Over the past 27 years, nearly 15,000 young Pennsylvania citizens have served in the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps. Aged from 18-25, these individuals have gained valuable work skills, helped bolster their communities through a variety of conservation and disaster relief related projects, and gone on to become productive members of the workforce. Now, however, the program that served as a confidence builder and stepping stone for so many young people has been targeted for elimination.
In an effort to address a $10.4 billion state budget debt, Pennsylvania politicians have decided that eliminating funding for a program that has an approximate budget of $4.6 million dollars will be a step in the right direction (or, for those keeping track, making up for approximately 0.04% of the budget shortfall) . There are people like myself who hope that this does not happen because we think the benefits provided by the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps far outweighs its costs, especially for the 250+ people the program enrolls annually.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national youth unemployment rate rose to 19.1% in July of 2010. This is the highest rate registered in July since the Bureau began collecting information in 1948. This translates into a staggering number: approximately 4.4 million people ages 16-24 were unemployed nationwide. Many of these young people are in Pennsylvania, many come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and many are still hopeful that they will find a place to grow and work.
The Pennsylvania Conservation Corps helps young people gain crucial work experience in a supportive environment through volunteer work. For many of them, their experience in the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps might be their first job and a pathway to others. It is also a way of reconnecting some individuals to the mainstream after having dropped out of high school. Many Corps members obtain their GED and/or work credentials during their term of service, as well as earn education awards that can be applied toward furthering their education after leaving the Corps. But for many, it's a starting wage of $7.25 an hour, accompanied by mentors and a support system that makes it a foundational life experience.
A fact sheet on the Corps' website provides some substantial evidence in regard to how the Corps benefits communities.
Since 1984, the Corps has undertaken nearly 1,400 projects in urban, suburban and rural areas statewide. Accomplishments include the improvement of 107 miles of streams, 7,100 acres of wildlife habitat, and 23,000 acres of forest lands; the construction or renovation of 700 picnic areas, 721 cabins and lodges, and more than 10,100 miles of trails; the rehabilitation of 387 historical buildings; and the planting of more than one million seedlings and trees.
In addition to those accomplishments, the Corps has regularly participated in disaster relief and emergency response efforts both in and out-of-state.
If you believe like I do that the Pennsylvania Conservation Corps is worth fighting for, here's how you can help.
If you live in Pennsylvania, the first step would be to contact your elected state Representatives and tell them that you would like to see funding maintained for the Corps. You could also share this story and spread awareness, or even write your own letters of supports to local publications and websites.
If you do not live in Pennsylvania, but are supportive of the cause, you can also share this story or become part of a broader movement to "Save Service" in America. Recently the Corporation for National and Community Service was targeted for budget cuts and threatened with elimination. It is the agency that administers Americorps community service programs nationally. If it were defunded, this action would negatively impact Corps and other community service and youth development programs nationwide. You can learn more about the Save Service effort and get engaged at www.saveservice.org
The Pennsylvania Conservation Corps and career building jobs for Pennsylvania's youth are on the chopping block. The time is now to speak up on their behalf.
Levi Novey is the Communications Manager for The Corps Network, the voice of our nation's 158 Service and Conservation Corps.