Youth Power with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (Taos)

Article, written by Kevin Holsapple, appears on the blog Prime Passages. Published July 17, 2014.

Young people can be pretty inspiring and energizing to be around when they are heading in the right direction and are gaining momentum. Organizations and programs that enable and empower young people are a really valuable thing and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is one of those.  I first encountered RMYC when my oldest son was hired for a position there a few years ago working on a forest crew in the Carson National Forest. His interest in college had stalled and he was searching for something to give him traction in the move from dependence to independence as a young adult.  He came away from the experience with improved skills for navigating the world of work and increased confidence that he was up to the task of doing valuable work and making a positive difference.  In his case, RMYC made a difference that I think will last a lifetime.

Recently I was on a hike with Dale Coker, Trails Supervisor at Bandelier National Monument and he told me that he is now several years into a beneficial relationship with RMYC to staff and manage what he calls the Bandelier Conservation Corps, or BCC for short.  The BCC is a crew staffed by young people from throughout the region who work on important trails and back country maintenance tasks.  Bandelier contracts with RMYC for the crew's services and they provide Dale with a valuable resource in his work.  Their presence reminded me of my son's positive experience, so I asked Dale if I could visit with them as a way of reacquainting myself with the works of RMYC.

Dale introduced me to the BCC crew leader, Justin Cook.  Justin proved to be a sharp young man with a degree in Southwest Studies and experience with implementing community development projects in Santa Fe prior to signing on to a supervisory position with RMYC.  In turn, Justin introduced me to the seven members of his crew.  Six are juniors and seniors in area high schools and one is a college student at New Mexico State University. The college student takes a peer leadership role within the group to assist Justin.  In general, young people between the ages of 16 and 25 can apply for crew member positions.

This particular crew has a ten week duration timed with summer vacation from school. The members applied, were interviewed, and selected by Justin.  They work five weekdays while camping at Bandelier and then go home for weekends.  Four of the weekdays they are hard at work on the trails projects assigned by Dale, and one day they usually have some kind of training or team enrichment activity.  For example, they recently rafted the Taos Box as a group.  Bandelier also participates in a crew exchange activity within the park system and this group will spend some of their time working at Grand Canyon National Park. Other training activities include leadership, communications, resume building, interviewing, and confidence-building.

Crew members are paid a stipend in return for their work and they also receive credit in an educational account from Americorps. My wife and I were able to share a meal with the group and we left impressed by how outgoing and interesting these young folks turned out to be.  My experience has been that it often takes some coaxing to draw out a conversation with young people, but that was not the case with this bunch.  They offered up a stream of observations about their experiences so far this summer and had alot of questions about who the heck were we and why were we interested in them.  Justin told me that they are involved in a variety of interactions from training with Park staff to assisting Bandelier in their fundraising that supports the BCC program and that those activities give the individuals practice and confidence in their communications.

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is a non-profit based in Taos, NM.  Their mission is to inspire young adults to make a difference in themselves and their communities and through training and team service, to be a stepping stone to new opportunities.  They are an Americorps and a CorpsNetwork affiliate and they partner with a broad variety of other programs and organizations.  In addition to providing crews throughout the year similar to the BCC in five communities in the region, RMYC operates a residential energy efficiency program and community volunteer projects in northeast NM.  They employ a permanent staff of 20, have about 20-30 limited term staff in a typical year (e.g. crew leaders), and they generally employ 100-150 young people per year as crew members.

RMYC is continually recruiting for year-round positions.  Summer positions are open to high schoolers in the 16-25 age range while fall/winter/spring positions are open to individuals who are out of school.  Information and application instructions are on their website.

2014 Corpsmember of the Year, Linda Santana



Linda Santana
AmeriCorps member - Rocky Mountain Youth Corps - Taos
Taos, NM

 

After graduating from college in 2009, Linda Santana decided to take a year off to figure out the next step in her life. At the suggestion of a friend, she began researching AmeriCorps programs and eventually applied to be an AmeriCorps member with the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC). Linda knew the Corps would be different from anything she had ever experienced, but she liked the idea of working outside and exploring new places.

Linda describes her first season with MCC as “life changing.” She returned to the Corps for a second season as an AmeriCorps Crew Leader and gained more personal insight and self-confidence. As the term came to an end, she realized she wasn’t quite ready to end her Corps experience; there was still a lot more she could learn in the conservation field. Though her time at MCC had been very rewarding, Linda knew she wanted to work in a new location and discover the opportunities available at a different Corps. This is what led her to Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) in Taos, New Mexico.

During her time as an AmeriCorps member with RMYC, Linda has proven to be a phenomenal leader. She was the foundation for a crew that faced a great deal of adversity, including the loss of a supervisor. Though the members of her crew did not always show respect for each other, Linda maintained a positive attitude. As one of her supervisors said, “[Linda’s] personal standards and morals lead to a lifestyle comprised of healthy and admirable choices. As a mentor to many on her crew, she has exceeded the expectation of a mentor to offer herself as a friend and a pathway to experiencing sobriety and innocent means of passing the time.”

Linda has served as an ambassador for RMYC’s Youth Conservation Corps program. She has spoken in front of the New Mexico State Commission about her experiences with both RMYC and MCC.

“She understands the technical skills, but truly embodies that the true meaning of our work is personal growth and development,” said Maura Cassell, an RMYC Program Coordinator. “She is able to pass along this meaning of our work to her peers and she continuously serves as an influence and role model.”

One day, Linda hopes to become a bilingual outdoor educator. Working towards this goal, she voluntarily took on the role of Training Specialist at RMYC. She worked closely with staff to develop and carry out a variety of creative programs, including a course in which she taught Corpsmembers how to successfully complete a variety of fire training classes.

“I want to work in an outdoor environment where I can teach others, our youth in particular, about the importance of our land, why we should care for it and protect it, and about the impact we as individuals have on it,” said Linda.

In the future, Linda plans to return to school to receive her master’s degree in outdoor education. If it were not for her experiences with RMYC and MCC, however, she might have very different goals today.

“The Corps experience changed my life. It allowed me to get out of my comfort zone, learn more about other places and provided me with the opportunity to explore beautiful places in our country I may otherwise have never seen,” said Linda. “It allowed me to work with a diverse group of people and learn technical skills, as well as soft skills, that have helped me grow as an individual.”  

Boiler Plate: 
After graduating from college in 2009, Linda Santana decided to take a year off to figure out the next step in her life. At the suggestion of a friend, she began researching AmeriCorps programs and eventually applied to the Montana Conservation Corps (MCC). Linda knew the Corps would be different from anything she had ever experienced, but she liked the idea of working outside and exploring new places.