Today's Service and Conservation Corps are a direct descendent of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's most successful efforts to find alternative employment for the enormous number of young men whose chances in life had been derailed by the Great Depression. Over six million young men served in the CCC from 1933-1942, dramatically improving the nation’s public lands while also receiving food, housing, education, and a $30-a-month stipend that many sent home to help support their families. Today, many still remember their service with pride and actively participate in the National Association of CCC Alumni.
While the CCC was officially disbanded in 1942, the concept lived on in the nation's heart and mind. It was revived in 1957, when the Student Conservation Association (SCA) placed its first college students as volunteers in national parks and forests. Just over a decade later the late Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson used the SCA model as the basis for legislation that created the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). At its height during the mid-1970s, the YCC was funded at the level of $60 million and enrolled some 32,000 young people each summer in programs operated by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, as well as by states. YCC participants worked in both cities and wilderness across the country, performing a variety of conservation projects, including tree planting, river cleanup and erosion control.
Late in the 1970s, an even larger federal program was launched, the Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC), which provided young people with year-round conservation-related employment and education opportunities. With an annual appropriation of $260 million, the YACC operated at both the Federal and state levels.
The First Wave: State Conservation Corps
Both the YCC and the YACC were virtually eliminated in 1981 due to dramatic federal budget reductions. By that time, however, the value of Youth Conservation Corps had been proven and many states had already begun to support these programs directly. California became the first when former-Governor Jerry Brown launched the California Conservation Corps in 1976. By the end of the decade, Conservation Corps were operating in Iowa and Ohio, and during the first half of the 1980s in several other states, including Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
The Second Wave: Urban Conservation and Service Corps
In 1983 the emerging Youth Corps movement took a new twist with the birth of the first Urban Conservation Corps programs. Once again, California took the lead with the start-up of Urban Conservation Corps in Marin County, San Francisco and Oakland (East Bay), plus eight more in subsequent years. The California local Corps were strengthened by passage of the California Bottle Act in 1985, which earmarked funding for local Corps’ recycling projects.
Just a year later, New York City established the City Volunteer Corps and added a new dimension to the Corps field by engaging young people in the delivery of human services as well as conservation work. During the mid-1980s, despite the absence of federal support, new state and local Corps continued to spring up across the country. Many of the early local Conservation Corps began to add human services projects to their portfolios.
The Third Wave: Urban Corps Expansion Project (UCEP)
Late in the 1980s, with support from several large foundations (Ford, Kellogg, Hewlett, Mott, Rockefeller, and the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, among others), The Corps Network (formerly known as NASCC) and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) sponsored a national demonstration to create and evaluate Urban Corps in 10 cities across the country, using the best practices gleaned from the established Corps programs. The first of these new Corps became operational in the fall of 1990.
The Fourth Wave: Federal National and Community Service Funds for Corps
In 1992, the Youth Corps movement saw the first targeted federal funding in more than a decade, when the Commission on National and Community Service awarded approximately $22.5 million in grants to 23 states, the District of Columbia, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (for disaster relief projects) and five Indian tribes. These funds became available under the American Conservation and Youth Service Corps Act or Subtitle C of the National and Community Service Act of 1990. While only half of the established Corps benefited directly from these funds, the number of Corps programs almost doubled, to just over 100, as a result of the new Federal "seed" money.
In 1993, the Congress enacted and President Clinton signed The National and Community Service Trust Act, which amended Subtitle C of the 1990 legislation to provide federal support to many kinds of community service programs besides the traditional Youth Corps. The new law also established post-service educational benefits for participants through the AmeriCorps Program. During the first full year of AmeriCorps, beginning in September 1994, 53 youth corps received AmeriCorps grants through statewide population-based and competitive processes as well as through a national direct application process and collaborations with Federal agencies.
Today, the nation’s Service and Conservation Corps operate in multiple communities across all states and the District of Columbia.