Youth (em)Power

crewYoung people can be pretty inspiring and energizing to be around when they are heading in the right direction and are gaining momentum.  Organizations and programs that enable and empower young people are a really valuable thing and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is one of those.  I first encountered RMYC when my oldest son was hired for a position there a few years ago working on a forest crew in the Carson National Forest.  His interest in college had stalled and he was searching for something to give him traction in the move from dependence to independence as a young adult.  He came away from the experience with improved skills for navigating the world of work and increased confidence that he was up to the task of doing valuable work and making a positive difference.  In his case, RMYC made a difference that I think will last a lifetime.

Recently I was on a hike with Dale Coker, Trails Supervisor at Bandelier National Monument and he told me that he is now several years into a beneficial relationship with RMYC to staff and manage what he calls the Bandelier Conservation Corps, or BCC for short.  The BCC is a crew staffed by young people from throughout the region who work on important trails and back country maintenance tasks.  Bandelier contracts with RMYC for the crew’s services and they provide Dale with a valuable resource in his work.  Their presence reminded me of my son’s positive experience, so I asked Dale if I could visit with them as a way of reacquainting myself with the works of RMYC.

Dale introduced me to the BCC crew leader, Justin Cook.  Justin proved to be a sharp young man with a degree in Southwest Studies and experience with implementing community development projects in Santa Fe prior to signing on to a supervisory position with RMYC.  In turn, Justin introduced me to the seven members of his crew.  Six are juniors and seniors in area high schools and one is a college student at New Mexico State University.  The college student takes a peer leadership role within the group to assist Justin.  In general, young people between the ages of 16 and 25 can apply for crew member positions.

This particular crew has a ten week duration timed with summer vacation from school.  The members applied, were interviewed, and selected by Justin.  They work five weekdays while camping at Bandelier and then go home for weekends.  Four of the weekdays they are hard at work on the trails projects assigned by Dale, and one day they usually have some kind of training or team enrichment activity.  For example, they recently rafted the Taos Box as a group.  Bandelier also participates in a crew exchange activity within the park system and this group will spend some of their time working at Grand Canyon National Park. Other training activities include leadership, communications, resume building, interviewing, and confidence-building.

Crew members are paid a stipend in return for their work and they also receive credit in an educational account from Americorps. My wife and I were able to share a meal with the group and we left impressed by how outgoing and interesting these young folks turned out to be.  My experience has been that it often takes some coaxing to draw out a conversation with young people, but that was not the case with this bunch.  They offered up a stream of observations about their experiences so far this summer and had alot of questions about who the heck were we and why were we interested in them.  Justin told me that they are involved in a variety of interactions from training with Park staff to assisting Bandelier in their fundraising that supports the BCC program and that those activities give the individuals practice and confidence in their communications.

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is a non-profit based in Taos, NM.  Their mission is to inspire young adults to make a difference in themselves and their communities and through training and team service, to be a stepping stone to new opportunities.  They are an Americorps and a CorpsNetwork affiliate and they partner with a broad variety of other programs and organizations.  In addition to providing crews throughout the year similar to the BCC in five communities in the region, RMYC operates a residential energy efficiency program and community volunteer projects in northeast NM.  They employ a permanent staff of 20, have about 20-30 limited term staff in a typical year (e.g. crew leaders), and they generally employ 100-150 young people per year as crew members.

RMYC is continually recruiting for year-round positions.  Summer positions are open to high schoolers in the 16-25 age range while fall/winter/spring positions are open to individuals who are out of school.  Information and application instructions are on their website.

Photo Below:  Bandelier Conservation Corps – summer 2014 (left to right): Justin Cook, Enrique Najera, Anthony Cardena, Dakoda Ami, Michael DeWulf, Travis Padilla, Stephen Suazo, and Maricela Salazar.

Dale Coker of Bandelier National Monument at work with the crew …

Hiking out to meet the crew it struck me that Bandelier is sure a beautiful place …

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