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Service and Conservation Corps easily fit with many organizations’ mission.

arrow From the Summer 2009 issue of American Trails Magazine

 

Partner with a Corps in five steps


photo of crew on bridge

Minnesota conservation corps carrying heavy timbers

 

MORE THAN 75 years ago, President Roosevelt had a vision. During a time of deep economic depression, he saw an opportunity to give young men jobs and training, while building the infrastructure of America.

That vision was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Nearly 4 million men spent time building roads, improving parks, planting trees— and during that experience many men say it was the hardest job they ever loved. Today, during another period of economic downturn, we hear a lot about job training programs, the rebirth of the CCC, and building America’s decaying infrastructure. There may not be a project like the CCC in existence today, but modern Service and Conservation Corps fill the same need— and have done so for 30 years or so.

Like the original CCC, Service and Conservation Corps engage young men and women in service projects, earning a small living stipend, and learning important job skills. Unlike the original CCC, modern Corps are based in state and local nonprofits and some state governments. The educational and youth development focus of Corps has expanded, as has the ability to partner with local, state, and federal government, as well as nonprofits and community-based organizations.

While Corps serve as a training ground for young men and women, the work completed by Corps is high-quality and can be basic or more complex. For example, invasive species removal can range from pulling weeds to identifying and felling infested trees. The same diversity of project work also applies to trail work— some Corps projects maintain existing trails, while others complete new trail construction, technical rock work, and GIS mapping. With the growing popularity of hybrid contracting, the diversity of projects is expanding.

photo of crew working on rock wall

MCC Trail crew using rock bars

Service and Conservation Corps easily fit with many organizations’ mission. So how can an organization partner with a Corps? We will detail this in five steps.

1. Find a Corps in your area. Visit www.corpsnetwork.org.

A map on the homepage makes it easy to click on your state and see all the Corps serving in your state with links to their websites. If a Corps doesn’t currently operate in your area, contact The Corps Network to see if a Corps is in a start up phase or if a nearby Corps might be able to expand to your area. Some Corps will travel up to 800 miles to a project site, so don’t assume a Corps can’t work with your organization if one is not currently operating in your community.

2. Learn the basics about the Corps you hope to partner with.

Each Corps specializes in providing certain types of service. For example, some Corps have expert chainsaw crews, while others have members highly skilled at training and leading volunteers, and some are expert at technical rock work. With the help of a Corps staff, often a Project Manager, identify the type of project the Corps may work with you to complete. Corps are entrepreneurial and may be interested in starting new types of work. In developing new projects, learn how
Corps may respond to your changing needs.

3. Clearly define the task at hand, the costs, and other logistics.

Corps typically have a set day or weekly rate for service, however this may vary if a project has special requirements. Most Corps also have a streamlined process for ensuring they provide quality service to the specifications of the partner. To meet these requirements, Corps may require a detailed project information sheet. Some Corps will need to know the exact location, topographical information, general project details, and basic area information like the nearest hospital and rest area. At this point in time, other logistics may also need to be settled. For example, which organization is providing the tools? Can Corpsmembers camp at the site? Will a project sponsor check on the site on a set schedule?

4. Nurture the give–give relationship.

Corps have a complementary, dual mission— to provide cost-effective, valued service projects and to develop young people into highly employable, active citizens. Because of this, Corps may have unique needs as a partner. For example, most Corps build education time and team building into their work day. Corps may ask project sponsors to provide help in developing young people. Some Corps ask project sponsors to give presentation about how to prepare and join the sponsor’s profession or information about the ecology of a work site. Corps strongly believe a positive, long-lasting Corpsmember experience improves the quality of work.

5. Keep the dialogue open.

Corps will ask for partner feedback both formally and informally. At the end of each project, Corps staff typically request sponsors to evaluate project work in a standard questionnaire. Questions vary from general (i.e. Would you partner with the Corps again?) to specific (i.e. Rate the crew leaders’ competency and effectiveness and share suggestions to improve the crew’s performance.). Most Corps use these surveys as continuous improvement tools.

Informal feedback is also important. Keep project managers and appropriate Corps staff up-to-date on successes and areas of concern regarding crews. If a project is planned to take four weeks and a problem arises in week one, it is best to address it immediately. Corps staff are experts at mediating issues and conflicts. Most Corps can easily adapt to best meet the needs of partners in a short period of time. Partners also often report the quality of work completed by crews is higher than expected and may want to use the Corps in a different capacity in the future.

The five steps necessary to partnering with Corps are similar to most partnerships. The business operations of most Corps runs as it should— like a business. The programming side of Corps is empowering and engaging for the young people and the communities they are serving in making collaborations with Corps different. Staff at Corps caution partners that they are different from other partners. Specifically, a Project Manager might say, “Corps are not cheap labor. While Corps do provide cost-effective work projects, their missions are to provide highquality work and develop young people. This may take extra education and training time.”

Learn more about opportunities with Corps nationwide at The Corps Network: www.corpsnetwork.org.

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