Steamboat Springs Youth Corps teens learn valuable work ethic while working hard for the community
This spring before school let out, Michelle Burns found herself searching for a summer job to earn money for a trip to France next year. Because she is 14 years old, she said she didn't have many options.
Then Burns' friend signed her up for a two-week project with the Community Youth Corps in Steamboat Springs. At first, Burns said, she wasn't excited about long hours of challenging work outside in the hot summer sun.
But Burns decided to try the job, and after finishing the project last Friday, she said she is thanking her friend for putting her name on the Youth Corps list.
"We're outdoors and we're working, and I like being in the sun," Burns said. "It's better than being indoors all day there's always something to do here."
Burns and five other local teen-agers tackled two projects during the past two weeks as crew members for the corps' first summer session.
For the first week, they pulled weeds and planted trees around the Yampa Valley Core Trail, making it more enjoyable for local runners, walkers and bikers.
For the second week, they put up cross fencing in an 85-acre portion of the Williams Preserve, a property along the Yampa River on the east end of town.
The fences divided the area into four sections so the rancher who leases the land will be able to graze his cattle on a rotation schedule: Cattle will spend about 10 days in one section and then move onto the next.
This method of grazing, project managers said, improves the productivity and diversity of the plant life and also creates a more holistic approach to ranching.
The Community Youth Corps is a city program that offers 10 two-week work sessions throughout the summer for teens who are 14 to 16 years old. It accepts project assignments from groups such as the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and state and national parks.
It is associated with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, which serves young adults ages 16 to 25 from the United States and other countries, and with the Colorado Youth Corps, the umbrella group for all nine Youth Corps organizations in the state.
Most states have similar Youth Corps programs to involve teen-agers and young adults in community projects such as making new hiking trails, building fences or planting trees.
The purpose of these programs is to give youths an opportunity to do hands-on work for the community and to gain various skills in the process, Community Youth Corps Director Jeff Berens said.
"It's not just a job," he said. He then described how through the program, teen-agers gain job and outdoors skills, learn about the environment and other community issues and strengthen their work ethics.
Burns said she learned getting these sorts of skills isn't easy.
"Sometimes you get tired in the hot sun and you just want to quit," she said. "But you just have to push through and remember you are doing something for the community."
Burns said the two-week work period not only gave her new skills and a $391 check, but it also gave her a feeling of pride for being a part of the community.
"I'll walk past that part of the bike path and I'll think, 'Yeah, that was me,'" she said, referring to the work she did on the Yampa Core Trail. "I spent all week working there."
Corps members are not the only ones who notice the community improvements that result from hours of work. Mike Neumann, the city's Open Space supervisor, said the city appreciates the teen-agers' hard work and the fact that the corps groups complete projects at a fraction of their usual cost.
"We greatly value the work we're getting out here. We'd usually be hiring a contractor to do it and paying good money," Neumann said.
"It's a classic example of a service project that is beneficial for everybody."
The 10 Community Youth Corps crews this summer will end up contributing more than 5,000 man hours of work to local parks and open space areas.
More impressive than just the number of hours that all Youth Corps groups contribute is the efficiency and productivity the groups show, said Avrom Feinberg, program director for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps based in Steamboat Springs.
"Generally the program agencies give us too little work," Feinberg said. He said that most of the time, the crews exceed the expectations of the agencies assigning the projects.
He also said the crews learn how to work better together throughout the project and at the end, each crew member comes away with an exceptional work ethic.
"I would say any of the young adults that have been on our crews would surprise any employers by the amount they can work and the quality of their work," Feinberg said.
Rob Anderson, 16, learned about having a good work ethic through participating in two Community Youth Corps projects last summer. Because of the increasing numbers of applicants for the program, this summer Anderson was able to do only one project. He just finished working with Burns and other crew members on the Williams Preserve project.
"You learn a good work ethic to get you ready for real life," Anderson said about working on the corps projects. "You have to work hard to get jobs done."
Anderson said that often at the start of a project, he would feel like the job was going to be impossible to complete. But somehow, he said, the crew always managed to finish the work.
"When you get it done," he said, "you're like, 'Wow, I'm glad we got it done.'"
Anderson said working on the project has its frustrating moments, like the time he and some other crew members were digging a ditch and made it too long. They ended up having to fill hours of work back up with dirt.
But, he said, he's learned there's only one thing to do in times like that.
"You just go with it," he said.