YCC Responds to Tornado


On the night of Sunday, August 2nd, an EF1 tornado with wind speeds up to 100 miles per hour touched down in Lake County, IL. The storm created a path of destruction over seven miles long, prompting Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), based in Waukegan, IL, to adjust their programming schedule to offer disaster response assistance.

YCC YouthBuild members have spent the better part of this week clearing debris. Their first stop was the home of an elderly woman whose house and driveway were buried in downed trees. The crew was able to clean the property and free her car. They next offered assistance at the home of a person with disabilities. So far, the crew has touched nine homes.

“It just so happens that this is my community and these are my neighbors,” said Ben Richards, YCC Program Director. “It brought a lot together for me. I was uplifted personally by what YCC AmeriCorps can and did do.”

[Photos] Youth Conservation Corps on Earth Day 2015

On Earth Day, members of Youth Conservation Corps helped prepare some raised garden beds. Photos below!

Youth Conservation Corps Restores Landscape of Adlai Stevenson II's Home

Local teens working with Youth Conservation Corps restored the white fence Adlai Stevenson II sat on for this historic photo shoot.

Originally published in the Lake County News-Sun
By Linda Blaser


Work to restore the historic home of Adlai Stevenson II surged ahead this summer through the blood, sweat — and possibly tears — of a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crew.

The teenagers installed a 216-foot length of white slatted fencing, including sinking 27 8-foot-long fence posts, attaching three 1-by-14-foot slats per section and painting the entire fence white.

“It was quite a job,” YCC Manager Luke Bowman said.

The teens’ combined effort brings back an important historic element of the property, which is poised to receive a National Historic Landmark plaque at a special ceremony on Oct. 12. The house is located at 25200 N. St. Mary’s Road in Mettawa.

“We replicated the original fence in order to restore the look of the property to the way it was when (Stevenson) lived there,” said Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of cultural resources at the Lake County Forest Preserves.

In fact, a famous photo of Stevenson sitting on the original fence graced the cover of LIFE magazine in 1965, after he died.

The YCC crew of three boys and three girls, plus crew leader and assistant crew leader, also spent several weeks clearing out invasive plants and trees that grew around a large oak Stevenson often stood beside to view the river.

“We made a lot of headway,” Bowman said of the clearing project.

Removing the fast-growing maples from around the slow-growing oak was essential to maintaining the historic tree and opening up the canopy so the oak will get the sunlight it needs.

It is the second year a YCC crew worked on clearing out the small-diameter sugar maples, buckthorn and other invasives that grew beneath the historic oak.

“This year we made it all the way to the river,” Bowman said of the clearing. “Now we’re working both directions to make the view wider.”

Work on the historic Stevenson home — particularly the fence — was one of the top priorities for the 2014 YCC summer program.

“I was willing to set the whole summer aside to get the fence right,” Bowman said.

A total of 36 teenagers from across Lake County spent eight weeks this summer working on restoration and construction projects to improve forest preserves throughout Lake County. For the past 15 years, YCC has partnered with the Lake County Forest Preserves to provide summer employment for high school students and to teach them valuable life skills.

“We’re working extra hard right now to maintain the property and have it look wonderful,” Hamilton-Smith said of the Stevenson home, which houses the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy.

The National Historic Landmark plaque presentation this fall will bring together a number of dignitaries, elected officials and other special guests to mark receipt of the prestigious honor.

“National Historic Landmark designation is a big deal,” Hamilton-Smith said. “This won’t happen again (in Lake County) any time soon.”

The Stevenson house is the second Lake County Forest Preserve District property to receive the designation — the first was a portion of the Fort Sheridan Historic District — and it is the first 20th-century Illinois politician’s home deemed a national landmark.

Youth Conservation Corps Gets to the Root of Lake County Conservation

Article, written by Dan Moran, appears in Lake County News - Sun Times. Published July 17, 2014. 

The benefits of working outside during the summer were obvious on a perfect morning, but the adults who visited Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) at Nippersink Forest Preserve on Thursday were given a couple of warnings: Watch out for the mosquitoes and poison ivy.

Those are just two of the challenges that accompany tasks like cutting paths through forests for new trails, or cultivating and transplanting native vegetation, or waging the ongoing war against buckthorn and other invasive plants.

YCC board members and benefactors for the non-profit agency spent Thursday taking an annual tour of a half-dozen preserves, where high school and college students have been working since early June on restoration projects.

“As you know by now, this is not an easy job, right? This is not a walk in the park,” said YCC board chairman Jim Flury, drawing laughter from the workers clearing brush from a woodland trail on the west side of Nippersink in Round Lake. “So what motivated you to do this?”

“Well, I really like working outdoors, so when I found this on the jobs board at my high school, I thought it sounded really cool,” said Emily Schlebecker, a 2014 Mundelein High School graduate who plans to study wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. “They had a brief description of all the jobs we would do, and it sounded awesome.”

Miguel Jaimes, an incoming senior at Vernon Hills High School, told the group that “I had an environmental science course I was going to take over the summer, and it was cancelled. But I wanted to see if I could still do something outside, be active and help the environment out, so I went to the Lake County Forest Preserve’s website and applied.”

The Waukegan-based YCC is known for its year-round construction program for at-risk teens and young adults, and executive director Robert Shears said the organization’s summer program hires around 38 county residents between the ages of 16 and 18 to perform various natural resource and construction projects.

“We do a lot of focus on conservation work,” Shears said. “We try to engage construction-type work with conservation as we teach them skills.”

According to Mike Tully, the forest preserve’s director of operations and safety, the YCC’s partnership with the district dates back to the 1970s, when it was a federally-funded program. Following budget cuts in the early 1980s, the private sector stepped in to cover expenses, which include current hourly wages between $8.25 and $8.50 per hour.

“It was a great program, and the forest preserve didn’t want to lose it, so business leaders in the community formed a Youth Conservation Corps committee to raise funds,” said Tully, adding that the committee became a separate non-profit agency in the 1990s.

Work in 2014 has included everything from painting bridges at the Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest to setting up first-aid and spectator tents at the Lakewood Forest Preserve’s annual Civil War Days festival in Wauconda. Workers have also found themselves maintaining deer fences, installing boardwalks and applying organic herbicide to take out invasive weeds.

Rich Baker of Lindenhurst, a three-year corps member who now works as the leader of a crew at the Rollins Savanna in Grayslake, said this summer’s below-normal temperatures have been a blessing in disguise.

“This has been the best year in the YCC since I’ve been here. It’s been so nice and cool,” said Baker as a team of a half-dozen workers planted native wildflower seedlings in the savanna’s five-acre nursery. “Last summer, we were melting out here.”

Schlebecker said she doesn’t even mind the hours kept by the corps: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

“I’m a runner, so I’ve gone to summer running camps that had us out pretty early. This just makes you get up a little earlier than that,” she said. “And this way, when school starts back up, you won’t be as groggy in the morning.”

Bob McCammon, Executive Director of Youth Conservation Corps Retires

Bob with Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National & Community Service, at The Corps Network 2013 National Conference.

After 37 years of serving as the Executive Director of Youth Conservation Corps (Waukegan, Illinois), Bob McCammon has decided he's ready to retire. In Bob's own words, he says that "I plan to reduce my stress and enjoy some of my major loves for family, travel, outdoor recreation and golf in the coming years."

Youth Conservation Corps joined The Corps Network in 1991. The organization has participated in numerous programs and initiatives of The Corps Network, most recently the Postsecondary Success Education Initiative and the AmeriCorps Education Award program. YCC has also been an active YouthBuild program, and Bob has served both on the Board of The Corps Network as our Chair and numerous committees for both YouthBuild and The Corps Network. Bob has received numerous awards over the years and was appointed by the Illinois Governor to Serve Illinois, the Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in 2007. Bob holds a Bachelor of Behavioral Science from Louis National University and a Masters of Public Administration from Roosevelt University. He also served for ten years in the U.S. Navy and is a Vietnam Veteran.

Ben Richard, YCC's Program Director, has been appointed Interim Executive Director of the organization and will take over when Bob formally departs in mid-August.

Around The Corps Network, we have appreciated Bob's candor and expertise over the years, as well as the many nice Youth Conservation Corps golf shirts and he has brought us that we wear with pride (YCC has hosted a golf charity fundraiser benefiting the program for 27 years). We will miss him and his contributions to the Corps Movement!  

Waukegan, Illinois Salutes Local AmeriCorps Members


Speakers at an event to honor AmeriCorps members in Waukegan, IL. Corpsmember of the Year Germain Castellanos pictured on the far left.

For one week every year, communities and nonprofit organizations rally together to honor AmeriCorps members, AmeriCorps alums, and the hard work these men and women do for our country. During this year’s AmeriCorps Week, held March 9 – 17, Youth Conservation Corps of Lake County (YCC) joined with other area nonprofits to salute local AmeriCorps members at a ceremony in Waukegan, Illinois’s Robert Sabonjian Plaza.

Illinois AmeriCorps members.

The event included speeches from a number of individuals who know firsthand the importance of AmeriCorps programs. Attendees heard from representatives from Youth Build Lake County and Habitat for Humanity Lake County, as well as from Bob McCammon, Executive Director of YCC. Germain Castellanos, a YCC alum and a 2005 Corpsmember of the Year, also spoke.

Since 1994, over 20,000 people from Illinois have served as AmeriCorps members. They have donated a combined 26 million hours of service to bettering American communities.

Thank you for everything you do!

How an At-Risk Youth became a Service Provider for At-Risk Youth

Where are they now? - Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year, Germain Castellanos

Germain Castellanos, a former member of Youth Conservation Corps - Lake County, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2005 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Germain and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2005 National Conference.

When he became a Corpsmember with Illinois’s Youth Conservation Corps in 2004, Germain Castellanos was an unemployed 21-year-old without a high school diploma or any professional experience. Less than three years after he left the Corps, however, Germain was sitting on the YCC Board of Directors.

To understand how Germain made this inspirational transformation, it’s important to look back at where Germain came from. His teenage years were far from stable; caught up in gang-related violence and drugs, Germain was convicted of a misdemeanor when he was 16. As he grew older Germain decided he wanted to give back to the community he had hurt. He wanted to start a program that could help troubled kids avoid the same issues he faced as a teenager. It was while looking for assistance to launch such a program that Germain stumbled across YCC and subsequently became a YCC AmeriCorps member.

“I was trying to be productive because before then I had been unproductive and just been hanging out with the wrong crowd and not making good decisions and having a negative impact on the community. It wasn’t a good time,” said Germain. “I was an at-risk youth myself, so that’s why I wanted to help young people that didn’t have access to resources the same way that I didn’t have access to resources.”

Germain worked as a Youth Developer during his year with YCC. He conducted life skills workshops, provided his students with basic counseling and case management services, and led teens on conservation projects. Germain reflects on that year as a time of great personal growth. In addition to earning his GED and college credits from DeVry University and the College of Lake County, Germain found stability in his life.

“Looking back, I think it feels like the program helped me more than I helped other people,” said Germain. “I was at a point when I was being developed by other program participants and other AmeriCorps members around me. I would see how they were handling some of their problems and their issues and that helped me solve some of my own issues. It was a really good developmental process for me.”

After leaving YCC Germain continued to work in youth development by spending two and a half years as an Assistant Program Manager with YouthBuild, Lake County – an organization that provides youth with learning opportunities and the chance to gain job skills. In June 2008, Germain left YouthBuild to do what he had set out to do four years earlier: create his own program to assist at-risk youth. He designed the program, applied for grants, and soon established what is now the SHINE Educational Leadership Program at Waukegan High School; the same school Germain was kicked out of when he was a teenager.

Germain is still in charge of the SHINE program. He oversees three staff members, manages a $300,000 budget, and he is responsible for developing programming for the 52 high school seniors that SHINE serves. Germain is always trying to grow the program by attending meetings and making countless speeches that might help bring in more resources.

SHINE's goal is to help low-income high school students transition to college. Germain estimates that well over 90 percent of the 52 students enrolled in the program come from families that have never had anyone go to college. SHINE tries to change that. “We do tutoring, we make sure our students come to school, we make sure they graduate. On a day-to-day basis we have a list of benchmarks that the students need to meet and we’re consistently reiterating to them that they need to fill out college applications and apply for scholarships,” said Germain.

SHINE students also take classes at the local community college once a week to get a feeling for what college is like. In addition to the in-school SHINE program, Germain also partnered with Walgreens to provide pharmacy technician training and job placement for recent high school graduates.

Running two youth development programs and overseeing nearly 200 current and former program participants is just the tip of the iceberg for Germain. He recently finished classes at DePaul University and will receive his bachelor’s in public administration in June 2013. He spent three years on the board of the local library; currently serves on the Lake County Workforce Investment Board’s Youth Council; sits on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Lake County; and of course also sits on YCC’s Board of Directors. He even plans to run for City Clerk in Waukegan.

Germain’s transition from being a recipient of services to a provider of services for at-risk youth earned him the Illinois Governor’s Journey Award in 2008. Remembering where he came from and looking at where he is now helps motivate Germain. It is particularly meaningful to him that he can now serve YCC, the organization that once served him.

“Because I went from a program recipient to a program provider I can help them make their services better with what I know and the knowledge I’ve gained professionally. I’m really involved with them and I do it in part to share my knowledge, but also because I’m reminded every time I walk in that building that I was there and I was on the other side of the table not that long ago. If it wasn’t for the opportunity I got at YCC I’d probably still be on the other side of that table, receiving services.”

Germain lives in Waukegan, Illinois with his wife and daughter.




Legacy Achievement Award Winner: Elizabeth Putnam


Early in her life, Elizabeth Cushman Titus Putnam felt the need to respond to the threats facing America’s national parks. Her senior thesis at Vassar College in 1953 proposed the development of a volunteer student conservation corps to perform essential service for these endangered natural resources. This led to the creation of The Student Conservation Association (SCA), which has become one of the largest providers of youth development and conservation service opportunities in the US.

Ms. Putnam dedicates her life to ensuring that America’s treasured but fragile public lands are preserved for future generations and that those generations become future stewards of the land. Ms. Putnam has volunteered with SCA’s leadership and staff to commit SCA to a strategic vision, emphasizing national leadership in programs that both engage young people in conservation service; i.e., hands-on work that benefits national or community interests; and highlights the capacity of conservation service to build future leaders.

Ms. Putnam remains SCA’s premier ambassador.  She is actively involved with SCA and in the environmental arena. She meets with young people, participates in community service events, and tells the inspiring story of SCA’s volunteers across the country. She has been recognized by the Department of the Interior, the National Wildlife Federation, the National Park Service, and the Garden Club of America for her achievements and her ongoing commitment to the natural world.  Her enthusiastic call to action and hard work on behalf of the nation’s public lands encouraged more than 60,000 SCA volunteers over the past 53 years. 

Ms. Putnam’s commitment to ensuring SCA volunteers and the conservation arena reflect the multiculturalism of American society led SCA to establish its Urban and Diversity Outreach, which connects youth from diverse backgrounds to nature and provides positive experiences in the outdoors. 

Each SCA member has provided valued and essential service to national and state parks, forests, refuges and urban green spaces. The results are felt on a national and at the “grassroots” community level. It is reported that more than 55% of these young people continue their engagement in conservation through career, education or volunteerism. In 1971, she presented testimony before the U.S. Congress that led to legislative approval of the Youth Conservation Corps.

In 2010, Ms. Putnam received the Presidents Citizens Medal from President Obama recognizing her for her service to the conservation and Youth Service movement. Today the fruits of her labor continue to pay off, as SCA provides an opportunity for thousands of volunteers to restore and protect the environment and gain a sense of pride and accomplishment.

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Germain Castellanos

***Update! Click here to find out what Germain has been up to since he won his award.***

(Written in 2005)

Before Germain Castellanos made the decision to change his life, he was involved with a local gang and participated in various gang activities including drugs and violence.  This path caused him to get kicked out of school and convicted of a misdemeanor by age 16.  The birth of his daughter served as a wake up call. That’s when Germain joined the Youth Conservation Corps’ NASCC (National Association of Service and Conservation Corps - the former name of The Corps Network) AmeriCorps RuralResponse Program.  Now, after supervising kids who were in the same situation he was once in and volunteering for a wide variety of community, faith-based and political organizations, Germain has received his GED, completed one and half years at DeVry University and started courses at College of Lake County in Illinois.  Germain is on his way to reaching his goals of becoming an attorney and starting a nonprofit program that works with at risk youth. 

-- “This experience has shown me that the world is in dire need of help from people who love to help others.  The YCC AmeriCorps program has helped me come to the realization that I am one of those people.”

(written in 2005)