Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 2

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer-fall of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences from the road.

 

By Jordan Katcher

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I’m focusing my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors. This summer, I’m traveling across the country, and conducting site visits with Conservation Corps that have implemented/are implementing single identity-based initiatives for underrepresented populations within the Conservation world. To read more about my research project, and to read about my upper Midwest site visits, check out my first blog post here.

For my second trip, I ventured through the Northeast region to conduct site visits with Maine Conservation Corps and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Below is a brief snapshot of my visits:

 

Visits in the Northeast:

Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) Site Visits – Augusta, Maine

Since I was taking a personal trip to Maine, I decided to visit Maine Conservation Corps to learn more about their opportunities for veterans. While MCC doesn’t currently have a single identity-based crew, I was interested to learn about their philosophy on an integrated model. For MCC, they believe that having diverse teams brings about new exposures, perspectives, and learning experiences for all members involved.

Throughout my visits, a reoccurring topic is the distinction and purpose behind both single identity-based crews and integrated crews: what are the benefits of either, and how do you choose which crew to implement? On top of that, individuals inhabit multiple identities at a time – all of which are on a spectrum – so how do you create program models that are inclusive of those multiple identities within a single crew?

For MCC, they’ve been working on ways to meet the mandate from AmeriCorps to provide opportunities for veterans to serve with Conservation Corps. Previously, MCC operated their Veteran Community Leader program, in which veterans came together for 11 weeks of training, and were then assigned to single-placement positions with a host site. After funding fell through, they transitioned to an integrated model with veterans serving with non-veterans on conservation crews.

MCC struggles with recruiting veterans. In part, this is because, while Maine has a higher veteran population, most of the state’s veterans are older. Additionally, MCC does not provide higher stipends for veterans. Because veterans serve on the same crew as non-veterans, it is difficult to justify paying them more for the same amount of work as their fellow crew members. However, MCC has found that they have a lot of success in recruitment when they have a veteran coordinator; someone who served in the military can better connect with potential applicants.

Resources that MCC would find useful to their organization include: (1) strategies they can implement to ensure that veterans who commit to serving actually begin their service, and (2) information about different program models, including best outcomes and funding resources.

 

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) Site Visits – Richmond, Vermont

Previously, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps had a crew for blind and visually impaired members. Recently, after a few serendipitous encounters with The Forest Service, Corps That, and the Lexington School & Center for the Deaf in New York, VYCC’s goal to provide opportunities for Deaf and Hard of Hearing members came to fruition. They launched their first crew last summer using an integrated model; their crew included both Deaf and hearing members. In the future, they’d love to see multiple American Sign Language (ASL) crews for different age groups, as well as provide both single identity-based and integrated crews.

Last summer, they had two crew leaders: one was Deaf and the other was hearing, and both leaders signed. This seemed like the ideal arrangement for their integrated model. This year, they were unable to recruit a Deaf crew leader, which became a struggle for this year’s crews. VYCC is constantly evaluating and redefining their program models and resources on a seasonal basis, and presently, they implement both Silent Meals and Silent Days, where all crew members can only communicate through ASL. This not only creates a more inclusive environment for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, but it also challenges hearing members and in turn, provides for new growth opportunities in how they communicate with one another.

For VYCC, they really want to invest in Deaf-specific education curriculum, not only for their crew members, but also for their entire organization. They do provide a workshop led by a Deaf instructor that teaches about Deaf culture, which has been a great asset to their crews.

What VYCC has found is that in terms of recruitment, making meaningful connections and relationships with Deaf schools, programs, and organizations is key. They originally cast a broad net for applicants, but they’ve realized when they put more filters on crew member positions, a smaller population arises that really wants the positions. For them, targeted outreach has been a challenge.

Funding is really at the heart of whether they can increase their resources or not; if they had the funds, VYCC would absolutely hire a Deaf/ASL-fluent field supervisor, which would increase their amount of applicants and strengthen their programming. Their partnership with The Forest Service provides traditional fee for service dollars, but not for developing curriculum, which is something they’d really like to invest in for the future.

If VYCC could change one thing from when they first implemented these ASL opportunities, they would have been more proactive about creating an inclusive workshop focused on Deaf culture for everyone, including their board members, their employees, and their crew leaders/members.

VYCC critically evaluates their opportunities for crew members and the intended outcomes of these experiences. For VYCC, the end goal is to not only empower crew members within their own identity group, but to help them know their identity within a larger, diversified setting.

Resources that would be beneficial to VYCC include: (1) funding resources for both Deaf and Hard of Hearing crew members, (2) greater opportunities for hearing students to strengthen their ASL skills for future employment as interpreters, and (3) increased sharing of resources related to developing new crews. 
 


Stay tuned for the last leg of my road trip adventures in September, where I’ll be venturing through the Southwest region! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions related to my research, always feel free to reach me at jkatcher@uoregon.edu. Thank you for reading!

Single Identity-Based Crews Research: Update from the Road No. 1

As part of her studies at the University of Oregon, graduate student Jordan Katcher plans to create a toolkit that provides resources for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within Conservation Corps programming. To do this, Jordan hopes to combine academic research with insights from the field.

During the summer of 2017, Jordan is traveling throughout the country to visit several Corps that operate identity-based programs (e.g. Veterans Crews, ASL Inclusion Crews, Native Youth Crews, LGBTQ Crews, All-Female Crews, etc.). She'll be conducting interviews and gathering information about innovative and effective practices. The Corps Network is hosting a blog where Jordan will share her experiences.

 


By Jordan Katcher - submitted July 7, 2017

Background:

Hello all! My name is Jordan Katcher and I am a current Community & Regional Planning graduate student at the University of Oregon. For my master’s degree, I have the opportunity to complete a professional project of my own choosing; given my background serving with AmeriCorps and working for Conservation Legacy, I knew I wanted to focus my research on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion (D,E,I) within the outdoors.

Coming from the Conservation Corps family, I know how difficult it can be to oversee program logistics while maintaining sustainable relationships with members, team leaders, community partners, and funders. It’s a lot to juggle, and being able to perform thorough program evaluations and share what’s happening throughout the larger network of Conservation Corps can also be a struggle, too.

Knowing the limitations that face Conservation Corps led me to think more about D, E, I practices within these organizations, especially as I started to learn more about “single identity-based crew” models. Throughout the country, several Conservation Corps have initiated single identity-based crews that not only create access for traditionally marginalized populations within the Conservation Corps world, but also integrate and share the identities of these members within the larger environmental movement.

Knowing about several single identity-based crews, such as the Utah Conservation Corps Disability Inclusion Crew, the Northwest Youth Corps American Sign Language Inclusion Crew, and the Idaho Conservation Corps All-Women Crew, led me to think more about how important these crews are and how crucial it is that the evolution of these crews be shared throughout the larger Conservation Corps network. I decided to create a toolkit that combines both on-the-ground experience as well as academic research centering on single identity-based crews.

Once I solidified my professional project scope, I partnered with The Corps Network to set up site visits with Conservation Corps across the country. I was also honored to speak with Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin and Ava Holliday from The Avarna Group (who recently published a blog post on the importance of supporting single identity spaces), who assisted me in creating a list of interview questions for each of these site visits.

Two weeks ago, I embarked on my first of three road trips this summer. My first road trip covered the upper Midwest region, where I had the honor of visiting: Montana Conservation Corps in Bozeman, MT; Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa in St. Paul, MN; and SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps in Traverse City, MI. My second road trip will focus on the Northeast region, and my third will focus on the Southwest region. For each of these trips, I’ll be guest blogging for The Corps Network, and sharing bits of my findings with all of you. I want these blog posts to serve as a catalyst for ongoing conversation related to D,E,I initiatives, so definitely reach out to these conservation corps to keep the conversations going!

 

Visits in the Midwest:

Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) Site Visit – Bozeman, Montana

MCC implements single identity-based crews for Native American youth and veterans. Both of these programs formed out of funding opportunities that came up in the past. For MCC, initiating and supporting these crews takes a great amount of work, but, if you qualify the assets and opportunities of these crews, it’s an incredibly important part of their D,E,I goals and objectives. These programs offer so much value to program participants and staff, and MCC highly values the new perspectives that come from these crews.

For their veterans crew, MCC invested in a number of resources for their members, including paying veterans a higher stipend ($150 more each paycheck), providing housing, offering a scholarship program, and giving actual certification for post-service job opportunities. For their initiatives with Native American youth, MCC would like to eventually create an advisory committee of Native American youth that would involve members, alumni, and partners deciding what crews need and want for their crew experiences. MCC has also been able to implement increased resources for their single identity-based crews through The Kendeda Fund.

For MCC, they would like to define the success of their crews from more of a quality than a quantity standpoint. One of their questions is, “outside of numbers, how do we tell the stories of these programs to funders?” Additionally, what recruitment and retention strategies are there for single identity-based crews?

 

Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) Site Visit – St. Paul, Minnesota

CCMI implements a Native American crew, called Restoring Relations, which began in the summer of 2015 in partnership with local community stakeholders. Additionally, while CCMI does not run a single identity-based American Sign Language Inclusion (ASL) Crew, they do provide many opportunities to ASL crew members within their existing crews.

The Restoring Relations Crew evolved out of CCMI asking how they can change their program models and their assumptions to genuinely provide worthwhile opportunities for Native American youth. CCMI hopes that, through Restoring Relations, there is a space for Native American youth to dive into nature through their own identity and history; this starts from in the very beginning of the program when, during training, crew members take a trip down the Mississippi River in traditional boats.

Like MCC, CCMI wants to strengthen more relationships with Native American leaders and have more voices at the table. Currently, their program is based in the Twin Cities, but they’re thinking about expanding in northern Minnesota once they reach capacity.

With Restoring Relations, CCMI provides time for smudging in the morning. The Corps really focuses on reflection across the board, working with crew leaders to decide what kind of reflection activities make the most sense. CCMI strives to be flexible and ready to listen in order to understand what may or may not work for the crew each year.

For CCMI, they would like more resources to educate their staff to feel more knowledgeable about multiple historical narratives of the land, places, and people that they’re working with. They’d also like to know more about recruitment and retention strategies, as well as ways to talk with staff, crew members, and youth about identities within the outdoor environment.

 

SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps (SEEDS) Visit – Traverse City, Michigan

SEEDS noticed that the majority of their crew members were male. In response, they decided to launch an all-women crew, called GURLS Corps (Girls United in Resilience, Leadership and Service), in hopes that this initiative would integrate more females into their organization. All the crew members identified as female and came from the foster care system.

Since SEEDS knew many of these crew members had difficult pasts, they wanted to invest in a well-trained, considerate, and understanding team leader, so they hired a woman with experience as an after-school educator. The crew model allowed for crew members to organically share stories about their foster care experiences and connect with one another. The focus of the program was not only about job experience, but also about providing an opportunity for female crew members to be in a healthy environment.

SEEDS also partners with local tribes for crew model development. Local tribes assist in recruitment and provide half the funding for the initiatives. SEEDS provides the training and materials needed for the service experiences.

Most of SEEDS’ single identity-based crew initiatives, whether focused on female, Native American, or foster care identities, form out of their partnerships with social services, schools, family courts, and tribes. SEEDS is also very conscious about how they approach their crew experiences; they’ve invested in a holistic approach that focuses on integration between social and ecological aspects (including all species).

For SEEDS, they would like resources on understanding the respective benefits of integrated and single identity-based spaces; what unique experiences come from each model, and how do you decide on one model or the other? They’d also like to see stories on how other Conservation Corps approach the work they need to do with an ecological, social, and/or STEM focus; how are Corps integrating STEM into their every day practices? Additionally, SEEDS is interested in comparing price points for their crew expenses; how much are Corps spending on training, uniforms, and supplies?

 

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my next blog post in a few weeks. If you have any questions about my research, have D, E, I resources that have worked for your crews, or would like to set up a potential site visit, please reach out to me via email at jkatcher@uoregon.edu