants the positions. For them, targeted outreach has been a challenge.

Funding is really at the heart of whether they can increase their resources or not; if they had the funds, VYCC would absolutely hire a Deaf/ASL-fluent field supervisor, which would increase their amount of applicants and strengthen their programming. Their partnership with The Forest Service provides traditional fee for service dollars, but not for developing curriculum, which is something they’d really like to invest in for the future.

If VYCC could change one thing from when they first implemented these ASL opportunities, they would have been more proactive about creating an inclusive workshop focused on Deaf culture for everyone, including their board members, their employees, and their crew leaders/members.

VYCC critically evaluates their opportunities for crew members and the intended outcomes of these experiences. For VYCC, the end goal is to not only empower crew members within their own identity group, but to help them know their identity within a larger, diversified setting.

Resources that would be beneficial to VYCC include: (1) funding resources for both Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, (2) greater opportunities for hearing students to strengthen their ASL skills for future employment as interpreters, and (3) increased sharing of resources related to developing new crews. 

Stay tuned for the last leg of my road trip adventures in September, where I’ll be venturing through the Southwest region! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions related to my research, always feel free to reach me at jkatcher@uoregon.edu. Thank you for reading!

Engaging Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Youth in the Outdoors

Inclusivity in the Corps World

Everyone faces small daily challenges and uncertainties. Fortunately, for many of us in this country, our troubles are relatively trivial. For those in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community, however, communication barriers can make it prohibitively difficult to participate in basic interactions. In recognition of Deaf History Month, we’re looking at steps taken by America’s service and conservation Corps to make the workplace and the outdoors more accessible for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.

Unfortunately, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals have fewer employment options due to a lack of resources in the workplace and preconceived notions about their abilities. It can be particularly difficult for a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing young person with limited job experience to gain a foothold in the workforce. Recognizing this issue, the Corps community has gradually increased the presence of inclusive crews since the mid-1970’s and early 1980’s.

Based on the model of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, modern Corps are locally-based organizations that engage youth and recent veterans in service projects that address conservation and community needs. Through their service, Corps participants – or “Corpsmembers” – gain work experience and develop in-demand skills. Corpsmembers are compensated with a modest stipend and have access to mentors and counselors.

There are over 130 Corps across the country. While not all Corps have the resources to offer disability inclusion programs, several have made concerted efforts to expand their inclusivity. There are currently five Corps across the nation that provide employment, service, and volunteering opportunities for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing youth and young adults. Corps with such programs include, Northwest Youth Corps (OR/WA), Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (MN), Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (NM), Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VT), and Utah Conservation Corps (UT). We reached out to these organizations, as well as CorpsTHAT, a non-profit specializing in helping Corps develop ASL-inclusion programs.

How it Works

Corps typically operate under a “crew model” in which Corpsmembers serve together in small teams under the supervision of trained adults. ASL inclusive crews typically consist of hearing participants, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing participants, and ASL interpreters. Members of these crews work together on building and improving trails, restoring habitats, removing invasive species, and numerous other conservation projects. Projects usually take place on public lands and waters, including properties managed by agencies like the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

Through inclusive crews, Corps help people in the Deaf community explore the outdoors in a safe, welcoming manner. In addition to learning about cultural differences, participants in inclusive crews gain valuable leadership and communication skills as they create bonds with those who may be different from themselves.

“It gives members a chance to gain empowering real-life skills through a meaningful employment experience,” said Sean Damitz, Director of Utah Conservation Corps.  

The primary goal for Corps that provide these programs is to diversify populations they serve and promote cultural exchange among youth in their programs. Although some youth are pushed out of their comfort zones, learning new ways to communicate and work with others is extremely valuable.

Progression of Inclusion Practices

In the Midwest

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa has served youth in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community since the mid-1970s. What started as a business relationship between the Corps and local summer camps for the Deaf, flourished into the inclusion of Deaf individuals in CCMI programs over the last thirty years.

Under CCMI's crew model, the majority of Corpsmembers and crew leaders are Deaf, but there are a few hearing youth, as well as a crew leader who interprets. Other Corps, such as Northwest Youth Corps, have crews comprised entirely of Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing youth, with the occasional participant who is the child of Deaf adults. Still other programs incorporate a few Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing youth into a crew comprised predominately of hearing youth. All of these models provide participants of different abilities the opportunity to teach one another about their different cultures while working towards the common goal of completing the conservation project at hand.

Keeping Deaf individuals in leadership positons has proven to be a challenge for CCMI. Jonathan Goldenberg, CCMI’s Summer Youth Corps Program Manager explains, “As we do not have a full-time office staff member who is fluent in ASL, it becomes harder to share our program with the Deaf community.”

Working with new project sponsors has also been somewhat of a challenge. Project sponsors are usually local, state and federal resource management agencies that engage the Corps in conservation service. In the beginning, sponsors are a little unsure how to interact with the inclusive crews. After that initial awkwardness, however, a comfort level develops between both groups. The essential goal for CCMI’s inclusion program is to transcend fear of communication with those of various backgrounds.

“Many hearing youth have never had the opportunity to interact with Deaf youth, and the Deaf youth have the opportunity to share their language and culture with hearing youth who are super excited to learn (and in that, the Deaf youth learn from the hearing youth as well),” said Goldberg.

In the Pacific Northwest

In 2013, with the help of CorpsTHAT founders Emma Bixler and Sachiko Flores, Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) began their first disability inclusion crew. Although the first season was small, over the years it has grown into a renowned program, winning The Corps Network’s 2017 Project of the Year Award.

NYC’s success comes from offering two programs: one consisting of youth ages 16-19, the second with adults ages 19-24. Participants in each session work for five to eight weeks, which allows two sessions each summer. Crews travel throughout Washington, doing various types of restoration work in state and national parks and forests. The initial goal of starting a program like this was to provide Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals support, a comfortable space, and an equitable environment to experience the outdoors in our hearing-dominant world.

Even though NYC has experienced many successes with this program, they continue to face lack of support. Inclusion Coordinator, Darian Lightfoot states, “The largest challenge I’ve seen is people being unaware of Deaf culture and how to support equitable communication. All the information that hearing people are exposed to should be accessible to people using ASL, and that doesn’t always happen.”

Despite the communication barrier, hearing youth request to be on the ASL inclusion crew. This is a prime example of how valuable inclusive crews are to everyone involved. Lightfoot explains, “These hearing youth are able to see that the participants in the ASL inclusion crew are their peers and enjoy all the same things as them.”

In New England

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) continues the progression of inclusive crews, recently winning a Public Lands Alliance Award for their partnership with the US Forest Service (USFS) to engage the Deaf community. Last year, VYCC expanded their partnership with USFS through a collaboration with the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, NY. Through these partnerships, VYCC provided a cutting-edge inclusive conservation program. Youth completed various conservation projects at Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests in Vermont and New York.

During the four-week program, hearing members quickly adapted to using sign language, and Hard-of-Hearing youth were provided the support to successfully complete the projects at hand. Executive Director Breck Knauft states, “Having Deaf and hearing Corpsmembers work side-by-side exemplifies our belief that bringing people from different backgrounds together in service creates conditions for powerful learning.” VYCC also serves youth with different types of disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, vision impairment and blindness.

“The most rewarding aspect is watching people grow through their experience and overcome challenges they found daunting at the start of their service. Seeing the changes someone may go through in just 4 weeks is amazing. Also, talking with people whose lives were impacted be the program in the past, I often hear stories of people who were on a crew long ago and it changed their outlook on life”, Patrick Pfeifer, Conservation Program Director.

Barriers to Inclusion

“Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Corps programs are very important because Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people are often excluded from serving country and community due to the barriers and lack of opportunities,” said Emma Bixler and Sachiko Flores, founders of CorpsTHAT. “Corps programs help open great opportunities for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people to volunteer, show their community involvement on their résumés, and use their experience to obtain jobs.”

However, developing a successful inclusion program is not easy. Created in 2007, the Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) inclusive crew has seen its fair share of setbacks in terms of procuring funding and sponsors to run their program on an annual basis. Even so, their main challenge continues to be the accessibility of recreational sites. Their program engages individuals with various types of physical disabilities, not just those from the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing community.

UCC developed a disability inclusion toolkit to inspire Corps around the country to develop their own inclusive programs. UCC credits accessibility condition surveys as the critical first step in determining if spaces are safe and welcoming for disabled participants on their crew. These surveys include a variety of tests and measurements: Are trails passable by a wheelchair? Do videos in the interpretation center have closed captions? In 2009, UCC assisted the U.S. Forest Service in developing a national database of information on the accessibility of public lands.

As opposed to more obvious structural issues that may limit the work of other inclusive crews, CorpsTHAT considers people’s assumptions and misunderstandings as the major barriers faced by Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing crews specifically. For the most part, the average hearing person has limited or no experience working with Deaf individuals. Both parties face fears of miscommunication, inaccurate assumptions, and lack of confidence in their ability to perform.

“When Deaf participants have full access to communication and are on the crews with other Deaf participants, the uncertainty is removed and all participants are able to have a barrier-free experience,” Said Bixler and Flores.

CorpsTHAT believes inclusion crews have unique benefits hearing crews lack. For example, inclusion crews’ productivity and attention level is at a higher rate than hearing crews. Due to their inability to comfortably communicate and work at the same time or hold side conversations, interruptions are scarce; all their focus and energy is geared towards completing the task at hand. Another benefit of inclusion crews is the strength of Deaf crew members’ visual-spatial abilities, which aid in solving problems or completing projects faster.

Though inclusive crews offer numerous benefits, one of the most rewarding aspects is providing all individuals – regardless of their abilities – the opportunity to serve our country through conservation efforts. Feeling safe and comfortable working outdoors is something many of us take for granted; these programs make conservation work something that more people can experience. Inclusive crews at Corps demonstrate that any workplace can adjust be more inclusive. The young people on these crews start off as strangers, but they face communication barriers head on and take the time to understand one another, despite cultural differences.

An Interview with Thomas Hark, a 2017 Corps Legacy Achievement Awardee

Thomas Hark, formerly of Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, is a 2017 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner. We interviewed Thomas to learn more about him and his experience in the Corps movement. Click here to read his bio. 

Tell us a little bit about your background, where you come from.

I grew up in Minnesota and in my junior year of college took a summer job with the federal YCC program in Young Harris Georgia.  I had offers at 19 national parks but was oddly drawn to this small, indiscrete, operation in northern Georgia.  It changed the course of my life.


How did you become involved in Service and Conservation Corps? What were you doing before?

I thought I would return the next year to the federal YCC program and direct a camp of my own.  However, that year President Reagan froze federal funds and all but eliminated the YCC program.  I was shocked. 

An idea kept rolling around in my head and soon turned into a graduate thesis:  What are the necessary and critical elements to creating a public-private YCC program. I believed it was possible and was determined to prove it.

I graduated from college and took a job directing the Minnesota YCC summer program and when I learned that Minnesota would be hosting a national meeting on how to start a YCC I immediately and enthusiastically signed up. 

My application was rejected as I was an under employed college graduate with no professional experience to my name.  Yes, I had enthusiasm and passion but truly nothing else.  However, the night before the conference I got a call.  Organizers needed someone to pick guests up at airport and drive them 40 miles to the Wilder Conference center.  I jumped!

I was able to meet everyone who had anything do with YCCs at the time…legendary Robert Burkhart from the SFCC, Joanna Lennon from East May YCC and many others.

I also met an individual from Vermont, Peter Comart, who was there because a piece of legislation just passed with a one dollar appropriation and he wanted to learn how to put one of these programs together. Suffice it to say I overwhelmed him with passion and enthusiasm.

It was a match made in heaven.  I didn’t need much being hungry for a job and he did not have much to offer, outside an opportunity.  However, I had ideas and a plan, untested, and perhaps a little crazy.  They were game and promised all their support.  A few months later I was in Vermont.

One dollar.  No desk.  No phone. While I was wildly excited as it felt like the opportunity of a lifetime, the state agency apparently did not know I was even coming, as of course a one dollar appropriation was not much of a mandate.

I landed in May 10th and had my first 5 Enrollees working by mid-June.  I thought I would say a few years and then go home to Minnesota. 

However, what happened was significant growth every year, an outlet for endless creativity and experimentation, and an enormous amount of fun…25 years later I realized I was not going anywhere.  I loved Vermont.  VYCC was my vocation.  While I didn’t make much of a paycheck, I absolutely loved my work.  I literally pinched myself some nights after working 12+ hours, as I left work, thinking how it was possible to be so happy!

That one dollar was eventually, over thirty years leveraged to more than 50,000,000 dollars, more than 6000 alumni, and a 400 acre campus and to die for training center.

However, what was so cool was to have work that mattered and where every day I could see the positive life-changing impacts on the lives of others be they enrollees, staff, or others in the community, similar to my initial YCC experience in Georgia.

Part of the driving force was to emulate my hero, Liz Cornish, the camp director that hired me against her better judgment, supported me, challenged me, and in the process changed my life. I never forgot and I always have tried to live up to her example.


Who are some of your heroes? What did they do to inspire you?

Liz Cornish, the Camp Director in Young Harris YCC.  She was an incredibly talented Outward Bound Instructor who knew how to build teams by bringing the best out of each person.  She pushed me to my absolute limits and in the process created in me a hunger to help do the same for others.


Describe some of your most memorable experiences working in youth development.

The Mission of VYCC was for each member of the organization to fully embrace, adopt, and live by the idea of taking personal responsibility for all of their actions, what they say and what they do….

A young women was fired.  She was having an “exclusive” relationship which was prohibited as the goal was for each crew of incredibly diverse individuals in the short month long residential experience, to truly get to know each other and build a strong community.  Something not possible if two people spent all their time together and in so doing were not part of the community.

She could not have disagreed more with this rule.  However, she knew going in what was expected, she had had chances, and now VYCC was following through. She was sent home.

Several months afterwards I received a letter saying she still strongly disagreed with the rule…and she was angry…however, not because of this rule.  She went on to explain that upon her return this idea of personal responsibility that was woven into every aspect of VYCC life had just stuck with her, she couldn’t shake it.  And thus her whole life had changed.  Everyone in her life seemed different as no one seemed to take responsibility for anything.  It was incredibly disturbing.  She could never go back to being like them as VYCC had changed her.

She still didn’t like the rule but she was so thankful for the experience as this one idea around personal responsibility was empowering.  She was now in control.  She made decisions and good or bad, she owned them.  She felt like a whole new person. And she was.


Given your experience, what is the primary piece of wisdom you would give to a young person currently enrolled in a Corps?

Whatever you do, give it everything you have, or get out. It is your choice. It really is.


What is the primary piece of advice you would give to staff at Corps?

A poem by Marge Percy was recited by Robert Burkhart at the opening session of that conference in Minnesota on how to start a Corps.  The poem was entitled “To be of Use. A line in said “The work of the world is as common as mud…done well it is a Hopi vase that holds water and satisfies thirst for centuries…done poorly it becomes falls apart becoming dust…

Whatever you do.  Dot it with all your heart. Do it as well as you possibly can.  Take joy in it. Have passion. Have fun with it.  Take chances.  Don’t be afraid to fail. Embrace your successes and failures as just two sides of the same coin treating both the same.  Keep moving forward as hard as it can be at times.

This is what I have shared countless times.


In the future, what developments would you like to see happen in the Corps movement?

What I told folks when I first came to Vermont was that I believed every young Vermonter who wanted to have this experience should.  This belief drove everything I did.

I now have expanded my view.  I believe every young adult in our Nation who wants to work hard, make a difference, and grow as a person should have this opportunity. 

When I left VYCC I took some time to think and reflect and my conclusion was that this is powerful important work.  More, we live in a time where it is absolutely crucial that we instill character, virtue, practical wisdom, and what I call bed rock American values in every young American.  As we do, we will change our Country.  We can again become that shining city on the hill.  A beacon again for all the world.


What do you hope your legacy will be?

I set out to test an idea.  That idea was to create a successful public-private venture that, based on quality outcomes, and a solid business model, would last the test of time, providing these incredible life changing experiences, called YCC, to generation after generation.  A model that would withstand whatever political winds happened to be blowing.  A model that would teach practical leadership skills so that every alumni would make a difference for their own family, place of work, community and state, and through this nation. 

Each of us has it in us to change the world, or at least our small corner of it. Let’s do that!


Being Lake Wise with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps

Article, written by , appears on the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation's Watershed Management Division blog.

In late July, a few residents at Lake Dunmore participating in the Lake Wise Program were selected to have some shoreland Best Management Practices (BMPs) installed on their lakeshore properties. The labor was provided by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps(VYCC).

Lake Wise award winning participant Kate Williams of Leicester proposed to her neighbors that the community beach area could be more lake-friendly by making a few improvements as recommended by the Lake Wise site visit team. The community liked the idea and purchased the minimal materials needed for the project. The VYCC crew did the installation of a wide set of infiltration steps to control erosion where community members access the lake with canoes and sailboats. A small berm/swale to shorten the distance needed for water flowing downhill to move into the wet no-mow zone was installed and the children’s lakeside sand ‘pit’ was given wooden sides that will contain the spread of the activity area and hopefully keep more sand in the pit and out of the lake. And though more vegetation is needed on this site, a number of native blueberry plants were planted in clusters along the lakeshore.

Also in Leicester, the VYCC crew helped to reduce surface erosion on a steep slope at Sue Potter’s residence by leveling existing paths and steps, installing rock-toe and an infiltration trench, and most importantly- -lots of groundcover planting! Sue was very pleased with the results saying, “I am more impressed than ever with the result of the effort these young people put into the project.  I am so thankful to have won their help. The project is really very nice and already made an impression on the neighbors!  I have given your contact information to a neighbor wanting to be involved with the Lake Wise Program and more people are asking me about it.  It probably helps that I point to my award sign every time someone goes by the dock!”

Amy Picotte and Eddie Haynes with the help of volunteer Peggy Barter, visit several homes a week on Lake Seymour in Morgan and are finding that lakeshore residents are really appreciating the visits and useful tips provided by the Lake Wise program. For more information on Lake Wise, please contact Amy or Eddie at: Amy.Picotte@state.vt.us    Eddie.Haynes@state.vt.us

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps School Crew Builds a Disc Golf Course

Article written by Melody McKnight and appears in the VYCC U32-Montpelier High School Crew Blog

So much has happened in such a short time! After finishing at Osprey Hill Farm earlier in the month, our crew was asked by the U-32 Athletics department to help in the creation of a bona-fide disc golf course for the school. Previously all disc-golf on school grounds had been played using two strips of flagging tape wrapped around trees to indicate hole locations. While somewhat functional, this left a lot to be desired by anyone who had played on a real course.

Our first task was to tour the proposed course with Steve and Jeff and determine if any of the holes should/could be shifted. During this process we also flagged out approximately how wide each “green” around the hole would need to be to create a safe space for players.

We spent time shifting a few of the holes to be more visible or easily accessible from the trail to make the course as user friendly as possible. Once we finished our tour of the locations, we started in on the course.

We averaged about 1.5 holes/tees each day for the whole project. This may not sound like a lot, but each hole was a 20 foot diameter circle (314 square feet!) that needed to be leveled, cleared of roots, and brushed down to mineral soil. The tees, while smaller, were often situated next to large trees, and so there were many more roots to contend with while shaping them.

A few of excavation sites turned up some forest critters, which we did our best to relocate away from any holes or tees.

To avoid the forest underbrush reclaiming the holes, we needed to cover each clearing with wood chips. Rather than pay for woodchips to surface a total of more than 3000 square feet of hole/tee area, we opted to collect debris from the forest and utilize U-32’s woodchipper to create our surfacing material. Many thanks to Charlie, who helped us greatly in chipping and collecting the wood for this project.

On the last day of the project, our students helped Alpha-test the course and determine what some of the pars should be by playing through all nine holes together.

Currently, the course still needs to have baskets installed, but this will hopefully be happening over the summer and then the U-32 Disc Golf course will be ready for action! Stay tuned!


Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Boosts Local Economy and Walkability of Vermont’s Capital City

Each year, working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS), Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) utilizes federal transportation funds to employ more than 50 diverse youth who complete 24 weeks of work on community-based projects all over the state. These projects include work along rail trails, community transportation linkages, and other highly visible transportation enhancement projects. VTRANS has enthusiastically welcomed the partnership with VYCC as a way to introduce young people to the value of community service, diversity, education, job training, and the many rewarding careers in the transportation industry.

For the past 3 years, the Corps has been working on an important transportation project in Montpelier, the capital city of Vermont. The challenge was to help provide an improved route for employees working in the large National Life office complex to reach downtown Montpelier. The National Life complex houses Vermont’s third largest private employer, as well as over 1,400 Vermont State employees. Before construction of the National Life Trail, employees walking downtown from the National Life complex, as well as residents of an adjacent neighborhood, had to choose between following a mile long route along the side of a highly trafficked street, or taking a makeshift path straight down a steep hill, known as the “Goat Path.” Neither choice provided safe or accessible passage. The new trail transformed this tiny, eroded, and treacherous path into a beautiful trail and connected the city’s largest office building to the downtown area.

Given the high level of human activity within the area, as well as the very steep nature of the trail, the Corps and its crews were presented with new challenges in regard to safety, as well as the logistics of transporting large boulders and materials to build stone staircases. But ultimately, the 3 years of complex project work boosted the technical skills of VYCC staff and crewmembers in building trails.

More specifically, The National Life Trail project required the use of rigging, including a highline system for the duration of the project. All the stone for the site was imported from a quarry outside Montpelier and was brought to the project site by truck. It was then unloaded and transported downhill via mechanized equipment to a point where the slope became too steep. At that point the stone was transitioned to the highline system, lifted into the air, and dropped at its specific location on the trail, often in the exact location it was needed to create a step. The crew was “flying stone” in close proximity to a heavily traveled road and thus safety and control concerns were heightened throughout the project.

Across three summers, 130 large stone stairs were installed by 28 youth using specialized rigging equipment. These young people were trained through VTRANS’ support which enabled the VYCC to host two specialized rigging trainings for Crewleaders and staff members. Based on the success of this project and with the skills gained, the VYCC has more freely incorporated grip hoists and highline systems into other projects. Corpsmembers and Crewleaders on these crews were able to quickly learn the fundamentals and their use of a highline system furthered their technical skills experience.

Jessica Satterfield of Greenville, SC was one of the Corpsmembers who worked on the project. She has said that her greatest accomplishment was “independently leading the construction of a dry‐stack retaining wall at the lower terminus of the National Life Trail.” The technical and interpersonal skills Jessica gained from the project were a great addition to her resume and helped her to secure continued employment in the professional trail building industry. After completing her term of service with the Corps, Jessica was hired by Timber and Stone, a Vermont based professional trail building company.

Sherry Smecker Winnie, Recreational Trails Program Administrator for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, & Recreation works in the National Life Office Complex. She says that “People here at National Life appreciate the trails.  I see folks every day getting outdoors onto the trails at lunch, to run, walk, or go downtown. At lunch I do a run or a walk on the trails. I can walk downtown in 5-10 minutes on this trail. I’ve used it to go to the State House, the Credit Union, to get a flu shot & to my favorite boutique. People use the trail to go to meetings downtown. Travel time is the same if you take a car. I get to save money for not having to pay for a parking space. I get fresh air, I don’t emit gas, I think more clearly & I get my daily physical exercise. It will be snowing soon enough & soon I’ll be using the trails to snowshoe & cross-country ski at lunch. And guess what? There’s even employees from different departments who sign up to volunteer to maintain the trails with National Life.”

The National Life Trail project is an example of how Corps can utilize funding streams from both public and private sources to better the environment and the community. By helping Montpelier residents access the downtown in a safer, more environmentally friendly manner, VYCC’s construction of the National Life Trail is certainly work that matters.

International Students Benefit by Growing Food with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps [w/ Video]

From Vermont Youth Conservation Corps

Ali Al Jarah glides around the VYCC commercial kitchen like a seasoned chef.  He balances cooking pots and trays being wrapped for overnight storage.  It is like Ali has done this before, but this is new.  Very new.  Ali, a 16 year-old resident of Winooski, moved with his family from Iraq only seven months ago.  He wants to improve his English. “I am working to speak more English, but it is hard.” Ali is not one to give up, that much is clear.

At Winooski High School, over 30 different languages are spoken, and Ali has found a community there.  He’s also joined the VYCC community - Ali is participating in VYCC’s new after school internship for Winooski students.  Friday marked the halfway point in this six-week program, which is funded by the VYCC Annual Fund as well as a Community Based Learning grant from the Partnership for Change Education Reform Initiative.

Each afternoon, after donning VYCC uniforms in the VYCC schoolhouse, Ali and 27 peers eagerly meet outside for a stretch circle or cooperative game and a short group meeting to discuss the goals of the day.  So far, students have planted over 11,000 onions, and kale and cabbage in the fields behind the West Monitor Barn.  In the greenhouse, they have potted celery, peppers, celeriac and tomatoes.  Students also receive tutorial help as needed.

Food is a way to engage students in community-oriented activities and helps them learn more about each other.  This past Friday, students prepared food for a special evening presentation by leaders in the Conservation and Farm programs. In addition to sharing traditional dishes, students gain valuable skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, and personal responsibility.

Farm Apprentice Caelyn Keenan observes, “Students who didn't speak to each other a few weeks ago are now comfortable in each other's company. We may not always have profound conversations, but the ease they have with one another is remarkable. I think hard work and food have a lot to do with this 'coming together.’”

They are also engaged in the issue of food security in our communities.  On June 7, students will plan and host the Friday Night Food Affair, a free community meal for residents of Richmond and surrounding towns.  To deepen their learning and make a positive impact in their hometown, the students will plan and host their own fall harvest community dinner in Winooski in September.

How the Founder of Vermont Youth Conservation Corps got his Start in the Corps World


Taken from the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa newsletter, Corps Update, April 2013

Thomas Hark’s Corps experience stretches back to the federal Youth Conservation Corps, where he served as a crew leader in 1979 in Young Harris, Ga. It was an experience that changed his life. Hark applied to Minnesota’s state youth program a few years later and was hired as the camp director in 1984 and 1985. He was instrumental in bringing together what were then two  summer youth camps: one based at St. Croix State Park and one for deaf and hard-of-hearing members at Tettegouche State Park. Today’s Summer Youth Corps remains an integrated program with about 15% deaf or hard-of-hearing participants.

Hark went on to found the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in 1986. That first year, four youth served for six weeks. Since then, programs have grown steadily and now include a year-round program for the blind, high school leadership, a robust traditional summer program and agricultural leadership/farming programs. Hark said Conservation Corps Minnesota was the stepping stone that allows him to do what he loves doing now. “I pinch myself every day. I do not think anyone could be as lucky as I have been, to spend their life in education AND conservation!”

[Video] Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Hosts "Freaky 5K" Race

Last weekend the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps held a fundraising event that was easy to appreciate from afar-- a "Freaky 5k Race!" Participants ran the race in costume, and characters and concepts including Scooby Doo, Batman, Ladybugs, Indiana Jones, Forrest Gump, Freddy Krueger, Yin & Yang, and an unfortunate chainsaw user all did their best to win glory. Can you guess who won the race?

You can find out by watching a really nice video of the race and event from Mt. Mansfield Community TV below. You can also see photos from the event in this gallery.  Congratulations to Vermont YCC for having such a cool and well executed idea!

The VYCC's Freaky 5K Race from Mt. Mansfield Community TV on Vimeo.