USDA Newsletter Story Highlights How Deaf Montana Conservation Corps Member became Forest Service Employee

In the USDA's April newsletter, the agency highlighted Joanel Lopez's participation in the Bridging Cultures Conservation Corps program that was launched by Montana Conservation Corps and Region 1 of the U.S. Forest Service.

It's a fantastic example of how "the program is great for people from diverse backgrounds and cultures to face dealing with different perspectives." The digital version of the story can be read on page 3 of the linked PDF.



Where are they now? - Catching up with 2010 Corpsmember of the Year, Quintin Williams


Quintin Williams, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2010 for his leadership skills and commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Quintin and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2010 National Conference.

It’s been over three years since Quintin Williams worked as a Crew Leader for the Utah Conservation Corps, but he still gives a lot of credit to UCC for where he is today. In the summers of 2008 and 2009, Quintin worked with UCC’s Disability Inclusive Crew; a program that offers service opportunities to people with a wide array of physical handicaps. Before joining the Corps, Quintin's only experience with the disabled had been with blind people like himself. He felt that his experience with the blind and visually impaired community made him knowledgeable about disabilities, but working with members of the Inclusive Crew completely changed his perspective.

“Working in the crew was very eye-opening for me because I just really had no idea what those people were going through and it actually humbled me quite a bit,” said Quintin, discussing in particular how inspiring it was to work with a Corpsmember who had multiple sclerosis. “I’m always frustrated by how I can’t see so I can’t drive and I have to rely on so many different people to get from point A to point B. But some of the other people on the crew, they might not be able to even get out of bed on their own. You take a lot of things for granted even though you don’t realize you do until you’re put into a different situation. It was amazing.”

These days, Quintin is working for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. He started working there as a proofreader for Braille classroom materials, but now he will be in charge of all the assistive technologies used in USDB classrooms. Quintin will train teachers on the devices their deaf and blind students use, and make sure these devices work properly. He will also be in charge of managing all the software – such as screen reader programs – that are used in USDB sites throughout the state. Quintin says he can definitely see himself in this job for years to come.

Before joining UCC, however, Quintin – who is now 28 – was not sure where his future was headed. He tried finding work, but few employers were willing to give him a chance. When he interviewed for the UCC Inclusive Crew he was excited that they basically accepted him on the spot.

Quintin says the Corps did much more than expose him to people with different disabilities. As he says, “I feel like without the Corps I don’t really know where I would be. It gave me work experience that employers can really see and I gained a lot of friends and professional relationships from it.”

Quintin is proud of the work he accomplished at UCC. He was part of a team that surveyed public lands and created a database documenting the level of accessibility at parks and campgrounds. Quintin says it’s important to realize that people with disabilities love the outdoors, too. While completing the park surveys, he was shocked by how many campgrounds and parks did not even have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. He is happy to know that his team’s efforts resulted in information the National Park Service can actually use to accommodate disabled park-goers.

For now, Quintin plans to continue working for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. He wants to move closer to work, build up a comfortable retirement fund and start a family. He wants to work on his new hobby of golf. Quintin hopes to use his summers off to finish the last few credits he needs to get his associate’s degree, and hopefully work on a bachelor’s degree.

To young people thinking of joining a Corps, Quintin says:

“The Corps is kind of like a culture or a lifestyle almost. But I wouldn’t exclude the opportunity to join a Corps based on whether it might not be the same kind of lifestyle that you are currently living or plan on living. It’s only a short term thing, but it can definitely open a lot of doors. Just take the opportunity seriously and work hard at it. Not only is it benefiting you, but it’s benefiting community members – it’s bettering the situation for everybody.”



2008 Project of the Year: Making Outdoor Recreation More Accessible

Winner: Utah Conservation Corps

Through the "Access to Service Project," Utah Conservation Corps developed service projects to include crew members with disablities. Fifty percent of the 8-person crew self-identified as having a physical disability. Disabilities among members included quadriplegia, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy.

In the first of their two main projects, the inclusive crew partherned with the US Forest Service to conduct an accessbility evaluation of the Wasatche-Chache National Forest and create a transition plan to help them meet federal requirements. They developed a user-friendly accessbility survey form that has become the standard for the region. They completed accessbility surveys for 8 campgrounds and 2 trails and developed 10 transition plans, immediately addressing the issues identified in one of the transition plans by constructing a fully accessible fishing pier at Second Dam picnic area in Logan Canyon. They partnered with Common Ground Outdoor Adventures, Logan City, local Boy Scouts and the Forest Service to make this happen.

For the second project: an accessible greenhouse and adapted gardening tools. The crew grew tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, squash and herbs in raised beds and table top planters.

Another "Access to Service" goal was to involve people with disabilities in positions of leadership. Andy Zimmer, who has quadriplegia, served as a crew leader. By placing people with disabilities in positions of leadership, outdated stereotypes that limit people with disabilities are shattered and attitudes toward people with disabilities evolve and change. 

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Andrew Zimmer

In the last year, Andrew Zimmer has impressed the Forest Service with the quality and amount of work produced by his crew, fallen in love with Logan Canyon, Utah and developed an unexpected yet clear picture of where his life is heading.

An AmeriCorps crew leader for the Utah Conservation Corps, Andrew showed his crew that anyting is possible. Their assignment was to construct two miles of fencing along a very steep and inaccessible area. This would allow the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, a rare and declining species, to be protected from the diseases that grazing cattle passed on when drinking from the creek. This project was essential to the survival of the trout population. Andrew, a leader who brings out the best in others around him, took special interest in each crew member to make sure their experience was rewarding and insightful.

Toward the end his term, Andrew was in a bike accident that resulted in paralysis from the chest down. Andrew said that within an hour of his accident, he knew he wanted to work in accessible outdoor recreation. His philosophy about stewardship of our natural resources is that you cannot get sustainable results without the awareness and enthusiasm of people. Andrew has brought this idea and passion to Utah and the UCC. He plans on completing his AmeriCorps term after rehabilitation and continuting to work in the place he loves. 

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: Quintin Williams

***Update! Click here to read about what Quintin has been up to since he won his award***

(Written in 2010)

Before joining the Corps, Quintin Williams was like many young people, working an unsatisfying job that provided little challenge.

Quintin sought out the Utah Conservation Corps (UCC) and the Inclusive Crew where Corpsmembers with and without disabilities surveyed campgrounds and trails for Forest Service Outdoor Recreation Accessibility Guidelines. Quintin himself is completely blind, and previous work opportunities had been with others who were blind or visually impaired. 

The Inclusive Crew’s mix, including mobility disabilities, gave Quintin a more complex understanding of accommodation. In addition, Quintin inspired his crewmates and used humor to break down barriers and honestly communicate about differences in ability, demonstrating a natural leadership that led him to promotion as crew leader.

Under Quintin’s leadership the crew took a local project and made it national: developing a new accessibility information database for the Forest Service that will provide the public with information on accessible campsites, facilities, and services.  The database is a leap forward for the Forest Service in its transition planning—and, by no accident, accessible to those who use a screen reader.

Quintin is a leader and ambassador for accessibility on public lands—one of the nation’s rising leaders in the field of service.

Pennsylvania Conservation Corps Builds Wheelchair-Accessible Ropes Course

Pennsylvania Conservation Corps gives unemployed young people work on community service projects, and this week, helped build a wheelchair-accessible high ropes course at Bloomsburg University. For this year’s Signature Project, Pennsylvania Conservation Corps crews worked on the course, which is the first of its size in the Northeast United States. The work was done during three 10-hour days last week. "They accomplished double of what I thought they would," said Brett Simpson, executive director of Quest and the Corporate Institute at the university. The university received a $10,000 grant from the Degenstein Foundation for the project. Read more about this project in the Daily Item.