2010 Project of the Year: Neighborhood Youth Center in Fresno

Winner: EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps

Bursting at its seams, with waiting lists in excess of 400, EOC's Fresno Local Conservation Corps took a major risk - constructing a community campus, the Neighborhood Youth Center (NYC). What drove the project was the desire to make a one-stop beacon of hope in an area the Brookings Institution ranked among the highest concentrated poverty in the nation - and to have it designed and planned by Corpsmembers.

Corpsmembers surveyed 1,000 local residents to determine which services were needed, ranking them by importance. From the survey the Corps engaged architects to design a campus with an NBA-sized gymnasium, weight room, and community meeting facility; a child care facility with capacity for 80 Corpsmember children; a vocational training facility to teach solar installation, welding, recycling, and construction applications; and a headquarters facility complete with a 40-station computer lab, space for seven classrooms, and the Corps' administrative offices. The services co-located at the NYC include counseling delivered by masters-level supervised interns from Fresno State University, WIC, WIA One Stop Training, the YouthBuild Charter School of California, Fresno City College, a Career Center, AFLN, and EOC health screening services.

Staff moved into the 60,000 square foot, $16 million complex in September 2009. 

2010 Project of the Year: American Youthworks Constructs Green Home that Tops Energy Star Rankings

Winner: American Youtworks

American Youthworks Casa Verde Builders recently completed green construction on a home that earned a 5-Star-Plus rating by the EPA’s Energy Star program. Corpsmembers trained, built, and installed green products.  

FlexCrete blocks made from aerated concrete and fly ash supported the basic structure. Corpsmembers laid bamboo flooring and added green finishing touches, including, thanks to a partnership with local nonprofit 1Home At A Time, a three-kilowatt solar system.

The home topped Energy Star rankings; the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) testing contractor said it had the lowest score he had ever seen. Over a 10 month period, the average monthly electric bill was $5.06. 

Perhaps even more important than the energy and environmental impact of the project is the impact it had on the Corpsmembers who built it. Green building provided a practical format for discussing environmental and energy issues, a case study for looking at how people and their lifestyles impact the environment. And building the home created a tangible sense of accomplishment for YouthBuild Corpsmembers, many of whom come from at-risk backgrounds. For them, building a house becomes a living metaphor for rebuilding their lives.

2011 Project of the Year: Stimulus Dollars Triple Growth of Youth Corps and Conservation Projects in Hawaii


Winner: KUPU, Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps

From 2009-2010, Kupu and its Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps was thankful for the opportunity to serve 45 young adults, 27 conservation agencies, and numerous communities across Hawaii through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funded Recovery Youth Conservation Corps (RYCC) project.

Through a number of partnerships with state, federal, and nonprofit conservation agencies, new Americorps members produced considerable benefits for communities as well as themselves. The RYCC project was based on the Youth Conservation Corps’ year-round program, where over the course of 11 months participants gain knowledge, skills, and job training while serving their communities. Statistics truly speak to the success of this program.

In total, the ARRA funding allowed for 45 individuals to be hired, nearly tripling the previous size of the Corps’ year-round program. They contributed a combined total of 66,461 hours of work, a value approximated at $1.2 million. 2,270 community members also volunteered and assisted Corpsmembers with their projects, for a total of 16,380 hours. Over 50 organizations were provided with some kind of aid, and 29% of the participants who have completed their full term of service (11 people) have found permanent jobs as a result of the training they received.

Beyond the statistics, the funding has allowed the Corps to expand its administrative capacity, as well as build meaningful partnerships throughout Hawaii. It’s an excellent example of the value the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has served in one state.

2011 Project of the Year: Community College Teams with Coconino Energy Conservation Corps


Winner: Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC)

Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) and Coconino Community College built an effective educational partnership in 2010 that has greatly enhanced the experiences of Energy Conservation Corps (ECC) Corpsmembers both in the classroom and in the field.

The partnership began when CREC approached Coconino Community College (CCC) after the College received an award to deliver weatherization training in Northern Arizona. With this award CCC was able to subsidize training expenses for CREC Corpsmembers.

The CCC campus has an extensive lab that allows for practical applications of basic safety, weatherization measures, and construction training activities that develop the Corpsmembers learning experiences. Courses cover Basic Weatherization, Tier 1 retrofitting, and Tier 2 retrofitting. Corpsmembers receive in-depth, professional training to become competent residential retrofitters. The six full days of training mirrors the Tier 1 retrofitting that Corpsmembers apply in the field.

The college also arranges for Corpsmembers to complete an energy audit on a volunteer residential home. First, however, they complete the installation of retrofit materials in a controlled classroom setting before working on the home. After completing their retrofit, Corpsmembers can see real time results from post tests, giving them a concrete understanding of the value and improved energy efficiency that result from weatherization of homes.

After students finish their terms, CCC and CREC combine resources to provide post-employment assistance by helping Corpsmembers find jobs within the local green construction field. So far six Corpsmembers who have completed this certificate training have accepted green jobs with local energy and sustainability companies in Flagstaff. This makes the training program even more effective as the skills gained through this collaboration directly impact the communities of Northern Arizona in terms of both overall energy conservation and developing a local, capable, and certified workforce.

2011 Project of the Year: Over 1/2 Million Square Feet of Cool Roofs


Winner: Green City Force

Over the past 7 months Green City Force, a recent start-up corps, has participated in the New York Cool Roofs campaign with the NYC Department of Buildings, NYC Service, and the Community Environmental Center (CEC). The goal of the campaign was to paint 1 million square feet of rooftops with a reflective coating that can lead to energy savings of 18% in a building.

The white coating (a titanium paint mixture) works to reflect up to 85% of the sun’s rays during hot summer months, lowering the electrical costs needed to cool a building. Green City Force (GCF) was tasked with coating half of the 1 million square feet.

To date, they have surpassed that goal, having coated and cleaned over 600,000 square feet. But as an added bonus, many of Green City Force’s Corpsmembers have become leaders and people capable of recruiting others to this cause.

In May, when the Corpsmembers of GCF’s most recent cycle first started, they had yet to demonstrate their job readiness, professionalism, or ability to interact with their community. Only 6 of the 24 individuals had been employed in the previous year, and these individuals all had low-paying seasonal jobs. By having them paint rooftops, interact with residents on the way to roofs, and arrive at worksites promptly at 8 am, GCF Corpsmembers gained new confidence and understanding of what it takes to succeed.

One of GCF’s partners, Community Environmental Center, became so impressed with the dedication and professionalism of Corpsmembers that they asked GCF if Corpsmembers could supervise volunteers on some of their projects. GCF volunteers rose to the need, sometimes supervising up to 100 volunteers on large rooftops. Corpsmembers handled logistics like making sure brushes, paints, and other supplies were ready for volunteers. In addition to surpassing its square footage goal, GCF has recruited over 1000 volunteers and Corpsmembers have supervised work at over 10 sites. These numbers indicate a significant transformation for Corpsmembers.

To go from disconnected and unemployed to supervising fellow citizens in a project to better the environment and save energy costs, GCF’s Corpmembers have demonstrated admirable leadership, persistence, and professionalism.

2011 Project of the Year: Tribal Preservation Crew Wows National Park Service


Winner: Southwest Conservation Corps

Cornell Torivio was instrumental in working with the Southwest Conservation Corps to create a Corps at the Acoma Pueblo. As a member of the community, Cornell has always strived to blend his two primary professional interests: historic/prehistoric preservation and work with Native American youth. With his 10 years of experience doing preservation work for the National Park Service as well as at the Acoma Pueblo, Cornell decided that he could offer more.

Working with local National Park Service (NPS) partners, Cornell has now helped to create a Tribal Preservation Program crew. The crew is comprised entirely of young Native Americans who have been trained by Cornell to preserve valuable historic and cultural sites.

The first project the crew successfully completed was stabilization work on a historic depot tank stage station at Petrified Forest National Park. The NPS was so impressed that it plans to develop more projects for the crew.

Program participants gain many marketable skills through the work. These skills include knowledge of how to document and photograph all work that is being accomplished at the site; how to implement “leave no trace” methods into the daily work routine so as to cause the least amount of impact; how to identify different types of mortars, stones, and adobe used at historic and prehistoric sites; knowledge of historic and current NPS standards and policies, as well as interpretive knowledge of the parks; and professional preservation trade skills and career development. While it is unlikely that all program participants will go into preservation work, some of the program graduates will likely fill the ranks of retiring NPS and other professional preservation workers.

But without doubt, all program participants gain greater appreciation of the value in preserving our country’s historic treasures. The partnership has also allowed the National Park Service to gain a dedicated and well-trained preservation crew that might also provide the agency with a good portion of its future archaeological preservation staff.

2011 Project of the Year: Savings and Solar Power to Cash-Strapped Park


Winner: Los Angeles Conservation Corps

In 2010, Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) greatly increased its capacity to assist and implement solar installation projects. In a four way partnership with theL.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation, Permacity Solar, and Los Angeles Trade Tech College, a 50 killowatt commercial solar installation project was completed at Obregon Park. It was the first project of its kind in the county, and has proven so successful that more projects seem likely.

Obregon Park , located in the impacted community of East Los Angeles, is the cornerstone for recreation and residents in the area. By saving on electrical costs, a depleted parks department will be able to use excess money to provide more recreation programming to the residents in the area.

At the beginning and end of the program, community members were contacted by LACC Corpsmembers who went door-to-door to explain the value of the project. In addition to helping educate members of their community about the value of solar power, LACC Corpsmembers were able to shadow a Permacity Solar crew on the project. They participated from start to finish with planning and installation, working alongside the company’s technicians. They also received training in solar installation and theory from Los Angeles Trade Tech College.

Permacity Solar technicians and managers were impressed by the character, confidence, and commitment of the Corpsmembers toward the project. In fact, two of the Corpsmembers who worked on the project were subsequently hired in permanent positions by the company. As a direct result of this project, the County of Los Angeles has decided to pursue funding to install 10 similar systems in other county parks. These systems could result in as much as $2 million of projects directed toward LACC Corpsmembers.

In addition to the success of this project, LACC has benefited by building their own capacity to complete solar installations beyond residential homes. The Corps now has the ability to complete commercial applications. Currently the Corps is installing a 410 kilowatt commercial system at CBS Studios.

2012 Project of the Year: Recycling Black Locusts for a Win-Win


Winner: SEEDS Youth Conservation Corps

SEEDS staffers hold a harder line than most when it comes to purchasing policies because of their organization’s mission to bring a holistic perspective to design challenges and help communities make durable decisions about their own future. For the boardwalks, platforms, and other construction projects the Corps was getting, no one wanted to use toxic, chemically treated lumber.

In Michigan lumber for projects often comes from the West Coast, draining valuable financial resources from the state economy and requiring heavy product to be shipped across vast distances, which is a complete loser in terms of emissions and embodied energy. SEEDS generally desires to build things out of resources that are readily available.

A perfect storm of opportunity was created when SEEDS learned of the possibility of using black locust lumber. Simultaneously they learned that the National Park Service was girdling large stands of it, as it is considered by them an invasive species in Michigan. Black Locust posts have been known to last as long as 100 years in the ground. This wood is very heavy, providing strength and durability. This combined with its rot resistance makes it the ideal choice for fencing, boardwalks, hops yards, and landscaping.

SEEDS Youth Corps creates custom lengths, milled posts, fencing, and decking materials as well as fire wood all for its own use and for sale. The use of black locust has improved the Corps in a number of ways including 1) benefits associated with using higher quality lumber, 2) benefits with sourcing materials locally and using nontoxic material, 3) having direct control over the materials they use, 4) students learning how to both create and fill an order for lumber and learning about the full life cycle of these materials from tree to boardwalk and back into tree, and 5) significantly increasing the number of hours SEEDS can afford to hire its Corpsmembers.

With its new programmatic investment in black locust products, the Corps has already added the equivalent of 2.5 full time green collar jobs for youth in a community that faces far higher rates of unemployment than even their parents do in these economically depressed times and regions of long standing rural poverty. These hours are split among many employees and this work, in and of itself, helps these students stay on track at school, improve self esteem, and generate income for their families. SEEDS expects this number to only grow for the foreseeable future.

By using black locust rough cut lumber in place of treated decking, SEEDS reduced the greenhouse gas impacts of traditional decking lumber production by between 93% and 97%. During the first three quarters of 2011, by displacing traditional treated lumber with locust we reduced 18 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e). This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 3.5 cars or 1.6 homes. Quantifying the impact that the toxic chemicals in treated lumber have on ecosystems – especially wetlands where it is most often used – is not currently accessible to SEEDS, but they are seeking scientists who can effectively illustrate this impact.

Another positive aspect to the program was that Youth Corps staff were trained to take trees down in the park, mill them on-site, organize and transport the lumber, and create beautiful, long lasting, locally sourced, nontoxic carpentry projects for the entire community to use. Corpsmembers have learned to recognize black locust not only as an invasive species but also as resource. They have procured products with their own hands rather than through purchasing and have learned that these projects will last a lifetime. As a result of this project they have also received the following trainings: invasive species identification, herbicide application certification, botanical Illustration and identification, plant identification in the Anishinaabemowin language, first aid and CPR certification, and basic construction. Older Corpsmembers have also received MIOSHA chainsaw certification, wildfire chainsaw certification, and four-season proper tree harvesting techniques.

Creating jobs to create the raw materials needed for other jobs added over $50,000 of community support in the first three quarters of 2011. Additionally, SEEDS has generated another $35,000 by selling locust products to organic farmers – a significant market that they had not previously been involved in. In total the project has provided an additional 5200 hours of paid employment to Corpsmembers.

This is a classic example of looking with an innovative eye toward someone else’s waste product as a resource for someone else. The National Park saw these trees as invasive and a waste – at best firewood. SEEDs saw these trees as economic generators for their community.

2012 Project of the Year: San Diego Fire Fuel Reduction Program


Winner: Urban Corps of San Diego

When constructing work/learn service projects, youth conservation corps must assess a community’s needs. In San Diego, wildfires pose a constant threat.

In the spring of 2011, Urban Corps of San Diego County’s “Fire Fuel Reduction” program, or FFR, helped clear a path to a better future for more than 300 Corpsmembers. They received paid on-the-job training in the area of fire fuel reduction, while helping create 250 acres of fire defensible space in San Diego County. In the process, many young people developed an interest in pursuing a career in fire fighting, an added benefit for the San Diego Workforce Partnership, who came to Urban Corps last October with a budget of $1.1 million in ARRA and Workforce Investment Act dollars for youth employment through fire prevention and mitigation services.

It was Urban Corps that called upon its community partners and quickly leveraged the project to over $1.7 million, substantially increasing the FFR program’s scope, impact and ability to serve youth and community. FFR proved exceptional in many ways.

From the beginning, the program represented a departure from Urban Corps’ typical Corpsmember enrollment procedure and numbers. Prior to FFR, enrollment was at approximately 140 youth. FFR allowed the organization to provide a three-tiered program to 318 young adults ages 18-25 for 12 weeks. Urban Corps rapidly mobilized and coordinated a massive recruitment effort. To qualify for the program, applicants had to meet low-income guidelines and have at least one barrier to employment such as a disability, limited English proficiency, a court record, or history in the foster care system. More than 100 were hired by the end of March.

The participants were scheduled to receive an intensive training followed by work in the field for four days per week and attendance at Urban Corps’ onsite charter high school the remaining one day per week to receive academic instruction, class credit, and a rigorous work readiness education through the Corps-to-Career Department. As a result, the FFR program created unprecedentedly large high school enrollment at Urban Corps Charter School, expanding the number of youth served by 100%.

Another exciting aspect of the FFR program was the additional impact brought in by Urban Corps’ leveraged partnerships. In an unprecedented move, the organization was able to partner with the U.S. Forest Service and the Viejas Fire Department, a fantastic opportunity for Corpsmembers to receive training and gain on-the-job experience alongside professionals. Additional sponsors were Sweetwater Authority and the City of Chula Vista, both in need of fire mitigation services. Most notably, Viejas Fire Dept. brought an in-kind match of certified training for the participants, greatly enhancing the overall value of the program for Corpsmembers.

Before being sent out in the field, participants attended an intensive orientation training on fire fuel reduction methods and leadership, including safe hand tool and chain saw usage. The professional certification training included 4 courses attended by FFR participants and staff and led by Viejas personnel. Course material covered the primary factors affecting the start and spread of wildfires, recognition of potentially hazardous situations, entry level firefighter skills, and an introduction to the function, maintenance and use of chain saws and their wildland fire application. The training resulted in 65% of the FFR participants earning Chainsaw Operation Certification and LS-180 leadership training, leaving them qualified to join a fire hand crew.

In the field, Corpsmembers gained valuable job skills while removing vegetation and assisting with controlled burns. The youth experienced first-hand what fire fighters do in the off-season to prevent wildfires. They learned about firebreaks, shelters, and native plants. At Bell Middle School in San Diego, FFR crews helped create a safe passage to school for students by clearing a well traversed canyon path. The project was highly publicized and brought considerable attention to the FFR program and its partners. In total, crews produced more than 10.8 million square feet of defensible space, leaving San Diego County a much safer place to live for its 3 million residents.

An unexpected benefit of the FFR program has been a significant increase in the Urban Corps’ capacity to serve its target population, specifically through its ability to obtain similar service projects. The success of this program has paved the way for potential funding for future fire fuel reduction partnerships. So many benefitted through FFR, most of all the young people, that the Corps expects this program to be duplicated year after year. Plus, with enrollment more than doubling, Urban Corps experienced a challenge and a reward that taught them that they were capable of serving more young people and that they can and must create additional opportunities for youth. As such, they shifted their charter school focus this past summer and adopted a new calendar with more learning days. Starting this fall, a week-on/week/off education schedule is enabling the Corps to train and educate 30% more youth.

2012 Project of the Year: Miami Crime Mitigation Program


Winner: Greater Miami Service Corps

Traditionally, the boarding up of foreclosed and abandoned properties is completed by the banks or private companies. These entities charge exorbitant service fees which are sometimes transferred to the homeowner. To address this problem and to also mitigate crime associated with these kinds of properties (including theft and vandalism), the Greater Miami Service Corps initiated a new project to provide a cost effective, quality service that includes boarding up homes and cleaning the exterior of each property.

The program engages several partners, including the Miami-Dade Department of Permitting, Environment, and Regulatory Affairs and Miami-Dade Police Department. The program not only provides a revenue generating opportunity for the Corps, it also saves homeowners money. In addition, the work serves to provide a business training opportunity by teaching Corpsmembers how to determine required supplies needed to board up a building, its windows, doors, pools, and so forth. It also provides members with skills training in the construction industry and serves as a restorative justice project for Civic Justice Corps programs, thereby increasing positive behaviors. In addition to training, members are also working in cooperation with police to mitigate criminal activity within the Miami-Dade community.

The impact on Corpsmembers participating in this program is significant. 14 of the 17 Corpsmembers (82%) received national industry certifications including green credentials from the National Center for Construction Education Research (NCCER). Members also earned post-secondary elective credits with the University of Florida. Three members earned their High School Diploma and another three members were scheduled to earn their diploma by January 2012. It is also important to note that 29% of the 17 participants are former offenders. This project served as a restorative justice project for these members to give back to the communities they may have harmed.

Corpsmembers have impacted the community by mitigating crime on over 220 abandoned or foreclosed properties. The value of the support to the Miami-Dade Department of Permitting, Environment and Regulatory Affairs through Code Enforcement and the Miami-Dade Police Department is approximated at over $500,000 dollars.