Conservation Cruisers “Team Awesome” Values Commitment and Earns Bikes

Article, written by Conservation Cruisers Leader Kevin Webster, appears on Southeast Youth Corps' website. Published July 14, 2014.

How often does one hear “Kids these days don’t know how to appreciate anything” and “Kids these days do not know know the value of hard work”?  Well, I can assure you that the graduates of Trips for Kids-Southeast Youth Corps’s Conservation Cruisers directly challenge these assumptions, and I know first hand they break down that stereotype.  This Saturday SYC staff, family members of the participants, Ride Mentors, and community members gathered to show their support for the hard work of these five youth.

On July 12th, 2014 Trips for Kids-Southeast Youth Corps graduated its second team of Conservation Cruisers, also known as “Team Awesome,” and five of them earned their very own mountain bike to continue to bike the trails of Chattanooga.

But what does that mean really, you ask?  For the past five months, six teenagers aged 12 through 15 gave up their Saturday mornings (I repeat, for five months!) to do something they have never done before, with people they did not know, and to take them to places they have never been.  That takes courage, that takes strength, and that takes commitment.  When they decided to make the commitment, they knew what they were working for, a new mountain bike and a helmet, and they were willing to work for it.  They taught themselves a lesson in responsibility, not just to themselves but also to the other team members to show up every Saturday on time, as if it were a job.

But they may also have walked away with benefits and contributions they did not originally anticipate like perseverance, patience, teamwork, and trust.  Mountain biking is a difficult sport.  Any new biker I’ve ever biked with admits the first pains, “This saddle is killing me!”  And it does, and you have to bear it, and you have to do it again.  I saw one of our participants sit atop a steep hill recently, calculating inside her brain the risk, and the worth, and then experience the exhilaration and the thrill of “You did it.  That’s awesome!  Go Glendy!”  Mountain bike volunteer Ride Mentor Jennifer Dzik explained to the group during their graduation, “I know you worked hard, I saw you do it, and it means a lot to me, and I hope to continue to see you on the trails,” as she congratulated them for earning their bikes.

You continue to do it because you want it.  We battled the heat and cold, rain and humidity, and bugs to fulfill our rides and do perform our monthly conservation service work.  Ask any one of these kids what Bush Honeysuckle, English Ivy, Privet, or Poison Ivy looks like, and they’ll gladly show you because they experienced it.  They know it first hand.  As we pulled hundreds of Bush Honeysuckle plants from Old Baldy on Stringer’s Ridge Park we also became acquainted with mosquitoes and sweat.  Going back to that site you can really see the difference and the impact, and that is how we made our mark, and will continue to do so.

Together the participants:

Biked 292 miles

Spent 190 hours in the saddle

Gave 30 hours performing conservation service work

199 hours were spent mentoring youth

To conclude the graduation, we all took a ceremonial ride through the Hill City neighborhood with friends, families, and little brothers and little sisters (future Conservation Cruisers) like we were on top of the world.  One Trips for Kids participant took the time to explain some group riding rules to the group and how to make other riders alert of when cars were in front or behind us before taking off.

If there is anything that I’ve learned from this special experience is that kids will meet the challenge if given a good opportunity.  Their resilience and hard work is evident, and they amaze me each time I see them.  I do not doubt that future Trips for Kids Conservation Cruisers will do the same.

Southeast Youth Corps "Girls on Wheels" Program Gets Off To A Great Start

Article, written by Program Leader Meagan Daniel, appears on Southeast Youth Corps' website.

Last week, the Girls on Wheels program, which consists of ten girls ages 12-16, started without a hitch.  The girls participate in an environmental stewardship program that includes conservation education, service-learning projects, and a progressive skills mountain bike curriculum. The young women are being guiding through the mountain bike curriculum three days per week. Within this program the girls will be photo journaling their experience, focusing on their mountain bike and recreation experience, as well as highlighting environmental issues relevant to an urban landscape. Additionally, I work to foster positive mentorship, and personal and professional development amongst the members.

While maintaining a safe environment, this gives the girls the opportunity to expand the know-how of a sport that stretches beyond the streets and curbs outside their homes and will also grow a respect for the trails. For many, mountain biking brings a “sense of freedom” and an escape from the hassles of life. For these young-women, I believe it will represent overcoming adversity and limitations and the testing of one’s confidence. Just like the trails, life presents many sharp turns, rocky paths, roots to hurdle, downhill elations, up-hill battles, and moments of new accomplishments. But each requires proper handling skills to make it to the other side. I want to properly be able to guide these girls on the trails in correlation to life outside the trails. And get our hands dirty while doing it! There is certainly joy to be found in sharing something you enjoy with someone who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to discover it also.

Day one:  The van pulls up to the Spears Ave trailhead at Stringers Ridge. The girls jumped out and immediately began excitingly asking, “Are we going to ride today?” One was already asking if we were going to Raccoon Mountain, which is one of the more challenging mountain bike destinations in Chattanooga. Enthusiastic group! In the first week the young women were adapting to the basics skills of mountain biking and it was success!

The girls came up with the name “Spoke Squad” after we did an activity using a drawing of a wheel on a poster board (yes, my wheel looks more like a beach ball!). Inside the wheel we came up with words that described how we wanted our outlook to be during the next five weeks or things we wanted to accomplish. On the outside of the wheel we listed negative things that we did not want as part of our program. I explained to them that our group would act like a wheel:  If one spoke is out of balance or broken then the whole wheel is “out of true” and cannot function and therefore the bike will not perform properly. This stressed the importance that even though mountain biking seems like an individual sport, we were going to function like a team and going to help each other accomplish our goals. Each one of us represents a spoke and has a crucial role in the involvement and progression of the program.

The girls learned the proper way to fit a helmet and the importance of safety and wearing a helmet. I fitted the girls for their bikes and taught them the “ABC Quick Check”, which is an acronym for: Air, Brakes, Chain, Quick Release, and Drop Check. This is a five-step process for making sure the bike is in working condition before we ride. The girls then learned road safety, how to signal to cars, how to call out obstacles and hazards in the road, and to communicate with fellow riders in the group while riding on the road or in the trail systems.

On day two we had our intro into conservation: what it means, how it affects them and our communities, and the role we play. They began by doing their own research on the laptops about the topic; it began to trigger ideas about what the term encompassed. The girls were finding photos of nature, wildlife, state and national parks, and groups and organizations that help protect our lands. For the photojournalism portion of the day we went to Stringer’s Ridge and let them hike and take photos of the urban-forested park.

I conducted a decomposing activity in which the girls had to place various objects with the amount of years they thought it took for a certain object or materials to decompose. This really made them think about the ways things they use daily affect our environment, like an aluminum can, which can take up to 500 years to decompose. This activity leads into a discussion about Leave No Trace. “LNT” refers to a set of outdoor ethics that teaches principles designed to promote conservation in the outdoors. The organization Leave No Trace exists to educate people about their recreational impact on nature as well as the principles of Leave No Trace to prevent and minimize such impacts. Leave No Trace is built on seven principles: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. The seven principles have been adapted to different activities, ecosystems and environments.

Day three we had a “bike rodeo” and I began teaching basic handling techniques for riding a mountain bike. How to properly mount and dismount. They practiced the four proper positions on a bike: climbing, coasting, downhill, and attack. They began to learn the basics of cornering, taking turns, braking, and how their bodies balance relates to the controlling of a bike. We then took these skills to Renaissance and Coolidge Park, where they began to get comfortable on the bike. But one thing we didn’t cover- timing of when to pedal through sprinklers and not get wet! Some of us enjoyed the cool down!

The most exciting part of day four was our Fix a Flat Clinic. I brought all the front wheels of the bikes and taught from beginning to end how to remove a wheel, fix a flat, and put wheel back on the bike. Each girl was able to do this skill on her own by the end of the clinic. They enjoyed this so much they wanted to have a flat tire changing contest.  The winner was able to change a flat in just 2 minutes and 18 seconds! One young woman even went home and fixed her little brother’s flat! And that’s what we are aiming for: to instill the confidence in the girls to take what they have learned and feel empowered to use these skills.

Day five arrives and “Spoke squad” was anxious to get out and ride further than the parking lot and parks of North Shore. We traveled across Market Street Bridge towards downtown and headed out on the Riverwalk. They loved the sense of freedom it brought and I kept hearing them say “This is so fun!”  Towards the end of the ride, the exhaustion of the week set in and the pace slowed down. This led into a perfect opportunity to explain that any new challenge comes with adjustments and difficulties.  I was able to reinforce that the first hurdle has been overcome.  The effort was put it in and the longer they stick with it the better it will get! They thought riding a few miles would be a long distance; they were shocked to hear they each traveled 8.6 miles on their bike that day! This brought many jokes of sore legs and quotes like “I’m sweating in places no one should sweat!” and “I’m going to Walgreen’s to get some epsom salt and am going to soak then take a nap!”

Week one is accomplished and “Spoke Squad” is already on a roll!

More favorite moments from the girls….

“My favorite part was the gear thing. I like playing with the gears; it was fun. I learned that when you ride a mountain bike that you have to make sure your gear is in the correct spot. You cant have gears in little-little or big-big because that will make your chain stretch. When you ride you have to switch gears.”

“My favorite part about the biking was learning how to do different things, even though my mom and me use to always ride bikes. Some of the stuff was easy but half the stuff I didn’t even know about. Like doing the climbing, I knew how to do it but I just didn’t know what it was called or how to do the different positions.”

Stay tuned for more updates!

-Meagan Daniel

Girls On Wheels Program Leader

Southeast Youth Corps Introduces Their First-Ever AmeriCorps Conservation Crew: the Bobincas

Article, written by Corpsmember Joe Sherman, appears on Southeast Youth Corp's website.

The week started for the first ever Americorps SYC crew with a drizzle of rain, but our spirits were not dampened at all! Under the stalwart guidance of our trusty leaders Randolph “The Rock Man” Hudson and Ellen “Aces” Baker, we spent the first part of Monday morning at the office going through training and basic orientation. Sarah, Molly, Taylor, Joe, Josh, and Vicky are our names, and we soon joined together under the team name “Bobincas,” a name which will hopefully live on into legacy. The crew lost no time in meshing well, and upon arriving at the work site and meeting the delightfully soft-spoken and enthusiastic Ranger Bobby Fulcher, the heartbeats of all of us were quickly elevated by the prospect of beginning work, and later with the physical efforts demanded of us.

Our primary task all week involved shifting large stones to create a rock staircase down which nature enthusiasts might trod for generations to come. The Rock Man called it a “hundred year staircase,” and we all soon learned the precision and detail that such a task required. Ranger Bob pointed out that such staircases are reminiscent of the Incan stone wonders of Machu Pichu, and thus the name Bobincas was born. There were several core components for the corps to incorporate into the hillside corporeity, namely creating more than just a little “crush” by crushing small rocks into smaller rocks, “rock-shopping” for the stones that had the correct dimensions and features for each section of the staircase, moving the stones from their various locations via rock sling, teamwork, and brute force, and the actual act of using crush, rock bar, double-jack, shovel, and pick mattock to securely set the stones in their new homes among their new stone friends.  

Many highlights of the week were experienced, not least of all the morning stretch and exercise circle, the verbal distribution of local lore by Ranger Bob, and the formal expulsion by the Rangers of many trespassing wayfarers who had bypassed the “Park Closed Until July 1” signs. We installed thirteen steps in total, rerouted a creek, and helped delineate trails. All of us drastically increased our proficiency with this particular form of landscape architecture, as well as our skills with the sundry tools involved in it’s realization. Team Bobincas has set a firm foundation for the remainder of our 8-week program, a foundation as strong as the keystone steps on our Incan escalator. 

Southwest Conservation Corps Announcing Big Changes this Earth Day

From Southwest Conservation Corps President & CEO Harry Bruell

Dear Friends, Colleagues, and Partners,

In celebration of Earth Day we are excited to make an official announcement about our organizational re-structure to better align the organization with its unprecedented growth over the past 15 years.

The new name of our overall non-profit agency is now Conservation Legacy, a national organization that supports local and regional conservation service programs from seven offices across America.  Southwest Conservation Corps remains the name for the Conservation Legacy program that operates conservation corps in Colorado and New Mexico from offices in Durango and Salida, CO and Pueblo of Acoma, NM.  Other Conservation Legacy programs include the Arizona Conservation Corps (conservation corps in Arizona and Southern New Mexico; based in Flagstaff and Tucson, AZ), Environmental Stewards(individual placements in 22 states; based in Durango, CO), Southeast Youth Corps (conservation corps across the Southeast; based in Chattanooga, TN), andVISTA Teams (individual placements in the Appalachians and Colorado/New Mexico; based in Beckley, WV).  Please see the attached document for more information about the new structure.

The new structure allows Conservation Legacy to better support its programs with shared resources while allowing each program to develop its own identity and to customize programming to the needs and assets of the communities it serves.   We couldn’t imagine a more fitting day than Earth Day to announce the next phase of the organization’s development.  Our mission is to empower individuals to positively impact their lives, their communities and the environment, and we hope this next phase of our organizational development will allow us to support more young people, veterans and communities to make everyday Earth Day.

Conservation Legacy began in Durango, CO in 1998 as Southwest Youth Corps and changed its name to Southwest Conservation Corps in 2006 after merging with the Youth Corps of Southern Arizona.  In 2013 the organization engaged 709 young people, veterans and crew leaders who completed over 350,000 hours of service maintaining recreational trails and open space, protecting communities from wildfire, and preserving wildlife habitat.

The new structure will allow Conservation Legacy to support emerging corps programs and to help lead and promote national initiatives such as the growing movement to engage more young Americans in conservation service through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC).  Conservation Legacy is a co-founder of the Public Lands Service Coalition and Conservation Legacy staff and Board members served on the 21CSC Federal Advisory Committee (Chair) and the Partnership for the 21CSC (co-Chair).       

Thank you for your support of Conservation Legacy, its programs and, most importantly, the young people, veterans and communities the organization serves.  Please refer to our new website for further information, please connect with us on our new Facebook page, and please feel free to contact me or 970-403-0143 with questions, suggestions or ideas.

Thanks for all that you do to support conservation service corps,

Harry Bruell

President & CEO


Boiler Plate: 
In celebration of Earth Day we are excited to make an official announcement about our organizational re-structure to better align the organization with its unprecedented growth over the past 15 years.

Southeast Youth Corps Prepares for Launch

From Southeast Youth Corps

Last evening, May 28th, a small group of local teens and parents gathered at the new Southeast Youth Corps office in Chattanooga, TN.  The topics of the evening centered around preparing these young adults for their upcoming experience as Corpsmembers on this summer’s inaugural Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew.

In addition to taking care of the necessary paperwork business, we all took this opportunity to discuss gear, camping logistics and details of  a-day-in-the life of a Corpsmember.  Most importantly, SYC recognized these youth for being pioneers within the community, and applauded them for stepping out of their comfort zones to participate in this challenging, yet rewarding experience. These youth will help set the standard for future SYC crews, and create a legacy that future Corpsmembers and Crew Leaders will discuss around campfires for years to come.

June 15th marks the official beginning of the YCC season, so stay tuned to the SYC Facebook page and blog for weekly updates on what these amazing youth are up to.