Sweat and Long Hours: Texas Conservation Corps Puts in the Work to Maintain Trails

Corps play an essential role in helping address the maintenance backlog on America’s public trails. In 2016 alone, young adults enrolled in member organizations of The Corps Network built or improved almost 22,000 miles of trail!

In honor of National Trails Day this Saturday, June 3, we’re recognizing Trails Across Texas (TAT), an AmeriCorps program of Austin-based Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) at American YouthWorks. Learn about how the TAT crew connects their community to trails and helps get more people outdoors.


Meet the Crew Leaders:

Trail work isn’t easy. Keeping popular public trails in operation requires hours of physical labor, often in harsh conditions. However, as the members of the Trails Across Texas (TAT) program at Austin-based Texas Conservation Corps will tell you, maintaining trails is one of the most rewarding jobs out there.

“Trail crews put in sweat and long hours to make the public's experience greater,” said Ian Munoz, a TAT Crew Leader. “It’s hard, but I do it because it brings me joy like nothing else. I am constantly motivated by my surroundings when I’m working on a trail. Having the chance to work on or create something that people from all over can come to enjoy will keep me working on a trail crew for as long as I can.”

Born and raised in El Paso, Munoz is a self-described “Texas Outdoorsman” who joined TAT to give back to his home state. He recently led a project at Bastrop State Park in Central Texas. Using chainsaws and a range of hand tools – including mattocks, Pulaskis, shovels and McLeods – the crew removed hazardous trees and constructed hundreds of feet of new tread for the Lost Pine Loop.   

“With all of these tools comes daily maintenance and skills to keep them working well,” said Munoz. “The skills needed for chainsaw operation and hazard felling can be overwhelming, but safety and sound judgement are essential. With trail digging comes the skill to understand the science of water-flow and erosion.”


Managing water-flow is critical to maintaining trails. Karissa Killian, another TAT Crew Leader, also recently served at Bastrop. In addition to felling hazardous trees, her crew removed woody debris from the downslope of the trail. This allows water to flow off the trail instead of pooling.

“Trail crews maintain trails so that users can enjoy them,” said Killian. “We focus on making trails sustainable so that they can be used by many future generations.”

A native of Salt Lake City, Killian graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science. Her first job was with a U.S. Forest Service trails and wilderness crew. Her passion for this work led her to the TAT program, where she became immersed in the routine of working and living outdoors on multi-day assignments, or “hitches.”

“I enjoy working outside, using my hands, and being engaged in physical activity,” said Killian. “[Trail work] is like working in a community. Everyone is so nice and supportive. It can be a hard transition to living on hitch for most of your time, but it is rewarding to make close connections with other crewmembers.”

The TAT crewmembers are a diverse group of young men and women. Some came to TAT with experience in the outdoors, while others came from office jobs, looking to get more in touch with nature. As AmeriCorps members, these young adults receive a modest stipend for their service and can receive an AmeriCorps education award (scholarship) upon completing their service. Through their day-to-day service with the TAT program, the crewmembers gain the skills and experience to later seek jobs in conservation and lands management. Here are some of their insights from the trail.



Meet Trails Across Texas Crewmembers:

Carl Woody
Age: 28
Austin, TX

“Before this I did a previous AmeriCorps program, but before that I was working at a law office for about 3 years. So, this is a little bit different from what I’ve been doing before.”

“I absolutely feel more connected with nature. When it is your office and your home, you kind of have to appreciate it. You learn to really care for what’s important and how important it is to take care of the environment. It’s the only one we’ve got, so we might as well take the best care of it we can.”

“Well, trail work requires a lot of communication and team work. It’s 10 people trying to accomplish one goal at the same time, so you have to really know how to work with each other and communicate well.

“What do I like the most? I just like working with my hands a lot. Getting dirty, hard work, sweating a lot, obviously. What do I like the least? Probably sweating a lot…it’s hot and nasty outside here most of the time.”

“I’m actually going to graduate school next fall for environmental policy and environmental science. So, keep fighting the good fight!”


Brigid MulRoe
Age: 22
Malta, NJ

“Before I joined this program, I graduated from college a year ago and I did another Conservation Corps last fall, just for 3 months. I liked it so much; I got a little taste of the Conservation Corps world and decided that I wanted to do more, so I joined the Texas Conservation Corps for a 5-month term.”

My perspective on the environment has definitely changed since I’ve been living outside every day in a tent. We’re definitely forced to get up close and personal with the dirt and bugs and the rain, but I have really enjoyed it! I think that I feel a lot more connected to the work that I’m doing than if I were just sitting in an office thinking about it.”

“I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. Just the fact that I’m capable of doing this work has surprised me and made me think about myself a lot differently”

“I really enjoy hitch life and living with a group of 10 people that are coming from different places and have totally different perspectives on everything, but working as a team when working on the trail or camp life. The thing I like the least, at least for this week is the bugs. Bombarded with ants, mosquitoes, chiggers, so we’re all learning to deal with that.”

“I’m planning on doing another AmeriCorps program. An emergency response program in St. Louis.”


Arturo Gonzalez
Age: 25
Salinas, CA

“Before this program I was in a back country trails crew with an AmeriCorps program with a California Conservation Corps. My supervisor told me about the TxCC program, so I came here after that.”

“I feel like I already was connected to nature. I really love nature, so even though I enjoyed it before, I still enjoy it now.”

“Being on this crew has taught me that you don’t need technology or a lot of the stuff that you’re used to having.”

“The things I enjoy the most about being on TAT crew is probably all the hiking and the general work itself, especially backcountry style rock work. My least favorite is probably chores, especially dishes.”

“Right after this, I’m not sure what I want to do, but I am gold-listed to be a sponsor for a backcountry trails crew.”


Michael “Mikey” Thomas
Age: 29
Rhode Island & Austin, TX

“I’m originally from Rhode Island but I’ve lived in Texas since I was 15 years old. I have lived in Austin for 11 years now. Before I joined TxCC, I was a kitchen lead at a restaurant. I have been doing that, primarily, my whole life. I was traveling and playing music, also.”

“I would say I always felt connected to nature, but through this program I feel more so.”

“As for what I’ve learned through this program - Lots of technique, but as far as life skills or lessons, there is a level of contentment that you learn when you’re outside, away from everything for 10 days at a time. You find pleasure in simple things; when you go back into the city, that carries over. So, I’m more content in general.”

“I love the work itself. I like the lifestyle of living in a small group and sharing food. I also like the solitude and rock, tread, and chainsaw work. There’s nothing I don’t really like. I enjoy working with my hands, so I like it all.”

“The initial goal coming here was to get a job doing park maintenance, but after doing this for a long time, I think I would like to eventually get into trail design and layout.”


Ryan Garwood
North Texas

“I’ve been living in Austin, TX for about 5 years now. Originally, I am from North Texas. Before this, I was working in an automotive shop.”

“I joined this program to do something new. I started working in the shop and being in the daily grind, and then I found this job on Craigslist. I didn’t know it was in Austin and I had been living in Austin for 5 years and never heard about it. Thankfully I found it and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

“Since working on this crew, I feel way more connected to nature now. Being out 10 days at a time, you definitely get one-on-one with nature. One of the biggest things I have learned is just how powerful nature really is. That it can rebuild itself; the elements are very powerful.”

“The most valuable lesson I have learned is walk in a single file line, not shoulder to shoulder so you don’t broaden the trail out.”

I like the comradery of the trail crew. It’s like a family environment everyone has each other’s back. Do chores, one person does one thing, and another person does another thing and it all works out. My least favorite thing is probably the bugs and insects, and creepy crawlies.”

“After my term of service, I would like to do another term, but, at the end of the day, I would like to be in Texas Parks and Wildlife or do some firefighting. That would be cool.”


Anna Jones
Age: 21
Waco, TX

“Before this I was working in a zoo at their gift shop, and before that I was working as a grocery store clerk. I heard about TxCC on Reddit and it sounded like something I would be interested in and maybe a career field that I would like to move towards. I’m really glad I made the decision!”

“I do feel more connected to nature. I’ve never really camped a lot in my life, only once before this program. It’s a different experience completely to be out in the wilderness for 10 days at a time. Especially out at Cap Rock where we were primitive camping, which was a unique experience but I really enjoyed it! Something I have learned about nature is that it is amazing what the environment can do. Out at Cap Rock we had to the stone staircase, because the rain just carves out gullies and stuff. Erosion is a big thing, it’s amazing what can happen to the earth over a span of a few years.”

“Honestly, my favorite part about this work is probably camp related things. Learning how to live out here and learning to live with minimal things. It’s a very different life than living in the city with all of these things you think you need, until you just go out into the wilderness and realize you don’t need any of them.”

“I think what I enjoy the most is honestly the comradery in the crew. You get so close with these people, working with them 10 days at a time and living with them for hours. My least favorite thing is probably the bugs. I love animals, just not insects. They get in my tent and it’s very upsetting.”

“After this, I plan to go back and finish off my degree. I want to get a degree in Wildlife Biology.”


Josh DelRio
Age: 28

“I joined TxCC for a new experience. Before TxCC, I was playing Rock n’ Roll and working for a moving company.”

“My perspective on nature has changed. What I’ve learned is that nature heals itself pretty readily, considering what humans do to it. That’s definitely the best thing I have learned about trails and nature.”

The most valuable skill I have learned is how to live outside for more than a week. Definitely got that on lock down.

“Being on a trail crew, at least for TAT, we’ve been to a lot of different areas. So, being able to go to all of those places and different environments were the coolest part. My least favorite, recently, is the chiggers.”

“After my term of service, I would like to get into wildland firefighting. Hopefully get the Travis County fire rescue gig. Somewhere around there, chainsaws are cool and fire is awesome. After seeing that at Cooper Lake, that probably sparked my interest very much.”




Texas Conservation Corps Sends AmeriCorps Crew to Assist with Tornado Relief


The AmeriCorps crew pauses for a photo prior to deployment.

From the Texas Conservation Corps


Volunteers will help the community in response to the recent EF-3 tornado

Austin, TX, May 13, 2015 – Tomorrow at 8AM, volunteers from the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) at American YouthWorks (AYW) will deploy to the community of Van, Texas in response to the recent tornado. 

The EF-3 tornado hit on Sunday, May 10th and reportedly impacted an area 700 yards wide along a nine-mile swath. More than 100 buildings and 30% of the city were damaged with over 40 people injured and two deaths. In response to the recent, severe storms, Governor Abbott has declared a disaster for Bosque, Clay, Denton, Eastland, Gaines, Montague, and Van Zandt counties.

TxCC is a program of AYW which has AmeriCorps volunteers on call to respond to disasters in the state of Texas and across the United States. This service is made possible through a grant from Texas' One Star Foundation. Members will deploy May 14th and will arrive in Van, Texas that same day. The team will set up a volunteer reception center which will register volunteers and assign them to help to locals affected by the disaster.  Also, the TxCC members will support the multi-agency resource center which provides help to the agencies that have come together to serve the members of the Van community. TxCC AmeriCorps members will also serve in a direct capacity, helping to remove debris, managing donations, and otherwise assisting residents.

With TxCC's help, the volunteer reception center is scheduled to open this weekend. Those who are interested in volunteering or donating to the affected community should visit VolunteerTX.org to learn more and register.

About American YouthWorks and Texas Conservation Corps

AYW provides young people with opportunities to build careers, strengthen communities, and improve the environment through education, on-the-job training, and service to others. TxCC is an AmeriCorps service program at AYW, which, for nearly 20 years, has focused on developing leaders in conservation and emergency management and provided critical support to improve parks and preserves.

Each year the program engages over 100 diverse youth and young adults  in critical, hands-on conservation and disaster service projects, giving participants the skills and opportunities to solve real life community and environmental problems. From right here in Austin to the Alaskan bush, TxCC has served thousands of individuals in disasters and helped numerous communities recover. The program has responded to disasters such as the Central Texas Wildfires, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, the floods in east Austin, and Hurricane Sandy.

Boiler Plate: 
Volunteers from the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) at American YouthWorks (AYW) are deploying to the community of Van, Texas in response to the recent tornado. The EF-3 tornado hit on Sunday, May 10th and reportedly impacted an area 700 yards wide along a nine-mile swath. More than 100 buildings and 30% of the city were damaged with over 40 people injured and two deaths. In response to the recent, severe storms, Governor Abbott has declared a disaster for Bosque, Clay, Denton, Eastland, Gaines, Montague, and Van Zandt counties.

How Youth Corps Are Saving Historic Places: Restoring Clifton Mansion with Civic Works

Article, written by Lauren Walser, appears on the National Trust for Historic Preservation website.

Jamal Banks leans in to study two pieces of rotted wood recently removed from the third-floor ceiling of historic Clifton Mansion in Baltimore.

"See how these pieces fit together? This is called a mortise and tenon joint," explains John Ciekot, special projects director of Civic Works, a nonprofit youth service corps headquartered in the mansion.

Banks' eyes light up as he runs his hand along the crumbling wood.

"I see," he says. "So it was put together like a puzzle." He studies it a second longer. "Wow," he adds. "This wood is old."

This is the sort of detail that excites Banks these days. Since February, the 23-year-old has been helping to restore Clifton Mansion as a Civic Works AmeriCorps member. He's been removing and saving floorboards that date to 1812 and tearing down drywall added in the 1960s, uncovering architectural elements and the bones of a centuries-old structure in the process.

Teaming with master carpenters, Banks and his fellow corpsmembers are preserving the local landmark that has served as Civic Works' headquarters for more than two decades. They're developing valuable construction skills that will give them an edge in the job market. And considering the delicate nature of working inside a house as old as Clifton Mansion, they're also receiving a crash course in historic preservation.

“You can really feel the age as you walk through the building. It’s like a time machine,” says Banks. When he’s done with his day’s work, he likes to wander through the mansion, exploring the original footprint of the Georgian-style house and its later Italianate-style additions. The house was built between 1801 and 1803 by Captain Henry Thompson, a merchant and ship owner. Philanthropist Johns Hopkins, who founded the well-known Baltimore university of the same name, made the additions in the 1840s and '50s.

Banks laughs as he points to the school across the street. “That's where I went to high school,” he says to Ciekot. “I always used to see this mansion. I walked by it every day, but I never knew what it was. Now, here I am working on it.”

More than 25,000 young people each year, including Jamal Banks, benefit from job and leadership training (and, in some cases, academic programming) in service corps programs like Civic Works. The 21-year-old nonprofit is a member of The Corps Network, a national association that advocates and provides support for more than 100 youth development programs modeled after the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. These organizations engage young people, ages 16 to 25, across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. (For veterans, the age limit is 35.)

“Some of our young people come into corps with maybe a high school diploma or GED, some come in at the third-grade reading level, or from foster care or incarceration, and some come in having graduated college,” says Mary Ellen Sprenkel, president and CEO of The Corps Network. “So the corps try to address a wide range of needs for a diverse set of young people.”

The scope of work undertaken by the corps programs is just as wide-ranging as the young men and women who enroll. They tackle projects ranging from trail building and habitat restoration to community gardening and disaster response.

Preservation work has entered the repertoire of some member corps, like Civic Works. For instance, five young members of the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa helped restore the icehouse at the 1912 vacation home of architect Charles Buechner on Lake Superior's Sand Island last summer. And in 2011, the Southwest Conservation Corps received The Corps Network's annual Service Project of the Year award for its Tribal Preservation Program. Located at Acoma Pueblo, which is part of the National Trust Historic Site Acoma Sky City in New Mexico, the program trains young Native Americans to preserve historic and prehistoric sites.

But many corps programs simply don’t have the time, the resources, or the know-how to take on these sorts of large-scale preservation projects.

Enter the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Working with The Corps Network, the National Trust recently launched its Hands-On Preservation Experience (HOPE) Crew. This new initiative connects with The Corps Network's member groups to teach young people skills they can use to save historic places.

“The goal of the HOPE Crew is to engage a new set of future preservationists,” says Monica Rhodes, the National Trust’s manager of volunteer outreach, who has taken the HOPE Crew from concept to reality. “And in doing so, we're opening up the field of preservation to an audience that might not get exposure to it.”

On March 10, the HOPE Crew broke ground on its very first project: the restoration of Skyland Stable, a rustic wooden structure built in 1939 near Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park. The HOPE Crew teamed young corpsmembers from the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia with Fred Andreae, a preservation architect from Front Royal, Va., who served as the group's preservation adviser. David Logan of Vintage, Inc., a building company that specializes in historic restoration, joined Andreae on the project to teach corpsmembers the ins and outs of preservation construction as they restored the deteriorating stable.

“The students already have experience with construction, but just not on historic sites,” Rhodes explains.

The HOPE Crew allows The Corps Network to expand the scope of the job training its member corps can offer. It also increases the number of projects each corps can tackle. And the more work the various corps can take on, the more young people they can engage.

“It's a win-win for everyone,” Sprenkel says. “There’s obviously no shortage of historic sites that need work, so making sure there's a new generation of workers who can take care of these places — and making sure there's a new generation of people who care about them, period — I think is pretty important.”

Though significant, the work undertaken by young corpsmembers is hardly glamorous. At San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas, members of the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC) have been hard at work repointing the mortar on the stone walls of 18th-century missions. They have performed the same task on the Espada Acequia, a Spanish Colonial irrigation ditch built by Franciscan friars in the 1740s and the oldest Spanish aqueduct in the United States. The corpsmembers mix mortar while sweating profusely under the boiling Texas sun, hauling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of the material over to the missions' walls. They chip out the old mortar and replace it with a fresh batch. Repeat.

“It was grueling,” says Josh Conrad, who served in the TxCC (then called Environmental Corps) back in 2008. “We're talking manual labor to the max. It was great.”

Conrad was an inaugural participant in TxCC’s masonry apprenticeship program. Young corpsmembers there train alongside master stonemasons, which have included the just-retired, Scottish-born John Hibbitts. (Hibbitts worked on the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the world's sixth-largest cathedral.) The veterans teach their apprentices the masonry techniques needed to preserve stone structures throughout Texas' state parks.

Hibbitts and masons from the National Park Service are more than eager to pass on their rare and highly specialized skills — skills they fear are being lost with each successive generation.

And for Conrad, who had taken a year off from architecture school at the University of Texas at Austin, the experience was eye-opening. When he returned to UT-Austin the next year, he began pursuing a second graduate degree: a master's in historic preservation.

“When you're in architecture school,” Conrad says, “you're working on paper, working on a computer, and you don't really get to deal with the actual building as much as you might want. So I took to this masonry internship as a way to explore that idea, that need I had to work on buildings and understand them. And when I was out there working, I was like, 'This is great. This is what I want to do.’ So I went back to school and really focused myself.”

Today Conrad, 32, is a preservation specialist at Hardy Heck Moore Inc., a historic preservation and cultural resources management consulting firm in Austin. He also maintains the Austin Historical Survey Wiki, a historic properties database he helped create as a graduate student that is now in use by the city of Austin.

And many of Conrad's fellow TxCC members also have found their professional calling through the masonry program. Some have gone on to take jobs with the National Park Service or with stonemasons in Austin. Others have joined the staff of American YouthWorks (TxCC’s parent organization, in conjunction with AmeriCorps), continuing their commitment to service.

In fact, corps all over the country are jump-starting careers. In Charleston, S.C., 28-year-old Kedrick Wright found a new calling of his own: making homes more energy efficient.

Though he now works as a firefighter for the city of North Charleston, Wright spent more than two years serving with The Corps Network member Energy Conservation Corps (ECC). This AmeriCorps-affiliated program of the Charleston-based Sustainability Institute trains and certifies young men and women to retrofit low-income homes with energy-efficient systems.

Despite his demanding schedule, Wright also continues to work part-time with CharlestonWISE, another energy auditing and contracting program within the Sustainability Institute. After all, he says, “There's still more I want to learn. I want to grow as an energy auditor and get [further] certification.”

Listening to Wright rattle off the different options for insulating historic homes, or the step-by-step process of conducting an energy audit, or even the differences he notices between the construction of Charleston's newest houses and its oldest ones (“Those old houses are made to endure the weather here,” he marvels), it’s hard to believe that when he entered the ECC just three years ago, he had no experience in either construction or weatherization. But with a toddler to support and few job prospects, Wright signed up to work with the ECC and got hooked. He found he especially enjoyed his work on Charleston's many historic homes.

“It's considerably more difficult,” he says. “These homes were made to breathe and made to swelter in the South with the high humidity here. So when you change the dynamic of a house, you can run into problems like mold, or things like condensation in areas that weren’t sweating before, because you sealed it up too tight. We have to come up with innovative ways for dealing with these old houses to make them more energy efficient without changing their overall character. It’s really cool.”

Beyond inspiring new career paths, the years these young people spend serving in corps programs build pride and confidence. The work provides a sense of accomplishment that they carry with them for life. “It may not seem that significant while you're doing it,” says Parc Smith, CEO of American YouthWorks in Austin since 2010. “But then you step back a minute, and you realize, wow, the work you just did was on one of the oldest buildings in Texas, and maybe one of the oldest in the country. What [the corpsmembers] are doing today is going to be here for the next hundred years or more for future generations to enjoy. They're going to take their children back to see the projects they worked on across the state.”

The communities benefit, too.

“Most of our members grow up here, they stay here, they'll raise their families here,” says Jay Bell, program manager of the ECC. “So they’re doing work that will impact their families and their community for many, many years down the road. They'll always have that. Having a program like this [in Charleston] is, I think, one of the best things to happen here. We're preserving our communities.”

John Ciekot at Civic Works seconds that notion. “When you walk in the door of Clifton Mansion,” he says, “you're going to be hit with not only history, you're going to be hit with the future: Here's what you can do to serve and improve the community.” He sees the young corpsmembers’ role in restoring Clifton Mansion as a catalyst for a larger transformation in Baltimore.

It's impossible to say who gains more: the corpsmembers, who learn new job skills and find new directions in life, or the communities that see their historic properties cared for by the next generation of stewards. To many corps leaders, this question is beside the point. “Young people are so rarely asked to do anything significant,” Parc Smith says. “And here, we're asking them to take care of some of the nation's oldest buildings. That's an important job.”


American YouthWorks Celebrates The Graduating Class of 2014

Article appears in American YouthWorks Newsletter.

I'm so excited about our amazing, 2014 graduating class and I wanted to share our milestone with you.   

Many students in our Service Learning Academy say that they would have dropped out without the school.        

These students came from difficult, non-traditional backgrounds and overcame significant challenges to walk across the stage.   

101 graduates! 

25% of students in the class are parents.

Over 90% of these students were at-risk of dropping out of high school (or had already dropped out).   

Only 5% were on track to graduate when they enrolled with us.   

They've beaten the statistics.  Not only have they finished high school, but they're graduating ready to continue their success in college or careers.    

By participating in our jobs training programs, these graduates have learned skills that prepare them to get meaningful, stable jobs in a broad array of fields.  Additionally, many have been placed into paid internships where they are gaining work experience.  They earned over $30,000 in scholarships to further their education in college or trade school.  And each graduate has completed service projects that benefit our community!   

I hope you'll take just two more minutes to read the story of Gabe below.  At age 20, he almost dropped out.  Instead, he graduated with the 2014 class, has found a meaningful career path, and is already employed!

It's an honor to be a part of such an important mission to build brighter futures and better communities through job skills training, education, and service opportunities.


With kind regards,

Parc Smith

CEO, American YouthWorks 


Graduate Highlight
Gabe's inspiring story


Gabe was attending Cherokee Christian Academy where he wasn't getting enough help and felt like he was going nowhere.  Upon turning 20, when most students would have already earned their diploma, he enrolled at American YouthWorks.   


Gabe participated in both our Service Learning Academy Charter High School and YouthBuild programs, meaning that while earning his diploma, he was learning job skills in green construction and home repair.      


In addition to learning construction skills, he participated in our Automotive Technology program, which is run through a partnership with Austin Community College (ACC).  He didn't realize that automotive repair was something he would be so interested in until he was given the opportunity to try it.  Gabe ended up loving it and doing so well that his ACC instructor recommended him to the Toyota dealership.  I'm happy to report that Gabe is now gainfully employed in their service department.   


If it hadn't been for American YouthWorks, Gabe feels like he may never have finished his diploma and he definitely wouldn't have found such a great opportunity to pursue a job he loves - right out of high school.  Gabe intends to keep working at Toyota while he pursues an Associate's Degree in Automotive Technology.



National Trust for Historic Preservation Awards the Texas Conservation Corps a Preservation Grant for Work at LBJ’s Grandparent’s Cabin

Press Release Issued by Texas Conservation Corps and the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Johnson City, Texas (Wednesday, March 14, 2014)—Today, the Texas Conservation Corps was awarded a $ 5,000 grant by the  National Trust for Historic Preservation for a Hands-On-Preservation-Experience (HOPE) Crew project.  These grant funds will be used immediately to make repairs on a cabin at Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park originally inhabited by LBJ’s grandparents, Sam and Eliza Johnson, in the 1860’s.

This HOPE Crew project, overseen by craft  experts  from the  National Park  Service’s Western Center for Historic Preservation, is taking place this week in Johnson City, Texas. The project will result in critical repairs to the cabin while also transferring these unique historic preservation skills to the workforce of the next generation.  AmeriCorps members from the Texas Conservation Corps are hewing new wooden porch beams and making other repairs using tools that would have been used in the original construction in the 1860’s.  The Texas Conservation Corps is a program of American YouthWorks in Austin, Texas   that  places  teams  of  youth  and  young  adults  on  experiential  conservation, preservation and disaster response projects across the region.

"Programs like the Texas Conservation Corps help to ensure that communities and towns all across America retain their unique sense of place," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "We are honored to provide a grant to the program which will use the funds to help preserve an important piece of our shared national heritage."

Grants from the National Trust Preservation Funds range from $2,500 to $5,000 and have provided over $15 million in preservation support since 2003. These matching grants are awarded to nonprofit organizations and public agencies across the country to support wide-ranging activities including consultant services for rehabilitating buildings, technical assistance for tourism that promotes historic resources, and the development of materials for education and outreach campaigns.

For more information on National Trust for Historic Preservation’s

Preservation Fund grants, visit:  www.PreservationNation.org/funding

About American YouthWorks

American YouthWorks is an education and jobs training nonprofit based in Austin, Texas.   The agency has been serving the community since 1981 and offers a diverse set of programs for young people, ages 16 to 28, who want to change their lives through education, workforce training, and service to their country. For more information see www.americanyouthworks.org.

About the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately-funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places to enrich our future. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed  to protecting  America’s  rich  cultural  legacy  and  helping  build  vibrant,  sustainable communities that reflect our nation’s diversity. Follow us on Twitter  @presnation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.

Boiler Plate: 
Johnson City, Texas (Wednesday, March 14, 2014)—Today, the Texas Conservation Corps was awarded a $ 5,000 grant by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a Hands-On-Preservation-Experience (HOPE) Crew project. These grant funds will be used immediately to make repairs on a cabin at Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park originally inhabited by LBJ’s grandparents, Sam and Eliza Johnson, in the 1860’s.

Service and Conservation Corps Participate in "Mayors' Day of Recognition for Service" Events Nationwide

On Tuesday April 1st, numerous members of The Corps Network participated in events nationwide with their Mayors to recognize the contributions that National Service makes in their communities. In total, more than 1750 mayors were expected to participate across the United States.

American YouthWorks and the Texas Conservation Corps (shown above with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell) where even one of the programs prominently featured in a video made by Austin, Texas to showcase Service and how it plays a role in their communities.

Other Highlights:

  • [Photo] Utah Conservation Corps AmeriCorps members with numerous mayors
  • [News Release] Heart of Oregon Corps Attended Several Events with numerous mayors
  • [Photo] Greater Miami Service Corps Attended Several Events with numerous mayors
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[Photo] Operation Fresh Start crew representing at Mayoral Proclamation on AmeriCorps service day

American YouthWorks Staff Discuss Texas Conservation Corps' Effort to Restore Fire-Damaged Bastrop State Park

Story from The Austin Chronicle 
By Kate X Messer 

In late October, I visited the HQ of Texas Conservation Corps at American YouthWorks, here in Austin. I wanted to learn about the corps and how they fit into the Bastrop disaster scenario. I ended up also learning about how they now fit in to the national scheme of disaster services.

Here is the full conversation with Megan HeltonTexas Conservation Corps emergency response team field coordinator; Parc SmithAmerican YouthWorks CEO; Rachel Matvy, American YouthWorks communications coordinator; and Chris Sheffield, Texas Conservation Corps program director.


Austin Chronicle: How did Texas Conservation Corps come to be involved with disaster relief in general, and how were you all were deployed to the Bastrop fires?

PS: Bastrop County would have called the state Department of Emergency Management, which then calls FEMA. FEMA contacts the Corporation for National and Community Service(CNCS, which includes AmeriCorps, FEMA Corps, etc.), who then reaches out to local conservation corps, and that's how they brought us in. We had been already serving in previous disasters like Joplin, Missouri [multiple-vortex tornadoes, Sunday, May 22, 2011], and others before that. They knew we were a resource and very local, so they called on us to come and play a role.

MH: We had an agreement through the CNCS to be able to deploy on a FEMA mission assignment. So that's how we ended up in Bastrop. Since then, we have more direct lines of communication with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and One Star. It's direct line: With or without a FEMA declaration, we can get called in and don't have to wait a week for the declaration.


Austin Chronicle: Take me through the first steps: Did this call come in close to the timeframe of the wildfire? Was it still burning? Were you already on the ground once the request was made, and the order was in?

MH: We arrived in Bastrop on September 7 [three days after the fire ignited]. We were called in because it was a local request through the county, which had very basic infrastructure set up for volunteer and donations management. Luckily we had just been in Joplin, so we were able to expand that infrastructure. We worked with local authorities to establish a volunteer reception center and a donation management center. Because at that time, donations management looked like this: You drive into a parking lot and you kick a bag of clothes into that parking lot; you drive away and hope someone deals with them.

Our first task was to find a location. The pastor of Calvary Baptist had lost his home and opened his doors at his church to us and kept us there for two full months. We had complete run of that church, which was really a blessing. We slept in Bastrop State Park, right across the street from the church. It was still smoldering out there. We had trees coming down at night and hotspots showing up around our bunks. We were in it.

The county did not want volunteers out in the debris field while the fire was still burning. So the word got out to turn away volunteers. But volunteers were needed elsewhere. Our second task was to reverse that media and let people know that volunteers were still needed. We had people pre-register to volunteer, and then help us with the donations. "You got a truck and trailer? Bring it! We've got a job for you; come drive around and find and sort all of these donations."

PS: The day the fires happened, I called Brent Leisure, then State Parks Director. He lived out there and lost his home. But they weren't ready for us at that point, they were just trying to put flames out. But the county saw that there was a second wave of problems to deal with. There's a great guy over there, Mike Fisher, who always says 'When green shirts arrive [TxCC uniform is green T-shirts], they stop the second disaster,' which was this accumulation of donated goods and wave of volunteers that couldn't be coordinated yet.


Austin Chronicle: What were some of the early challenges and tasks you faced?

MH: Turning volunteers away can really crush the ability to rebuild. We knew we needed a way for people to be able to learn about volunteer opportunities. Number two, have a registration process, as system for sign up and call back. Number three was going through and figuring out what the volunteer opportunities were. We knew donations needed help, but who else was out there? Who was doing feeding? What's going on with the shelters? We did a lot of outreach, worked closely with United Methodists, the Mennonites, the Episcopal groups, St. Vincent de Paul, and local churches for volunteer referrals.

Volunteer hours are very important part of the recovery process because they have a monetary value. If you have a FEMA declaration and public assistance is awarded, volunteer hours can reduce the local cost of recovery. In most disasters, FEMA covers 75% and the local jurisdiction has to cover 25% of the costs. Volunteer hours are counted as resources leveraged, so it shows you've already spent $21 an hour per volunteer. It just reduces the 25% cost. If you generate $100,000 worth of volunteer hours, you don't have to pay that $100,000.

We immediately went into outreach mode, tracking volunteer hours, in a formal way.

Bastrop is such a strong community: neighbors were helping neighbors. People who hadn't lost their homes were spending days helping their neighbors who had. We needed some way to track those hours. So we set up volunteer hour sign-in posts, so people would come in and take a sheet of their own, saying I'm volunteering all weekend to help my neighbor clean up their house. It was really neat. We had people downloading it off a website and coming in showing us their hours they had completed helping one another.

The main focus was the cleanup – what we could do with volunteers? There was official case management going on through St. Vincent de Paul. We had a handful of AmeriCorps members to do database and intake work for homeowner registration assistance requests or work-order process.

There is a triage element to that paperwork: Are you uninsured, elderly, disabled, single-parent household? We coordinate across the different agencies – with whomever else is doing a work order process. It gives you a pretty good jump into long-term recovery, so we were able to use that paperwork and that initial assistance request and turn it over to long-term recovery. It's separate from, but goes hand-in-hand with case management. It allows you to get a profile on volunteer services on a piece of property from beginning to end. We had 980 people – rentals and homeowners – sign up in the first two months. When I say just us, that was in our database. Our partnering agencies had contributed to that as well.


Austin Chronicle: Parc, how exactly does American YouthWorks factor into this?

PS: American YouthWorks is the parent organization that started this program. It's grown in the last year or two, changed its name to Texas Conservation Corps, I think at the time we showed up in Bastrop, we were still Environmental Corps. It's a program of American YouthWorks, like our Casa Verde is a program and our school is a program. When they show up, their name recognition is really Texas Conservation Corps, a program of American YouthWorks. They're not two separate entities.

Every time a disaster happens, it's a brand-new situation. They don't have a bunch of forms ready to go. When Megan and the team showed up, they had just come back from Joplin and brought all this infrastructure and paperwork and knowledge about what needs to happen to make sure the county doesn't have to pay so much out of pocket. At first the county was just wanting to help people and wouldn't even slow down to take the intake forms in, but Megan and [crew] said, "Wait, this is worth real dollars to the county." They brought those forms from the Joplin experience and used them to help the county register all these people.

MH: In an ideal world, when we deploy, we have an experienced local entity set up with a plan for long-term volunteer management. In this case, local entities were set up but quickly realized they were overwhelmed. In this case, we found two women, Kate Johnston and Paige Webb, who had been volunteering every day, taking volunteers into the field, working with homeowners and agencies and had completely integrated into our operation. They wanted to do this for their community. They stood up and they took it on.

Meanwhile, we were looking at holidays, and our season was over. We couldn't be out there anymore. Bastrop's a great community, but Kate and Paige didn't have an organization behind them yet. They were just two individuals. So we left them with the database and called in an AmeriCorps NCCC team to give them physical support, and they pushed through the year until January. Mike Fisher with the county was supportive of the entire volunteer operation from beginning to end. He helped with the NCCC team, helping keep them engaged and supporting Kate and Paige as best as possible. Two years later, they're able to go around and train other communities on setting up long-term recovery, which is phenomenal.


Austin Chronicle: How do federal and state funding, and how does the insurance scenario play into what you do?

PS: My first thought on this is that we're almost not interested in that. We bring motivated young people to the table who can't wait to help others and be of value and worth. There's a need, that part is clear, regardless of what a person's insurance is or how much forethought they put into things: They need help today. Our role is to provide that help and structure and bring some systems to place that bring sanity to an insane situation. We don't even think about [the funding] because we're so logistics-focused at the time. I'm sure there are late-night conversations about this around the campfire after the day's work, but that part doesn't touch us. The insurance companies have nothing to do with us. Some people may reflect about how well FEMA – or the government response – works or doesn't work. But we wouldn't be there without that FEMA and the CNCS and state support. All those government entities are there to bring us to bear on this, whether people think it's perfect or not, it is a system that's present. It allows us to come in and provide needed services.

We're not funded by good will. We have to be working on projects, we have to pay young people to work, we have to pay for vehicles and gas and paper and tents and all the things it takes to show up and be of value where we're needed. That infrastructure of the counties, state, and feds working together to bring in the muscle and brains of the young people to play a role that is very helpful. In big bureaucracies, there are always kinks that have to be ironed out, but imagine the scenarios without it – clothes dropped in parking lots, people wondering who's in charge. Our participation in these systems gives us an understanding of the incident, command structure, and chain-of-command communication to establish sanity after a community's torn up.

MH: And we don't always just deploy through FEMA. We also have a direct relationship with the state. In that situation, we are not on fees-for-service, it is good will, it is in-kind work. We are a state resource for the state of Texas, but we don't get paid when the state calls us in. It's only when there are federal funds behind it.

PS: When we deploy with no FEMA support, the state leverages us as a resource and they have provided backbone funding that allows us to be there for that time. That funding sources from the federal level through the CNCS: It's AmeriCorps dollars that the One Star commission distributes to programs like us to be ready. We have to come up with the rest of the funding for the rest of the year, and that's the backbone that lets us show up before FEMA comes in with a declaration. Or if they aren't going to, we can still help inside the state because the One Star foundation used those federal resource dollars of AmeriCorps funding. It's a very small amount, but it does allow us to be there when there are no FEMA dollars.

MH: One of the things about national service across all the different AmeriCorps programs is the neutrality that comes with it. Whether someone's uninsured, underinsured, insured but can't get back to their house for some reason – the point is community service. Our guys have that ethic, we brought it to Bastrop, that it didn't matter what denomination you were, what your financial background was – if you needed help and you were asking for it, we tried to serve you. Yes, there is a triage system – there are some people who need immediate help – but ultimately, everyone needs help in that situation, no matter who you are. Being able to provide that service and bring that ethic into a community – we were just recognized in Galveston [at the Texas Unites Conference, hosted by the Texas Association of Regional Councils and held October 21-23, 2013] for doing that in West, Texas. We provided Spanish speakers to a community that didn't really realize they had a lot of Spanish speakers. The African-American population was uncomfortable going to some places and asking for help, but they came to AmeriCorps and asked for help. It's really neat to be able to play that role, to be neutral. We're here to help, period.


Austin Chronicle: Out in the field, did you find challenges or issues with fly-by-night nonprofit operations? Did you have to contend with organizations like that?

MH: Social media was a nightmare, because people make up things or they hear things and now it's "official." We definitely had to do some clean-up, not just with ashes, but with media. We were so lucky to have the county by our side and to have come in with that authority and neutrality that comes with being appointed with a task. When those things occurred, instead of having young AmeriCorps members dealing with the legality of it, we had a great support system through the county and could quickly have them deal with some of those illegitimate people that showed up.

And yes, some people were unwilling to cooperate because it's their game and only their game, and they don't see a reason to bring in another nonprofit. The favorite phrase is 'play nice in the sandbox."

We were not known in our state at that point. They didn't know we were a resource. While the situation in Bastrop was huge, Texas was dealing with 23 declared counties at once. At times there were a lot of stumbling blocks with FEMA and the state because they were dealing with 23 counties and we were in one – we ended up in three, but we were in one at the time. Building that relationship with the state and FEMA could be really difficult. We had a hard time in the first couple of weeks establishing that trust and visibility.

Within the CNCS, you have your fully funded NCCCFEMA CorpsVista, your big federal programs. There are certain tasks that are allocated to mission assignments – two of them are volunteer and donations management. In the case of Bastrop, two different NCCC teams were called in to support that operation. They were great and capable and worked right alongside us. But the mechanism to get them there is a lot different from ours. They have to be integrated with a community sponsor on the ground, all working together.


Austin Chronicle: So, then what are the differences between the NCCC groups that came in from across the country and your TxCC group? How are the missions different?

PS: Because of our style of operation in the field on other conservation projects, trail building or forestry or chainsaw crews – all the stuff we do the rest of the year, we have some skill sets and ways of operating that make us really good in these chaotic situations. There's a lot of field-based decision making. We do a lot of our own design work on the conservation projects that we do. We're responsible for the outcomes of these projects and that means in the field we have to make good decision, often hard decisions, and leave people happy on the other side. And we're sort of in charge of those projects. Some of the other programs that you mentioned show up and serve as a resource to support. It might be that some entity would call them to build a trail but they would have their own staff to manage. We come in as more of a ready-made unit that knows how to operate independently and say 'yes or no,' and make our own decisions and manage our own people in a stronger kind of on the ground way.

We are dependent on creating good relationships that last long-term. Bastrop is our neighbor, but they're also our home. We bring our crews to Bastrop State Park every year to do trainings and ongoing project work. We're deeply embedded in the reforestation and recovery efforts there. The county is our friend, and we'll continue to be partners long-term, and we need those kinds of relationships across the state. Because we're not fully funded federally, we depend on doing good work, being professional, building relationships that last and come back to keep us operational long-term.


Austin Chronicle: Chris [who's just entered the conversation], please explain this relationship with Bastrop State Park?

CS: Our relationship with Texas Parks and Wildlife goes back eight years or more, but it had been blossoming as we created a conservation corps that was getting noticed around the state. We did a more rigorous training program – a week that happened out in the field in a camping format – in 2010. We started spending a whole week there to orient and skill-train our members, 60 at a time, on federal chainsaw training.

The park has a big economic impact on the county and the city. That relationship had been going on and that was the case when the fire happened, so our initial response was in the disaster response. But early on, we were looking for a way to plug into the ecological restoration of the county, both in private lands and with the county and Texas Forest Service to make sure the private lands are not contributing to erosion.

The training camp was just one week in duration [January, in Austin], which includes hard and soft skills and general expectations and AmeriCorps orientation, then we go into the field for one more week of training down at Bastrop. Sixty folks in a camp, similar to what a civilian conservation corps might look like: Get up every morning, prepare yourself for the day, everybody has a task, getting breakfast ready for everyone else, that sort of thing. Then a series of skills: chainsaw classes, generally a three-day affair; one day of trail work, etc.

PS: That training period is a really good opportunity for us to get a feel for who the new members are who have come to serve, and how they're going to function as a team. We get to watch them in the field during that orientation period and challenge them with different tasks. The nice part of it is the partnership with the state park because they have a tremendous amount of back-logged need out there. So because we're doing this training, and we want to have it be real world training, not on a blackboard, we work in partnership with them to develop the projects we're going to train on.

CS: Using Megan as an example, who was an AmeriCorps member in 2010: She did 4-5 weeks of crew leader training prior to the training that involves every AmeriCorps member, then this two weeks of training with her AmeriCorps team. So that was probably her introduction to Bastrop State Park. She came in at that point, visited a couple of times on projects throughout the year, and then a year-and-a-half later, a fire happens.

The name change [to Texas Conservation Corps] did mark our focus on disaster response. As we changed our name, our grant with the One Star Foundation came on, which makes us a bigger resource with disaster response.


Austin Chronicle: How has this experience helped create templates for future challenges?

CS: American Youth Works, for a long time, has played very minor roles in disasters, primarily in Texas. But when Katrina and Rita happened, we would send crews with chainsaws. We were those show-up-and-volunteer people that needed some direction. We were trying to work with systems, but we weren't an important resource, we were just extra people showing up with really good chainsaw skills, some tools, and a lot of enthusiasm. That happened many times – flood mucking out in the valley, things like that.

But Megan went to Joplin with her crew as an AmeriCorps member and worked under the St Louis AmeriCorps program. They have a really powerful unit with a long time in disaster relief. They really set an example for how to be a key resource that was ready to go. Megan and our team were put in charge of 2,000 volunteers a day who would need to be organized, and one AmeriCorps member might be supervising a team of 100 individuals on a cleanup effort in Joplin. Some of it was the volunteer registration, some of the other wonky aspects, data management aspects. There was a lot of hands-on volunteer management – how to work safely in a debris field with people who haven't had real training and not fall on nails and things. From the relationships we'd developed in Joplin, we came back to Bastrop and served there as a really integrated resource working more deeply with FEMA. We got the people involved from other conservation corps and NCCC and FEMA, Megan and her team helped manage how those guys were operating. They were in charge. They were running the show and helped Bastrop establish grounds for recovery.

After Bastrop happened, we began getting more and more calls, because they [CNCS] realized we were a really powerful resource and that we know how to set up reception centers, we know what's important and how to follow incident command structure. So the presence of the disaster services unit within the corporation became more integrally involved in a lot of disaster response. FEMA was realizing, these guys have a lot of resource to bring to bear and can be leaders rather than just hands on deck.

MH: The disasters we've been involved with: From the top, we have Joplin, Bastrop in 2011, New Mexico wildfires in 2012, Isaac at the end of 2012, Sandy, the West, TX explosion, Oklahoma tornadoes, Eagle Pass flooding, Alaska...

CS: Lots of media has happened nationally around AmeriCorps and Conversation Corps presence in disasters. It's really grown. FEMA started FEMA Corps program. They do something very different. All the conservation corps get together a couple of times a year in conferences, and we stated realizing that we all play different roles, and if we work together and share best practices, we can strengthen corps presence and help communities in a much deeper way. So we organized ourselves intellectually to share best practices, talk about how to get in and be the best resource we can be. The best practices development and working in conjunction with CNCS has raised the bar for what's possible with our teams. We're not just going to come in and pick up trash after a storm, we're going to be significant role players. It's a great leadership moment for AmeriCorps volunteers. It's a tremendous responsibility – there's great backup, but it's really an opportunity to practice your leadership skills in those moments.

Now the corporation has raised emergency response to a Tier One priority. They tier their priorities of what they're going to fund, and disaster services has moved up to the top tier. It's good for the conservation corps because conservation, environmental work has been a lower tier for quite a few years. There's a real magic combination of the field work in conservation that's done, the kinds of teams we build as conservation corps, that fits really well with emergency response and disaster relief. With this higher tiering, we're able to put more focus on the skills needed for emergency response, and they'll get conservation skills the rest of the year, but we can put a real focus on how to be a high-quality resource at the time of disaster. That's something I think Megan and the Texas Conservation Corps are really advancing nationally because they're showing what's possible.

MH: As much as I'd love to think Bastrop is what raised the bar nationally, it was Joplin. Most programs went home and thought about how to affect their local community. Minnesota Conservation Corps and Washington Conservation Corp and we are probably the three big ones that have put a lot of focus on training, effort, relationship-building in the emergency response world at home. Joplin was in May 2011; we were there June and July of 2011.

Bastrop happened, and what we really took away from it, and what we are doing to raise the bar locally is building partnerships within the state. We have a great relationship with the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the One Star Foundation, and we are now able to build relationships and train others on volunteer management.

You asked about templates for future challenges, and all I kept thinking was, the biggest thing we took away from this is relationship building and how important it is to know your neighbor and your other organizations and who's out there. We've spent the past year alongside One Star, building those relationships and looking locally on how we affect our own community and how we can help our state in a time of need, which ultimately can help other states. But our focus right now is making Texas the template for volunteer management that other states will look to. How does government look to volunteerism in terms of need? We want to build that template, and having national service is a key part of that plan.

PS: Volunteerism is critical in these situations, but organization around that is necessary. The unaffiliated volunteers that show up can become a burden if not organized and channeled properly. That's what the Corps have always been good at – getting people organized, aligned, getting them the skills and training to be safe and effective. The things we do year-round play in really well to organizing volunteers to be as effective as possible.

RM: I think we've just barely touched on it, but there's been a lot of work in Bastrop over the last couple of years that has helped to bring it back to being able to open again for visitors, and there have been a lot of groups that played a role in that. We were there for about a year full-time in the state park. Tree Folks and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center played a big role in planting trees and growing seedlings. Texas A&M has been out there a lot volunteering. I think that's a big part of the two years later story – what's been going on since then.

MH: Nothing is done alone. That's the whole point of volunteerism. If you're a homeowner, watching your life get destroyed, and it's going to take you a year to clean up all the tiny pieces – when you have a community behind you, when you have relationships and partnerships, it can become a couple months. That's what's going on in Bastrop – community engagement, partnerships, people working together.

PS: Outside of the state park, in partnership with the county and forest service, and the Austin Community Foundation for supplying some funds to help the private land areas deal with erosion control problems – every piece of vegetation burned away, every rain takes the soil into the creeks and causes problems. We were working in conjunction with all these partners and the long-term recovery group in Bastrop to coordinate those activities on the private lands and make sure the soils were stabilized. There was some good work that happened outside of the state park as well, and important work for long-term recovery.


Austin Chronicle: Regarding Austin Community Foundation, were you part of the Central Texas Wildfire Fund [for which the concert raised money early on in the disaster]?

PS: We didn't have any involvement in the concert or garnering of those funds. Austin is really good when there is a need. Like after Katrina or Rita, Austin responded. That's one of the beautiful things about being here. They got all this resource together [early on in the case of the Bastrop disaster], but there weren't systems in place to distribute it yet, so the Community Foundation was the best place to put it. Then they began reaching out for how to distribute those funds. They knew we were a resource, and we worked together with that. That worked really well for us.

CS: There were funds available, and we had people on the ground being a conduit for recovery. We put the proposal together based on that. We had county and state park support, and we were a way for those funds to have immediate impact on those resources.

PS: We always serve as hardcore as we can, give the best effort, work extra time off the clock, because that's the ethic that our people bring to the table. We're a very economic means of delivering service. We were already working there at the state park, we're a known entity.

MH: There were a lot of organizations that wanted to do rebuilding and assist survivors, and then here's this environmental group that gets some funds to put some seeds in the ground. But the reality of the community in Bastrop is that people live out there because of their land. I remember sitting in town hall meetings where people weren't asking [the typical post-disaster questions, like], 'How am I getting my I-beam off this property?' They were asking 'What do I do about my deer and my wildlife? How do I feed them and get them back?' That's the type of community to which we were continually exposed. People applied who needed trees and grasses back on their property. They sought out free assistance to rebuild their ecological system.

Something that's unique in Texas is that public lands are affected by private lands. If private lands aren't taken care of after a fire, that affects your public infrastructure and the new house you just built, the economic value, your quality of life. Can your children go play in your backyard with dead standing trees? Probably not.

Addressing those issues, while it may have seemed out of order – I think it did shake out all right. Once local politics calmed down, and the right organizations were able to stand up and apply for funds, the funds trickled in the way they traditionally do after a disaster.

RM: Restoration, replanting, things like that, that prevents future problems down the road. It's important, and people realized that eventually.

PS: We were a very visible, effective use for a small percentage of those funds.


Austin Chronicle: So you feel it all shook out well.

MH: The biggest thing that's come out of Bastrop for us is that we partnered with One Star Foundation and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to host 20 Americorps members annually – train, manage, and supervise them for the state of Texas, specifically for volunteer and donations management. This was our first year and we've learned a lot.

Overall it's been a huge success, and it was amazing for me to go down to [the Galveston] conference, because I didn't meet any of these [other disaster engaged] people until Bastrop. To see the respect our AmeriCorps members now get, and that we are being publicly acknowledged for being compassionate, hardworking people, is really phenomenal to get that opportunity, both for Texans and people outside of our state. And to build those relationships to work off of Bastrop, not just walk away from it, but take some lessons learned, relationships and friendships and be a really strong resource for our state, is awesome.


American YouthWorks' Parc Smith Profiled by Austin News Site

American YouthWorks’ Parc Smith builds on a family legacy of fairness

By Michael Barnes
American-Statesman Staff

In rural Erath County, white townsmen in hoods once threatened Parc Smith’s grandfather.

“They demanded: ‘Why are you employing a black man when there’s white men out of work,’” Smith, 41, recounts. “He called them out by name: ‘Billy, Johnny, Bob, I’m going to count to three and start shooting.’ At two, he started shooting. They left and never messed with him again.”

Smith, CEO of a rejuvenated American YouthWorks, which blends education, service and jobs training, learned about social decency from an early age. His father, who joined civil rights protests at the University of Texas during the 1960s, taught at historically black colleges. His mother came from a long line of Texas workers who helped their neighbors in any way that they could.

“I was always taught to be good to all people,” he says. “Race and color, economic status don’t matter.”

Once a prospective forest ranger who served on conservation crews, Smith’s personal search for a way to help others took him outdoors. It’s easy to imagine the relaxed and wholesome-looking Smith, 41, as a happy-go-lucky kid. He camped with the YMCA, which employed his mother in Waco, before heading to the Dublin and Stephenville area.

“My parents were very supportive,” he says. “And pretty hands-off. I was free to do what I wanted.”

Playing football in a small Texas town also gave him something of a free pass from serious trouble. Popular, he was asked by his classmates to speak out against the school district’s dress code. Generally a respectful student, he wore a T-shirt to school that read: “Only a fascist would tell a kid how to wear his hair.”

Continue Reading at Statesman.com 

Proposed law could reclassify Texas high schools, benefiting American YouthWorks

From KUT - Austin, by Alexandria Mayo

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that less than 85 percent of the students in the class of 2010 graduated. At a hearing Thursday in the Texas Senate, lawmakers heard the case for better tracking students who end up back in school.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a member of the Senate Public Education Committee, told members that even though high school graduation rates in Texas are improving, some schools aren’t getting credit for their part in those improvements. She was talking about schools that enroll dropouts and give students a high school diploma if they earn their credits and meet the requirements. 

Van de Putte wants the the TEA to account for these students and their schools differently. She’s written a bill that would designate schools where at least half of enrolled students at least 17 as “dropout recovery schools.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D - San Antonio, TX


She says these schools can get poor ratings because they don’t graduate students at the same age and speed as traditional schools. By creating a separate category for these schools, the TEA could give them points towards their accountability rating for each high school diploma they give.

Charter schools like Premier and American YouthWorks in Austin would benefit if her bill becomes law.

Parc Smith, chief executive of American YouthWorks, says his school has students who get pregnant and leave, and others who are homeless. But many come back. So he wants the state’s measuring stick to take this into account.

“We accelerate the learning rate and we get them to graduate, and so we would like to see some measurement that honors that growth we’re doing with those students rather than penalizing us for them not graduating with their original cohort,” Smith said. “We didn’t create that problem. They come to us two to three years behind.”

Blanca Lopez dropped out in middle school and stayed out for six years. She’s now at Premier in South Austin. She started last September and has finished the equivalent of two years of high school. She has plans to finish.

“The teachers worked with me to get back on track,” Lopez said. “I made the mistake of dropping out once, six years ago, and I’m not making that mistake.”

American YouthWorks rebrands E-Corps as Texas Conservation Corps and announces new disaster response program

Swearing-in Ceremony at the Texas State Capitol for new members of the Texas Conservation Corps (formerly Environmental Corps, or E-Corps)


This week the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC), a service program of American YouthWorks, announced that it will operate emergency response teams. Though based out of Texas, the teams will be prepared to provide relief when disaster strikes in other states. One crew is already in New Jersey helping with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. When the crews are not responding to emergencies, they will work on conservation and disaster mitigation projects throughout the state of Texas.

This new program was made possible through an AmeriCorps grant provided by the One Star Foundation.  The funds will be used to train Corpsmembers in hazardous debris removal, home repair, shelter management, and volunteer management.

The announcement about the disaster response teams was made at a swearing-in ceremony for new Corpsmembers on the South Steps of the Texas Capitol on March 22, 2013. These Corpsmembers will be some of the first young people to serve in the Texas Conservation Corps under its new name. The program operated as E-Corps (Environmental Corps) for the past 17 years. Though the program has a new name, it will continue to provide youth the opportunity to solve real community issues through impactful conservation and disaster relief projects in Texas and adjacent states. American YouthWorks is hosting an event later this month to celebrate the rebranding.