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The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps: The Future for Public Lands

guest blog by Brandon Nguyen, Sierra Club intern, Summer 2016

Earlier this summer, the First Family visited Yosemite National Park to celebrate Father’s Day and the 100th anniversary of the National Park System in the great outdoors. Standing in a picturesque scene, with the natural legacy of Half-Dome towering several thousand feet overhead, President Obama spoke to a crowd on the importance of our outdoor areas and their unifying qualities.

“The beauty of the National Park System is it belongs to everybody. It is a true expression of our democracy: the notion that we all look after ourselves and our families, and we work hard and we make money, and we have our own homes and apartments, cars and televisions; but then there’s this part of us that is a part of everybody, something we have in common, something we share, a place where we connect with each other, and to connect with something bigger than ourselves.”

Just three days before the president’s speech, I sat in a briefing on Capitol Hill hosted by the Partnership for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). The 21CSC is an initiative committed to increasing the number of youth and veterans engaged in protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s great outdoors through civilian national service. The initiative simultaneously addresses the $11 billion maintenance backlog of our public lands, connects youth to the healing power of nature, and helps veterans reintegrate into society.

The amazing thing about the 21CSC is that it unites so many different people and organizations towards a common goal. Throughout the country, there are over 190 member organization of the 21CSC that give local undeserved youth and veterans the opportunity to develop professional skills while engaging in environmental stewardship projects, such as preventing wildfires and constructing hiking trails.These environmental service projects are completed through partnerships between 21CSC organizations and local, state, and federal land and water management agencies. Outside of the 21CSC are dozens of organizations, corporations, and private businesses that support the initiative. These supporters include REI, KEEN Footwear, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and other groups that recognize the significance of the 21CSC for our parks and the outdoor industry. And finally, with the 21CSC Act (S.1993, H.R. 5114) we find bipartisan support; it was introduced in the Senate in August 2015 by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and in the House of Representatives in April 2016 by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA).

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, June, 2016. Photo Credit - The Corps NetworkVermont Youth Conservation Corps, June, 2016 (Photo Credit: The Corps Network)

The 21CSC was originally started during the Obama administration under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and has grown significantly under Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s leadership. It serves as a modern expansion on President Franklin Roosevelt’s public work relief program, the Civilian Conservation Corps. The national partnership for the 21CSC is working to reach 100,000 new corps members every year by 2018! The Outdoors Alliance for Kids and the  Sierra Club support the initiative to get all kids outdoors learning and active on our public lands.

In June, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a legislative hearing on the 21CSC Act, alongside its companion legislation the Public Lands Service Corps Act of 2015. Members of the committee praised these pieces of legislation that aim to provide skills and job opportunities for youth and young veterans. The 190+ member organizations of the Partnership for a 21CSC draw their participants from a diverse pool to develop a new workforce for the future of our lands and waters. Service opportunities are extended to veterans up to the age of 35, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Young people, ranging from 15 to 25 year olds, from non-profit organizations to tribal governments, are also given opportunities to serve and develop their professional work skills.

In the spirit of 21CSC’s work, and to quote President Obama again:“What an incredible idea! What a worthy investment! What a precious thing we have to pass on to the next generation! Let’s make that happen.”

To learn more, visit the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps website and join the Sign-On Letter in Support of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act.

 

RELEASE: White House Honors “Champions of Change” for connecting youth with the outdoors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

March 17, 2014

Contacts: Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club – 202-821-8877; jackie.ostfeld@sierraclub.org; Paul Sanford, The Wilderness Society – 202-429-2616; paul_sanford@tws.org

White House Honors “Champions of Change” for connecting youth with the outdoors

Several OAK members to receive award

Washington, DC — Tomorrow, fourteen Champions of Change will be honored at the White House for their efforts to engage the next generation of conservationists through outdoor recreation and physical activity. The honorees are helping to fulfill Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s youth initiative by ensuring that young people and communities have opportunities to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. Several champions are members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK).

“Thank you to the White House and Secretary Jewell for raising the voices of these exemplary change agents who are bridging the gap between young people and the outdoors,” says OAK’s co-founder and chair, Jackie Ostfeld. “Kudos to all the champs who are setting young people on a course to improve their health and well-being, establish lifelong connections with nature, and lead tomorrow’s conservation movement.”

Many of today’s champions are members of OAK:

Anthony Ciocco, of the Mvskoke tribe, is a Crew Leader for the Ancestral Lands Program at the Southwest Conservation Corps, a program of Conservation Legacy, leading ecological restoration crews on the Navajo Nation. Under Anthony’s leadership, crews of local Native youth work to rebuild damaged ecosystems and build trails to provide access to the outdoors for local communities.

Dr. Benjamin Blonder, co-founded the University of Arizona’s Sky School, a residential science school that provides inquiry-based environmental education on a campus located in the heart of the Coronado National Forest. Because of his efforts, each year hundreds of K-12 students, primarily from Title I schools, are now able to conduct independent research while exploring the unique ecology, geology, and astronomy resources of the region. Benjamin’s vision for the Sky School was inspired by his AmeriCorps service in central Idaho at the McCall Outdoor Science School, a NSF-supported teaching fellowship in a Tucson public school, and his long-term volunteer leadership with the Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings program, which provides opportunities for urban youth to experience nature.

Bill Hodge is the Director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, or “SAWS,” a project of The Wilderness Society. SAWS engages high school and college students in on-the-ground public lands stewardship projects in the National Forests of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. Through these programs, SAWS engages young people in active volunteerism and helps to develop the next generation of public lands stewards.

Jon Brito served three AmeriCorps terms with Kupu’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps from 2008 to 2013, as a team member, team leader, and a year-long intern. During these terms, Jon engaged local youth and community members on the rural island of Moloka’i in critical environmental community service and indigenous cultural practices. Jon’s commitment to serving the island’s land and people has helped protect and restore countless endangered native Hawaiian species and habitats, perpetuate native Hawaiian knowledge and culture, and has inspired other local youth and community members to take an active part in the conservation movement on Molokai.

Na’Taki Osborne Jelks is a nationally-recognized leader in engaging urban communities and youth of color in environmental stewardship. In 2001, Na’Taki co-founded the Atlanta Earth Tomorrow® Program, National Wildlife Federation’s multi-cultural, youth environmental education and leadership development program that engages urban youth in investigating causes of environmental challenges, helps them connect to nature, fosters their leadership of youth-led community action projects, promotes civic engagement, and nurtures leadership skills for building personal environmental stewardship. The Program has reached over 2,500 youth and was selected as a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps member organization. Na’Taki is also a Board Chairperson of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), a community-based organization that launched the Atlanta Children’s Forest Network (ACFN) in partnership with the USDA Forest Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Pam Hess is the Director of Youth Engagement and leads the Outdoors Rx Program at the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Outdoor Rx is a collaborative partnership with the healthcare community to provide free, dedicated resources for prescribing regular outdoor physical activity to youth, especially underserved individuals. AMC helps families “fill” these prescriptions by providing free, guided outdoor programming in their communities several times a week.

Dr. Stephen Lockhart is a Vice President and Regional Chief Medical Officer for Sutter Health in California. He has served on NatureBridge’s board of directors for 12 years, most recently as board chair. Under Stephen’s leadership, NatureBridge provides transformational environmental science programs in national parks to more than 30,000 children and teens each year. With NatureBridge, and as a board member of REI, NPS Second Century Commission and National Parks Conservation Association, Stephen advances his passion of connecting diverse young people to our national parks.

Watch the event live on Wednesday, March 18th from 9:00am to 12:00pm ET at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

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About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in expanding opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the health and well-being of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than sixty national organizations including the American Heart Association, Children & Nature Network, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association of State Park Directors, National Recreation and Park Association, National Wildlife Federation, The North Face, the Outdoor Foundation, Public Lands Service Coalition (a program of The Corps Network), REI, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA to address the growing divide between children, youth and the natural world.

Find out more on our website: www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org

RELEASE: The Public Lands Service Coalition joins steering committee of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

January 9, 2014

Contacts: Jackie Ostfeld; 202-548-6584; Jackie.Ostfeld@sierraclub.org; Joe Gersen; 202-737-6272; jgersen@corpsnetwork.org

The Public Lands Service Coalition joins steering committee of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids

Washington, DC– The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) today announced that The Corps Network’s Public Lands Service Coalition has joined the national partnership to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors. With the addition of one of the strongest voices for youth service to OAK’s steering committee, the alliance will work to advance one of its key goals to expand environmental stewardship opportunities for young people.

“The member organizations of the Public Lands Service Coalition (PLSC), which include conservation corps programs as well as conservation corps supporters, are excited and honored to be counted among this cadre of powerful voices for youth and environmental wellness. We have been working in tandem with OAK on addressing the alliance’s key issues.  Additionally we have received great support from OAK on the establishment of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.” says Joe Gersen, Director of Government Relations for the PLSC.

“The PLSC has been one of the organizations leading the development of the 21CSC since 2010 and it continues to provide leadership through the Partnership for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (P-21CSC).” said Eugenie Bostrom, Director of  Strategic Partnerships and Communications at Southwest Conservation Corps.

OAK is concerned about the growing divide between children, youth, families, and the outdoors. For many young people, spending time outdoors isn’t always easy or safe. Today’s youth spend 50 percent less time outdoors in natural settings than the generation that preceded them. Park and play deserts, a lack of transportation, stranger danger, safety, and overscheduled kids and adults are all factors contributing to the indoor and increasingly sedentary lifestyles of many kids and families. Physical inactivity is a factor in the rising rates in children of type II diabetes, poor cardiovascular health, and childhood obesity.

OAK is working to reverse this trend by advancing environmental education, community health and wellness, and environmental stewardship initiatives for children and youth. Environmental stewardship opportunities like those supported by the Public Lands Service Coalition provide young people with jobs, training, service and volunteer opportunities that connect them to the outdoors and help youth assume responsibility for the stewardship and preservation of America’s great outdoors and the healthy development of the next generation.

“OAK is honored to welcome the Public Lands Service Coalition onto its steering committee,” says Jackie Ostfeld, Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. “Environmental stewardship opportunities like those provided by the members of the Public Lands Service Coalition are important for engaging older youth in meaningful outdoor activities that build their leadership and job skills, improve their health and wellness, and connect them with America’s great outdoors.”

The PLSC promotes youth service jobs and career development on public and tribal lands and waters. Each year, Coalition members engage more than 17,000 young people in jobs and service opportunities, and they are poised to expand to address record-high youth unemployment, billions of dollars of backlogged maintenance needs on public lands, and the disengagement of youth from the outdoors. The Public Lands Service Coalition is a program of The Corps Network, the national association of service and conservation corps. For more information visit The Corps Network website at www.corpsnetwork.org.

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About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in expanding opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the well-being of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than sixty national organizations including the American Heart Association, Children & Nature Network, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association of State Park Directors, National Recreation and Park Association, National Wildlife Federation, The North Face, the Outdoor Foundation, Public Lands Service Coalition (a program of The Corps Network), REI, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA to address the growing divide between children, youth and the natural world.

Find out more on our website: www.outdoorsallianceforkids.org