A New Lease on Life

Ben Lerner didn’t grow up in the outdoors. But after six months supporting Rocky Mountain National Park service projects with Larimer County Conservation Corps (LCCC), Ben, 28, feels he has “a new lease on life.”

Born and raised in the New Jersey suburbs, Ben was accustomed to the complicated ways of urban life, and didn’t realize what he was missing until he ventured West.

“Nature seemed like a faraway place. I didn’t know how to get there and didn’t know what I would do if I did. It took driving across the country to see that there’s more out there than just cities and towns.”

Taking a While to Discover Corps

After Ben obtained a degree in communication from Rutgers University, he held office jobs in an attempt at “the white-collar life.” But he realized desk jobs weren’t for him, and traveled to Australia to work, followed by a couple of years in Europe. Returning to the U.S., Ben set his sights on Colorado, initially looking for construction jobs—and came upon a listing for corps members at LCCC.

“It took me a while to find corps,” reflects Ben. He explains that, after reading LCCC’s description for an opportunity involving construction, housing, food and mountain living, he was “hellbent on doing that.”

Placed on the Rocky Mountain National Park Construction Crew, Ben’s projects evolved week to week. From building housing units for the facilities department, to building trails for the trail crew, to glazing windows for the historic preservation group, the projects varied greatly. And Ben’s skill base grew. He learned about power tools, team-building and different mentoring styles.

“I grew up a lot. My resume will be interesting!”

Ben also got a unique firsthand look at the workings of the federal government—including the strain that comes with a government furlough, which lasted for a month. Ben grew significantly from the experience, though he acknowledged it was uncomfortable at times. “We learned a lot about adversity and patience. At first, I didn’t understand how it all connected. Now I understand there’s a whole ecosystem.”

The Wonders of Nature Call

Ben’s corps experience opened his eyes in ways he hadn’t expected—both professionally and personally. He made many valuable professional connections, which have already led to his next move. Through the Student Conservation Association, Ben will be a trails and cabin technician with the U.S. Forest Service in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest this summer. After that, he plans to look seriously at federal jobs. He’s attracted to wildland firefighting for its “higher sense of purpose,” the chance to protect communities and conserve nature, and the type of camaraderie he found so appealing at LCCC.

Most notable may be Ben’s newfound connection to nature and the outdoors, whose beauty and simplicity make sense and have a calming effect on him. “In nature, you’re just there. It’s all connected in a logical, beautiful way. And I am part of it.”

We have a sneaky suspicion Ben won’t be tied down to a desk job ever again!

Q&A with Brigid McRaith: Our Newest Board Member

The CYCA board of directors gives a hearty welcome to Brigid McRaith of Mile High Youth Corps! Brigid has served MHYC in multiple capacities for 11 years—from program director to regional director, and now CEO. Brigid shared with us a few of her thoughts on what make corps so meaningful.

Q: What inspired you to join the CYCA board and to support the work of youth corps?

A: The opportunity to work with corpsmembers to create meaningful impact in their communities, explore who they are as individuals, experience diverse perspectives, pursue education and build the skills they need to be successful has been a life-changing one for me. Joining the CYCA board allows me to now support the larger framework of this powerful movement at a statewide level. I am deeply passionate about providing access and opportunities to young adults at a critical stage in their lives—and I believe youth and conservation corps across the state do just that. 

Q: How does youth corps benefit Colorado?

A: You can find measurable, meaningful outcomes benefiting youth, community and the environment 365 days a year across Colorado. From the trails built and forest fires mitigated, to the energy and water conservation savings, to the reduction of low-income clients’ utility bills, to the affordable housing constructed and the patients cared for, this state benefits from Colorado youth corps in profound ways. The outcome data from corps’ work is staggering!

As we empower youth from diverse backgrounds and life experiences with the voice, skills and education they need to be successful, we transform extended families and the broader community. The result is a new generation of leaders with a service-minded and collaborative approach who are well-equipped with the tools to tackle complex challenges facing our communities.

Q: Can you give an example of how you have you seen a young person’s life change?

A: There are too many to count in my 11 years in the corps world—I’ve been privileged to witness many, many young adults transform through their service. Below is a recent story:

“My name is Mayra and I have been serving with Mile High Youth Corps for a little over a year. It has completely changed me. Before arriving here I was having a hard time finding myself in the world, finding my purpose. I was an average statistic walking around; a gay, Hispanic young woman in a low-income family just trying to get by.

I kept walking past this sign that Mile High Youth Corps was hiring, so I just walked in and spoke to the woman in the front desk who little knew she would be changing my life, letting me be a part of Mile High Youth Corps and opening my door to so many opportunities.

I’ve been on my own since I was a teenager. I never felt more comfortable and more accepted somewhere until I began my journey through the Energy & Water Conservation program. Becoming a part of the Mile High Youth Corps family has made me a more humble person; it brings me joy to be able to help low-income families especially since I am low-income myself.

As the year comes to an end and so does my term, I am now the crew leader our first-ever solar crew. I have so much experience and wisdom from the service I have done for my community that I will continue to push forward and keep it close to my heart.”—Mayra G.

Q: Is there a youth corps project that has particularly impressed you?

A: I’m repeatedly impressed by the way youth and conservation corps nimbly respond to changing workforce and conservation needs. There is an ongoing level of innovation to ensure the community’s needs are met, all while leveraging a diverse source of funds within a social enterprise framework.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of conservation in Colorado?

A: My hope is that we continue to see a surge in organizations, funders, networks and services designed to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the conservation space around the state. This work is an imperative to address historical inequities in the natural resource field and to build communities where all can not only participate but reach their full potential.

Thank you, Brigid, for contributing your wisdom, expertise and dedication to the work of corps—and now to our board of directors!

Brigid McRaith at CYCA’s Annual
Youth Corps Awards Ceremony

USFS Augments Careers in Natural Resources Initiative

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has wowed us once again with its support of our work. In a move that goes beyond the $10,000 it already committed this year to the Careers in Natural Resources Initiative—a project CYCA co-founded with the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education—the USFS has allocated another $10,000!

This new round of USFS funding will support:
  • A 2020 train-the-trainer summit that empowers future career influencers to facilitate our curriculum into the future.
  • CYCA and CAEE staff time to provide direct training to beneficiaries in Colorado—which typically include USFS resource assistants, youth corps participants, and high school and college students.
  • CYCA and CAEE staff time to create and disseminate a “natural resource careers awareness” resource for high school-age audiences. 
  • Continued dissemination of the Spanish-language version of the adult job-seeker guide, “A How-To Guide For Pursuing a Career in Natural Resources,” to communities and stakeholders throughout Colorado.
The initiative is using the USFS’ current $10,000 investment (now in its fourth year!) to:
  • Create teaching toolkits for people who have attended a train-the-trainer workshop.
  • Support a 2019 “train-the-trainer” event (date and location TBD—stay tuned for details).
  • Allocate staff time to update lesson plans and teaching tools.
  • Disseminate the new Spanish-language version of the guide.
  • Launch the effort to research and build the “career awareness” resource.

Check out and “Like” the Careers in Natural Resources Initiative Facebook page!

Know Any Young Folks Looking for Summer Opportunities?

We all know at LEAST one or two youth or young adults—right? Think neighbor kids, nieces or nephews, co-workers’ teens… you may even have young ones of your own. Corps statewide are filling service positions for the next several months and into next fall! Will you help spread the word?

Younger folks are a great fit for corps if they’re looking meaningful, paid opportunities and want to develop their skills or explore outdoor career path options. Corps are an especially ideal for anyone who wants to spend time outdoors and make a difference!

Please forward this on to anyone you think may be interested, and encourage them to check the CYCA website to find a corps close to them.

Here are FIVE great reasons young people should explore corps. They can:
  1. Earn while they learn—about Colorado’s outdoors, themselves and others.
  2. Do hands-on stewardship work outside, in beautiful locations across the state.
  3. Explore a variety of career options in the natural resources field.
  4. Have fun in a rewarding and challenging service project, give back to their community and the environment—and see real change.
  5. Get in great physical shape!
And here are some added bennies they will love:
  1. Earn awards to help pay for college or other educational opportunities—or to pay back existing student loans.
  2. Make both personal friendships and professional connections that will last a lifetime.
  3. Develop huge growth potential in leadership and supervisory skills.
  4. Earn industry-recognized certifications that enhance their employability.
  5. Earn community service hours for school and for pursuing other opportunities like scholarships.
  6. Build a strong resume that makes them stand out to future potential employers.
  7. Take advantage of support around post-corps employment and job placement opportunities and academic pursuits.
  8. Take advantage of a supportive network that helps you navigate the challenges of adulthood.

Thank you for spreading the word about corps opportunities to the youth and young adults in your circles!

The Season Ahead: Thank You, Sponsors

The summer project season is just around the corner, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with the support CYCA has secured from a variety of sponsors for corps projects across the state:

  • $60,000 investment from Colorado Water Conservation Board, which CYCA will award to corps via a competitive RFP
  • $158,000 from the BLM State Office for interns and projects
  • $500,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado for Local Government & Open Space corps projects
  • $500,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado for Colorado Parks & Wildlife projects
  • $10,000 from State Land Board
  • $20,000 from Roundup Riders of the Rockies for equestrian projects across Colorado
  • $10,000+ from REI Denver for trail accessibility projects across the Front Range and Summit County
  • 1-week investment commitment from Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety
  • 5-week project investment from Denver Water

Video Junction

Each issue of the Corps Report features a video illustrating the people, projects and places that make conservation corps so special!

This issue’s featured video is “Forest health in the Pike National Forest,” presented by Denver Water and Mile High Youth Corps.

In the News

KJCT8.com: First all-women wildland firefighting crew in Colorado starting on Western Slope
Boulder Daily Camera: Boulder County Youth Corps seeking teen applicants for summer outdoor jobs
Daily Sentinel: Trail Work Plunges Ahead
Boulder Adventure Lodge: 7 Nonprofit Groups Making Waves for Colorado Conservation & Stewardship
Denver Water Tap: Millennials gain hands-on experience
Vail Daily: To our next governor: A note about water and its importance to Colorado’s economy
Greeley Tribune: Platteville teen awarded by Governor’s Summer Job Hunt
Pine River Times: Prescribed burning helps forest health
Crested Butte News: Baxter Gulch Trail: 25 years in the making