2008 Project of the Year: Redondo Bluffs Restoration Project

 

Winner: Los Angeles Conservation Corps 

In a collaborative effort between the LA Conservation Corps, local residents, the Urban Wildlands Group (local nonprofit), and state and local governments, the Beach Bluffs Restoration Project Team was formed to identify and restore locations within the South Bay that historically supported populations of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, an endangered species known only to exist in 3 isolated reserves.

LACC’s SEA Lab is located in Redondo Beach on the Santa Monica Bay.  The adjacent coastal bluffs are the historic home of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly.  However, due to habitat loss, the butterfly population rapidly declined and the insect was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1976. In 2005, the Corps received funding from the California Coastal Conservancy to restore a small 3 acre site. For 2 years, more than 100 Corpsmembers removed invasive ice plant, constructed a native plant nursery, planted native vegetation, installed irrigation, fencing, and interpretive signage, conducted stakeholder surveys, and maintained the newly planted native landscape.

Although the Bluffs Restoration Project team hoped that one day the El Segundo Blues would return to the Redondo Bluffs, the scientific community believed due to habitat fragmentation and population isolation re-colonization of the butterflies could occur only via human assistance.  In May 2007, as crews were wrapping up the project by adding vegetation and removing weeds, staff member Monica Acosta noticed a butterfly that looked suspiciously like the El Segundo Blue.  She sent a few photos to USC experts for identification.  A team of scientists surveyed the site and confirmed the presence of over 200 butterflies. 

Sure enough, via the hard work of LACC Corpsmembers, the El Segundo Blue returned, on their own, to the Redondo Bluffs.  The rapid return to the site so surprised the experts that it is now leading them to a new understanding of the species.  Young folks from some of the neediest neighborhoods in LA made a difference, a huge difference, and proved that sometimes the impossible is just improbable.

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. 

2009 Project of the Year: Reducing Water Use in Denver

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps

With utility rates rising and the threat of drought, Colorado-based Mile High Youth Corps tackled the issue of saving water through its Water Conservation Program. In partnership with Denver Water, Mile High Youth Corps developed the Water Conservatin Program in 2007 to help low-income households, nonprofit agencies, affordable housing complexes and faith-based institutins across the metro area save water and lower their utility costs while promoting water conservation. Small teams of Corpsmembers are dispatched to area homes and agenices to replace toilets using more than 3.5 gallons of water per flush with high-efficiency toilets (HETs), which only use one gallon per flush.

"The crew was friendly, professional, fast and thoroughly explained everything," said William Fitzwater, a Denver Water client who received his free toilet earlier this year.

The Water Conservation Program grew out of MHYC's Energy Conservation Project with the Governor's Energy Office (GEO). In 2006, MHYC began working with GEO to install low-cost energy saving measures in the homes of 2,000 clients of the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). Corpsmembers fit kitchen and bathroom faucets with low-flow aerators, installed water-efficient showerheads and assessed homes for water leaks. This year, the Water Conservation Program expects to double the 854 HETs installed in 2007. Typically, households see a 15 percent reduction in their water bills.

A key component of the program is Corpsmember and client education. MHYC Corpsmembers receive comprehensive environmental education and techinal training. They also gain the skills and experience needed to be successful in today's workforce - especially the ever-grrowing Green Jobs industry. 

2009 Project of the Year: Reducing Wildfire Threat in New Mexico

Winner: Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, in partnership with the Southwest Region of the National Forest Service, works diligently to reduce the threat of large, high intensity wildfires by reestablishing pre-existing fire regimes, and improving the use of small diamter trees. RMYC has been involved in the Collaborative Forest Restoratoin Program (CFRP) in Largo Canyon just outside of Questa, NM, a community at high risk of a wildfire threat.

The efforts of RMYC Crews have reduced the threat of wildfires by carrying out a thinning treatment in a Wild Land-Urban-Interface (WUI) area on the threshold between the town, private, and Forest Service land. Through community planning meetings, RMYC has identified a diverse and balanced group to help design, implement, and monitor the Largo Canyon CFRP.

Corpsmembers are trained and complete ecological monitoring activities within the project area. Additionally, RMYC has created local employment opportunities for youth and provided training opportunities relevant to project accomplishments. Improvement to the watershed by returning ecosystems to healthier conditions, opportunity for local youth to gain valuable job training and experience, as well as the distribution of firewood, meeting local community needs are just a few of the positive outcomes of this project. 

2009 Project of the Year: Multi-Site Non-Profit Center for Education

Winner: Southwest Conservation Corps

The Southwest Conservation Corps' (SCC) award winning project, "The Commons," is the nation's first multi-site nonprofit center focused on education. Working with the Durango Adult Education Center and Pueblo Community College, SCC and its partners purchased a new facility in 2007. The community quickly saw the benefit of the project and the pernership was awarded the Durango Chamber of Commerce's "Non-Profit of the Year" award in early 2008. The New Markets Tax Credit Coalition chose the project as its Colorado respresentative in its "50 Projects - 50 States" Report in October 2008.

Development of The Commons has provided a bounty of direct benefits to SCC and its Corpsmembers. These benefits include: transition on-site between SCC to GED programs at Adult Education Center and post-secondary education at Pueblo Community College, Fort Lewis College and The University of Denver; special $1,000 Scholarships to Fort Lewis College for SCC Corpsmembers, renewable annually for four years; and 5,000 square feet of completely re-modeled and customized offices and shops with plenty of parking in downtown Durango. The other 13 nonprofit or education organizations in the building have seen similar benefits. Pueblo Community College and the Adult Education Center have each seen enrollment jumps of 30 - 40 percent since the opening of the facility in late 2007.

In an editorial piece, The Durango Herald stated, "...the real advantages come in terms of enhanced stability, greater coordination among the various organizations and the cooperation made possible by having such a fertile mix of educational groups under one roof...That has to translate into better careers, increased opportunities and an overal better Durango." 

2009 Project of the Year: Teaching Golf to Underprivileged Youth

Winner: Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia

The Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia's popular program, The First Tee of Beckley (TFTB), engages and exposes underprivileged youth to the disciplined game of golf. Using golf as the vehicle, youth are exposed to character education in programming that integrates the fundamentals of golf and personal skills. TFTB's core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perserverance, courtesy, and judgment serve as the building blocks of the program.

Since being developed in 1997, The First Tee has achieved its mission of "impacting the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf." TFTB, the first and only chapeter in West Virginia, focuses on the developmnet of area youth, particularly those at-risk, by offering all programming free of charge.

While enrolled in TFTB's programming, youth are taught the importance of giving back to the community through service and volunteer projects, are offered positive adult role models that provide the foundation and basis for participants to become mentors for younger siblings and/or peers, and postive alternatives to drug use, crime, and a sedentary lifestyle.

In 2008, TFTB engaged 225 youth at its facility and another 2,100 in area schools. The First Tee of Beckley has proven so successful that the Corps is in the process of expanding its programming throughout West Virginia. 

2010 Project of the Year: The Dolores River Restoration Program

Winner: Canyon Country Youth Corps

Region-wide conservation removing invasive species and restoring native vegetation has been planned and will be carried out in a five-year action plan thanks to a unique partnership between Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) and Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC): The Dolores River Restoration Program. The catalyst for the project was The Walton Family Foundation's Freshwater Initiative - and through technical guidance and funding, the Foundation expects to expand its efforts to four other tributaries of the Colorado River.

SCC and CCYC provided each Corpsmember with over 120 hours of training in chainsaw operations, basic GPC monitoring and data collection, river ecology, noxious weed identification, and introductory herbicide application training. Crews have contributed 4,500 hours monitoring and treating over 34 river miles. At the end of the program, SCC and CCYC assisted Corpsmembers in connecting with federal jobs.

These two initial Corps - SCC and CCYC - expect to codify the program model for replication by other Corps across the Colorado River Basin and other similar areas.

2010 Project of the Year: Green Jobs for Veterans

Winner: Southwest Conservation Corps

The prolonged military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq are resulting in hundreds of thousands of returning veterans in search of work. This highly trained and disciplined workforce needs meaningful work emobodying the ethic of service that brought them into the military. Their significant assets combine with significant challenges: combat trauma and the stress of deployment too often result in tragedy, including suicide rates as high as 120 per week.

Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) has partnered with Veteran Green Jobs (VGJ) to create the Veterans Green Corps (VGC), an all-Vertan Conservation Corps. SCC employes Veteran Corpsmembers and crew leaders to mobilize crews in conservation projects on public lands. VGJ provides wrap-around supportive services including recruitment and screening, benefits coordination, post-program placement and follow-up, and professional develepment.

Most important are the impacts on the participants - some say that working and living among trees and streams helps alleviate their post-traumatic stress. Others find new careers in forestry and mental health professions. The US Forest Servce Region II awarded SCC, in partnership with VGJ, $868,000 of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvesment Act) funds to operate 12 VGC crews; SCC operated three of those crews in 2009, employing 25 military veterans, and will operate the remainder in 2010 and 2012. 

2010 Project of the Year: Workstudy Program - Go to College, Work on an Organic Farm

Winner: Conservation Corps North Bay

Through the Conservation Corps North Bay's (CCNB) partnership with College of Marin and UC Cooperative Extension Marin, Corpsmembers can attend the College of Marin and receive work study for their field work at the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden. The Farm, located on the College of Marin's beautiful Indian Valley Campus, enables CCNB to expand its program to include post-secondary students, Corpsmembers who are interested in pursuing a college education and/or receiving a specialized certificate in Sustainable Horticulture.

At the 5.8 acre organic education farm and garden, the first education and training center of its kind in the region, CCNB Corpsmembers receive valuable year-round field study, job training, and education in preparation for jobs in Marin's fastest growing green jobs and sustainable agriculture sectors. As a part of this innovative program, the College of Marin will create a Certificate in Sustainable Horticulture program and also will align its curriculum with Agriculture and Environmental Sciences degree programs offered at the University of California Davis and Santa Cruz campuses. In this way, CCNB Corpsmembers can seamlessly transfer to four year colleges to continue their studies in this field.

2010 Project of the Year: Making Low-Income Denver Homes More Efficient

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC)

In 2009, Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) diversified and expanded its operations - and the result was a gigantic savings of energy - and energy costs - for residents who needed it most. Low-income single family and multi-family units in Denver with high energy bills received no-cost energy audits and retrofit services. Four days a week, 10 months of the year, teams of Corpsmembers audited homes, installed compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), high-efficiency shower heads (SH) and sink aerators and conducted energy and water use assessments.

MHYC served over 25,000 CFLs, 2,000 SHs and 5,000 sink aerators - which typically led to a 20 - 30 percent reduction in client utility costs. These measures will reduce energy use by 3,000,000 kWh over their life-cycle, reduce emissions of CO2 equivalents by 5,500,000 pounds, and lead to water savings of over 48,000,000 gallons.

Audit data sent to local weatherization partners and Denver Water enabled them to connect over half of the clients to more extensive no-cost services: replacement of ineffiecent toilets, refrigerators, furnaces and/or installation of improved insulation in their homes. Also, Corpsmembers have received job training, energy and environmental education and community service hours - enabling them to succeed in the burgeoning energy economy.

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