The Corps Network Announces Winners of the 2018 Corpsmember of the Year, Project of the Year and Legacy Achievement Awards

WASHINGTON, DC [December 14, 2017] – The Corps Network, the national association of Service and Conservation Corps, today announced the winners of the 2018 Corpsmember of the Year, Project of the Year and Legacy Achievement Awards. Honorees will be recognized at The Trail Ahead – The Corps Network’s 2018 National Conference – taking place February 11 – 14 in Washington, DC.

2018 Project of the Year: Southwest Conservation Corps and Montana Conservation Corps - Wyoming Women's Fire Corps

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Wyoming Women’s Fire Corps (WWFC) is a pilot program that ran August through early November of 2017. Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC), Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) joined together in this collaborative effort. 

SCC and MCC each contributed a crew of six female Corpsmembers and two female Crew Leaders to work with the BLM in Wyoming. The goal was to give these 16 women the confidence, technical skills, and leadership abilities to pursue careers in wildland firefighting. The women completed training and were certified in S130/190 wildland fire fighting and S212 saw operation. The scope of work for the program included fire mitigation and prescribed burns, as well as various chainsaw projects in locations throughout Wyoming. Additionally, both WWFC crews had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience while dispatched on a 14-day assignment to support the massive firefighting efforts in California.

The WWFC is a perfect example of innovation in the Corps Movement. It is a unique opportunity to develop collaborative solutions to several needs. First, this program helps address the huge gender disparity in wildland firefighting. Only 11 percent of permanent wildland firefighting jobs in the U.S. Forest Service are held by women. BLM faces similar statistics.

Second, the WWFC plays a role in addressing resource management concerns. Wyoming has large tracts of land that are potential habitat for the endangered sage grouse, but these areas need to be restored through the removal of encroaching conifers. An effort of this kind requires chainsaw work with a hand crew; perfect saw and physical training for a future wildland firefighter.

The WWFC is potentially the first all-women’s fire crew within the Conservation Corps movement. Additionally, this was the first time either SCC or MCC operated an all-female crew with a set purpose. The uniqueness of this program helped bring in far more applicants than anticipated; within just a two-week window, both Corps received three applicants for every slot.

The first WWFC cohort just closed their season. They report having had an incredible, life-changing experience. Each Corpsmember was an AmeriCorps member, earning a living allowance and finishing with a Segal Education Award. With only one exception, all SCC and MCC members are interested in applying for fire jobs next season; a testament to the empowering nature of this program.

At this point, it’s too early for SCC and MCC to report on how many WWFC participants became employed in wildland firefighting. However, they have already seen other positive effects of the program; SCC has been contacted by BLM and other organizations that are interested in hiring the Corpsmembers and learning more about replicating the initiative in other parts of the country. BLM and both Corps have deemed the WWFC highly successful and are working to repeat the program in 2019.

In the months to come, the two Corps will team-up to develop solutions for challenges discovered in the first year of operation. One of the key factors in the success of this pilot was the critical collaborative effort from staff at SCC, MCC, and the BLM. Several large conference calls took place to establish expectations, logistics and needs of all parties involved.

Both SCC and MCC have been strengthened in many ways because of the WWFC. Each Corps has developed relationships with communities in Wyoming and with the BLM of Wyoming. Additionally, their crews have increased their capacity to respond to wildland fires, complete prescribed burns, and tackle a backlog of habitat improvement projects. Most importantly, however, both Corps have increased diversity and are excited to play a role in opening-up an opportunity for women who are interested in fire, yet unsure how to get a start in such a male-dominated field. This project has developed into a stepping stone for this specific demographic.

As one Corpsmember said of the WWFC: “For women who are thinking ‘maybe I can’t do this,’ you totally can. You just have to have the determination and the willingness to put in a lot of hard work and sweat.” 

2018 Project of the Year: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps - Health Care Share Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Health Care Share program of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) recruits young adults to serve outdoors, in small teams, on tangible projects that benefit Vermont communities. Through service and meaningful employment, young adults gain a profound sense of agency and an understanding of what it means to serve neighbors in need.

With partial support from AmeriCorps, VYCC Farm Crews grow fresh, local, organic food from March through November. This food is then packaged in weekly and/or monthly shares (much like CSA – Community Supported Agriculture) and delivered to hospitals, medical centers, and community clinics. Medical centers, in turn, identify patients and employees who have distinct needs (food insecurity, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.) and would thus benefit from the program. Health Care Share recipients receive shares for six months of the year, as do VYCC Corpsmembers. Additionally, Corpsmembers receive extensive nutrition education and undergo VYCC’s Food and Finance course. 

In 2017, the Health Care Shares initiative engaged 88 Corpsmembers and Crew Leaders. Seventy-two Corpsmembers benefited from the Food and Finance curriculum, and 72 Corpsmembers and their families received a Health Care Share. This is of particular importance as most Corpsmembers come from low-income households.

Throughout the year, Health Care Share Corpsmembers completed an anticipated 50 weeks of service, totaling approximately 10,800 service hours. Additionally, 700 volunteers contributed 2,800 service hours for an estimated financial value of $16,900. By year’s end, roughly 140,000 pounds of food will have been distributed to 500 families, benefitting approximately 1,700 individuals. In addition to the Farm at VYCC, 13 partner farms benefitted greatly from labor provided by VYCC’s Farm Crews. VYCC Farm Crews are, increasingly seen as a valued, nimble, and affordable labor source for farmers during critical moments of the growing and harvesting season.

While the Farm at VYCC has enrolled Corpsmembers to work on the Health Care Share for five summers, 2017 was marked by innovation in several ways:

  1. Expansion – Historically, all farm production happened on VYCC’s nine-acre diversified vegetable and poultry farm. This past growing season, the Farm program fielded crews in three additional Vermont communities: Richmond, Newport, and Bristol. Expansion allowed VYCC to enroll more young adults and add new partners.
  2. New Partners – At each Health Care Share distribution site, VYCC facilitates the formation and operation of “FOOD” teams - Fundraising, Operations, Organization, and Decision-making. These groups are comprised of community and municipal representatives with a stake in public health, nutrition, food security, and local agriculture, as well as youth advocacy, education, and workforce development. Each community that benefits from the Health Care Share brings new partners to this collaboration. This year saw five partner farms join in Rutland. The Newport Crew worked on a community farm managed by the Vermont Land Trust. Farm crews also gleaned produce on seven additional farms to secure additional produce. Partnering medical centers and communities include UVM, Central Vermont, Rutland Regional, and, new this year, North Country Medical Center in Newport. Lastly, VYCC was thrilled that the Farm now receives AmeriCorps funding directly from the Corporation for National Community Service through the SerVermont state commission.
  3. New Education Outcomes – Piloting the Food and Finance curriculum was a great success. This course teaches Corpsmembers how to stretch a budget and, in doing so, establish healthy dietary habits.

​Because the Health Care Share directly benefits community members, there is a real marketing opportunity. VYCC has raised its public profile in towns hosting Farm Crews and seen an uptick in applications, particularly from women. Farming has become a recruitment strategy as it appears to be quite popular among young adults. Additionally, VYCC’s work in food security has attracted the attention of philanthropists who otherwise would likely not be interested in the Corps.

With pluck and determination, Health Care Shares is replicable. For other Corps interested in this type of program, they offer the following insights:

  • Virtually all hospitals have Community Benefit Funds. In VYCC’s experience, the leaders of many medical institutions have been open to innovation.
  • Because VYCC provides food to hospital patients, they consider this fee-for-service revenue, much like traditional revenues used to build and maintain trails.
  • Farms have significant labor demands for roughly nine months out of the year. As such, there are opportunities for Corps to extend the length of service beyond the summer. For example, modest investments in greenhouses not only extend the growing season, but extend the learning, work and service season.
  • Hiring is key. One needs to find a farmer and educator to help operate the program.

Of primary importance, the Farm at VYCC has increased VYCC’s capacity to offer the Corps experience to youth and young adults. Their ability to enhance learning outcomes is equally strengthened, as are their connections to the community.

2018 Project of the Year: LA Conservation Corps - Wiseburn Walking Path

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Wiseburn Walking Path was designed to confront larger societal concerns around the lack of public outdoor exercise and fitness options within Los Angeles County. The 0.7-mile-long decomposed granite walking path is ADA-Accessible and seeks to improve community health for users of all ages. LA Conservation Corps (LACC) Corpsmembers were the backbone that transformed 3,200 linear feet of essentially unused slope from a regular illegal dumping ground into a valuable community resource.

This project was different than most other LACC endeavors because the Corps was the general contractor, responsible for every aspect of the project. On most LACC construction projects, the Corps is subcontracted to perform specific activities, such as pouring concrete for sidewalks and curbs, planting trees, installing landscaping, and installing park amenities, such as play equipment and signage. This project, however, involved LACC being responsible for all these activities.

Performing the role as a general contractor involved complex permitting and approval processes. Parts of the project crossed into the City of Hawthorne, requiring meetings with Los Angeles County and City of Hawthorne officials. Additionally, the project abutted the right-of-way of the 405-freeway, which required compliance with California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) design standards. 

The Corps found ways to work with new partners and leverage existing partnerships to find ways to improve project efficiency. The project was a creative collaboration between LACC, the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District, County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Natural Resources Agency, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Office, the California Department of Transportation, the Wiseburn Watch Community Group, and other constituent groups. Together, this multi-agency and community inclusive partnership worked to ensure that community needs and wants were heard, evaluated, prioritized, and incorporated as much as possible.

The gently meandering path is lined with eight pieces of outdoor exercise equipment. It also features five large seating areas, some with custom-designed hopscotch elements, that provide opportunities for play, rest, and community convening. Additionally, the project included the installation of 45 solar-powered pedestrian light poles and 55 security bollards. More than 150 new trees and 2,000 native plants were installed to provide a tranquil backdrop for users. Each amenity and component was carefully selected to provide physical, mental, and community health benefits.

Constructing the Wiseburn Walking Path Project provided significant job training and employment benefits to LACC Corpsmembers, as well as long-lasting benefits to Wiseburn community members. During the roughly 2.5 years of the project, over 80 Corpsmembers performed more than 13,000 service hours. For the core group of Corpsmembers, the skills learned involved using construction equipment, such as bobcats and skip loaders, performing grading and surveying, pouring and finishing concrete, and installing amenities and other infrastructure.  Their on-the-job training offered access to networking opportunities and introduced them to potential career choices. In addition to job training, LACC provided Corpsmembers who lacked a high school diploma the ability to attend classes through a charter school partner.

The project, while complex, is replicable. Similar projects might consider some of these lessons learned: 1) Focus on communication, internally and externally. 2) Set realistic expectations early; over the last two years, LACC regularly attended Wiseburn Watch meetings to not only provide updates, but to ensure that expectations were shared and being met. 3) Don’t assume a project is too big for your Corps. While it is of the utmost importance to work on projects you know you can perform successfully, it is also important to make sure you don’t assume a project is too complex. 4) There is always an opportunity for Corpsmembers to learn. In circumstances when LACC subcontracted other contractors, the Corps often assisted, or at least reviewed the work with Corpsmembers to help expand their knowledge.

Completing the Wiseburn Walking Path has strengthened LACC in many ways. The project increased their capacity to perform large-sale park construction projects; broadened their perspective on which projects they should and shouldn’t take on; and taught them the importance of planning to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The project has helped expand the knowledge, skills, and abilities of Corps staff and Corpsmembers, and has helped refine their approaches to training and mentoring. Finally, the successful completion of the Wiseburn Walking Path Project strengthened LACC’s relationships with a wide array of project partners. LACC is currently working on two projects that are similar to the Wiseburn Walking Path Project and are applying the aforementioned lessons learned.

2018 Project of the Year: California Conservation Corps - Save the Sierras, Tree Mortality Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

*The California Conservation Corps Save the Sierras initiative is being recognized as the first ever 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) Project of the Year. The 21CSC is a national initiative to increase the number of young adults and recent veterans serving on public lands. The 21CSC Project of the Year represents the initiative’s vision to improve and maintain public lands and waters through public-private partnerships and the engagement of young adults in meaningful resource management projects. 

California is currently experiencing an unprecedented environmental disaster in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, home to a unique ecosystem that exists nowhere else.

Unhealthy forests, dramatically affected by California’s drought, were not able to defend themselves against the bark beetle, whose infestations have produced dry trees that are easy fuel for wildfires. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection estimates there are currently millions of dead and dying trees, a majority of which are concentrated in the Sierra Nevada Region. This condition has contributed to California’s wildfire epidemic, in which over 1.1 million acres have burned in 2017 alone.

The Save the Sierras project was established by the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to prevent further environmental devastation and assist underserved communities affected by the crisis. By repairing and restoring forests and natural resources, this project has made a significant impact in stopping the spread of tree mortality.

The project began in January 2017 with fifty Corpsmembers. They were trained and certified in the use of chainsaws, practical safety, flora and fauna identification, First Aid, CPR, and AmeriCorps values.

Armed with chainsaws and gumption, the participants removed thousands of diseased trees to promote a healthier forest. Why cut down trees to save a forest? A lack of management has led to overgrown forests that are dominated by small, sickly trees that compete with healthy trees for water and other resources. The path to a better future is strategic forest management.

Corpsmembers work a revolving schedule of eight 10-hour days in the field, followed by six days off for educational opportunities, volunteering, and rest. This exemplifies the service learning component of the project and its members.

In July through September 2017s, the CCC members cut down over 5,000 dead and dying trees. Before the end of the year, they will have cut down more than 15,000 trees. They have improved firebreaks, cleared trees away from structures, and increased the defensible space around countless byways. During the course of 56 spikes, Corpsmembers served a total of 47,757 hours. Additionally, 10 campgrounds have been restored and are able to be enjoyed by the public.

To make this project possible, the CCC collaborated with multiple public and private community partners, including Southern California Edison, the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Volunteers, local corps, fire councils, cities and counties. The CCC strengthened its relationship with the local California-based Corps and AmeriCorps by recruiting members and sharing this experience with them.

The Save the Sierras Corpsmembers recently attended a career fair constructed especially for them and their experience. They were amazed at the range and number of opportunities available to them after their year of service. Corpsmembers were introduced to jobs with organizations ranging from regional tree service companies, to California State Parks and Southern California Edison. Representatives from these entities presented opportunities to the Corpsmembers that they were already fully qualified for as a direct result of this project.

During their year of training, Corpsmembers had the opportunity to earn their S212 wildland fire chainsaw certification and Faller 3 certification. Multiple Corpsmembers earned their high school diplomas during the project, and several others transferred to a fire crew within the CCC with the hopes of becoming firefighters. Fifteen Corpsmembers signed up for a second term allowing them to complete two years in the project. Save the Sierras combines the innovation of healthy forest management while also providing an environment wherein members can grow personally. 

The Corps Network Announces 2016 Winners of Corpsmember of the Year, Project of the Year, and Legacy Achievement Awards


WASHINGTON, DC (December 7, 2015)— The Corps Network has announced the winners of the 2016 Corpsmember of the Year Award, Project of the Year Award, and Legacy Achievement Award. The Corps Network presents these three awards on an annual basis to select individuals and organizations from their membership of 120 Service and Conservation Corps across the country. Awardees are chosen through a rigorous application process.

The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners


Every year, The Corps Network honors a select group of outstanding Corpsmembers and Projects, as well as leaders in the Corps movement. Click the links below to read about our 2015 honorees, who will be officially awarded at our National Conference in Washington, D.C., February 8 - 11, 2015. Congratulations to all of our winners and thank you for everything you do!

Corpsmembers of the Year 

Graciela "Gracie" Billingsley 
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Colorado - Steamboat Springs, CO

Harris Cox
Civicorps - Oakland, CA

Mokhtar Mohammadi
Onondaga Earth Corps - Syracuse, NY

Jasmine Romero
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, New Mexico - Taos, NM

Jeremiah Ruiz
Urban Corps of San Diego County - San Diego, CA


  • Click here to learn more about the award.
  • Click here for a list of past Corpsmembers of the Year.

Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winners

Ann Cochrane
San Francisco Conservation Corps

Paul McLain-Lugowski
Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps


  • Click here to learn more about the award.
  • Click here for a list of past Corps Legacy Achievement Award winners.

Projects of the Year

Beach Buddy Adventure
Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps

Energy Corps
California Conservation Corps

GURLS Corps!


2015 Project of the Year: California Conservation Corps' Energy Corps

Energy Corps
California Conservation Corps

In November 2012, California voters passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Proposition 39), establishing a fund to support projects throughout the state that improve energy efficiency and expand clean energy generation in schools. One such project is California Conservation Corps’ Energy Corps: a program launched in the fall of 2013 to help California schools conduct energy surveys and reduce energy consumption, while also providing Corpsmembers the opportunity to gain technical training in the energy field. 

The Energy Corps model is based on the idea that much of the energy work typically performed by engineers and energy analysts can, and should, be performed by entry-level employees. The goal is to open up new positions for young adults within the rapidly expanding energy efficiency industry. Energy Corps provides Corpsmembers with the skills and knowledge to complete these entry-level tasks and pursue advanced training. To date, nearly 250 California Conservation Corps (CCC) Energy Corps members have completed an 80-hour training in the fundamentals of energy use and energy efficiency; nearly 60 have completed an 80-hour course in basic lighting; 84 completed OSHA 10-hour training; and 76 finished the 12.5 hour Energy University online course.

Energy Corps members learn to work in teams to complete “whole building” Energy Opportunity Surveys, which evaluate the interior and exterior of a structure to identify current energy usage. Corpsmembers then visit schools, inspecting each building’s lighting, windows, heating, and ventilation and air-conditioning systems. The data the Corpsmembers collect about each school’s energy consumption is analyzed by energy industry experts who quantify potential energy saving opportunities and provide recommendations for how schools can implement energy and cost-saving measures.

In Energy Corps’ first year, Corpsmembers from 12 Crews in 11 locations conducted Energy Opportunity Surveys of 900 schools. They evaluated 7,400 structures and 36 million square feet of building space. The data from these surveys has allowed analysts to recommend actions schools can take to save more than 50 million kWh annually and millions of dollars. Not to mention, many of the schools where Energy Corps works are in low-income communities. Without the services provided by Energy Corps, these schools would likely not be able to hire an outside firm to conduct an energy survey, which is required in order to receive state funding to pursue energy efficiency projects.

In addition to conducting surveys, Energy Corps members also have the skills to install basic energy efficiency retrofits at the schools, including lighting and control upgrades. Corpsmembers also complement their training by providing presentations about energy conservation to students at the schools where they serve.

Through Energy Corps, the CCC is tackling some of America’s Greatest Challenges – including youth unemployment and climate change – by creating public service work and youth training opportunities in the energy sector. 

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Boosts Local Economy and Walkability of Vermont’s Capital City

Each year, working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTRANS), Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) utilizes federal transportation funds to employ more than 50 diverse youth who complete 24 weeks of work on community-based projects all over the state. These projects include work along rail trails, community transportation linkages, and other highly visible transportation enhancement projects. VTRANS has enthusiastically welcomed the partnership with VYCC as a way to introduce young people to the value of community service, diversity, education, job training, and the many rewarding careers in the transportation industry.

For the past 3 years, the Corps has been working on an important transportation project in Montpelier, the capital city of Vermont. The challenge was to help provide an improved route for employees working in the large National Life office complex to reach downtown Montpelier. The National Life complex houses Vermont’s third largest private employer, as well as over 1,400 Vermont State employees. Before construction of the National Life Trail, employees walking downtown from the National Life complex, as well as residents of an adjacent neighborhood, had to choose between following a mile long route along the side of a highly trafficked street, or taking a makeshift path straight down a steep hill, known as the “Goat Path.” Neither choice provided safe or accessible passage. The new trail transformed this tiny, eroded, and treacherous path into a beautiful trail and connected the city’s largest office building to the downtown area.

Given the high level of human activity within the area, as well as the very steep nature of the trail, the Corps and its crews were presented with new challenges in regard to safety, as well as the logistics of transporting large boulders and materials to build stone staircases. But ultimately, the 3 years of complex project work boosted the technical skills of VYCC staff and crewmembers in building trails.

More specifically, The National Life Trail project required the use of rigging, including a highline system for the duration of the project. All the stone for the site was imported from a quarry outside Montpelier and was brought to the project site by truck. It was then unloaded and transported downhill via mechanized equipment to a point where the slope became too steep. At that point the stone was transitioned to the highline system, lifted into the air, and dropped at its specific location on the trail, often in the exact location it was needed to create a step. The crew was “flying stone” in close proximity to a heavily traveled road and thus safety and control concerns were heightened throughout the project.

Across three summers, 130 large stone stairs were installed by 28 youth using specialized rigging equipment. These young people were trained through VTRANS’ support which enabled the VYCC to host two specialized rigging trainings for Crewleaders and staff members. Based on the success of this project and with the skills gained, the VYCC has more freely incorporated grip hoists and highline systems into other projects. Corpsmembers and Crewleaders on these crews were able to quickly learn the fundamentals and their use of a highline system furthered their technical skills experience.

Jessica Satterfield of Greenville, SC was one of the Corpsmembers who worked on the project. She has said that her greatest accomplishment was “independently leading the construction of a dry‐stack retaining wall at the lower terminus of the National Life Trail.” The technical and interpersonal skills Jessica gained from the project were a great addition to her resume and helped her to secure continued employment in the professional trail building industry. After completing her term of service with the Corps, Jessica was hired by Timber and Stone, a Vermont based professional trail building company.

Sherry Smecker Winnie, Recreational Trails Program Administrator for the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, & Recreation works in the National Life Office Complex. She says that “People here at National Life appreciate the trails.  I see folks every day getting outdoors onto the trails at lunch, to run, walk, or go downtown. At lunch I do a run or a walk on the trails. I can walk downtown in 5-10 minutes on this trail. I’ve used it to go to the State House, the Credit Union, to get a flu shot & to my favorite boutique. People use the trail to go to meetings downtown. Travel time is the same if you take a car. I get to save money for not having to pay for a parking space. I get fresh air, I don’t emit gas, I think more clearly & I get my daily physical exercise. It will be snowing soon enough & soon I’ll be using the trails to snowshoe & cross-country ski at lunch. And guess what? There’s even employees from different departments who sign up to volunteer to maintain the trails with National Life.”

The National Life Trail project is an example of how Corps can utilize funding streams from both public and private sources to better the environment and the community. By helping Montpelier residents access the downtown in a safer, more environmentally friendly manner, VYCC’s construction of the National Life Trail is certainly work that matters.

Orange County Conservation Corps Partners with Disneyland on Innovative “Adopt-A-Channel” Program

In California’s Orange County, over 350 miles of storm channels and urban waterways help transport rain and stormwater to the coast, where some of California’s most pristine coastal beaches and ecological preserves reside. Over time, however, the county’s storm channels and waterways were neglected, and considerably high levels of debris and trash accumulated within them. Graffiti also spread throughout the system of channels, creating a sense of urban decay that stimulated undesirable activities, including the growth of gangs.

Given global climate change and the uncertainty of future weather patterns, a powerful and sudden storm could flood the County if the channels remained clogged, negatively impacting and endangering over 3 million people, buildings, and valuable property—not to mention the currently intact and valuable coastal preserves and beaches. Something also had to be done to blunt the blight of graffiti and the threat of gang violence that the system of neglected channels helped propagate.

It was because of this dilemma, that a powerful member of Orange County’s business community got involved. Frank Dela Vera, Disneyland Resort’s Director of Environmental Affairs, has been credited with the conception of the “Adopt a Channel” idea. Working with Orange County Conservation Corps and other partners, Disneyland decided it wanted to pilot a program modeled after the successful “Adopt a Highway” programs that have become ubiquitous throughout the United States. The goal would be to remove debris and graffiti from the county’s channels.

They started with a two-mile stretch of the Anaheim-Barber City Channel flowing from the Disneyland Resort to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a coastal wetland that provides a home to numerous threatened and endangered species. With an investment of $50,000 from Disneyland, Orange County Conservation Corps (OCCC) would mobilize Corpsmembers to help make the project a success. But they also recognized the value of what additional partners could offer.

Personnel from the Orange County Department of Public Works, the agency that monitors the channels, helped mentor OCCC staff and Corpsmembers on crucial graffiti removal tactics, as well as safety procedures and best practices. In conjunction with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Corpsmembers were also trained to enter data into the “Tracking Automated Graffiti Reporting System” (TAGRS) computer program. The TAGRS system is an informational database containing photos of graffiti, listings of monikers, and identities of subjects identified through law enforcement contacts as possibly being involved with graffiti and other similar types of vandalism. Crews were trained and outfitted with a Galaxy Tablet II, connected into the TAGRS database. Corpsmembers would input data and photo journal the graffiti into the database program that will potentially link the criminals to the vandalism.

To date the results of the Adopt a Channel program have been impressive. Over 1,000 pounds of debris that otherwise would have been deposited into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve have been removed. Crews have also abated over 15,000 square feet of graffiti from the 2 mile length of the channel. Vandalism in this channel has decreased by 90%.

Corpsmembers have also gained valuable job skills and personal satisfication for their contributions to the service project. One Corpsmember said “I feel a sense of pride knowing I’m keeping the ocean clean.” They’ve also helped make Orange County safer and more beautiful, and potentially deterred youth like themselves from joining gangs.

The pilot program has been so successful that Orange County has implemented the program county-wide. The primary benefit to adopters is demonstration of community engagement; setting an example for other organizations, businesses, and residents within the community to take ownership of their water resources and local coastal ecology. On an individual basis, each Adopter has the opportunity to positively impact their waterways by improving water quality and providing a healthier habitat for wildlife like great blue herons, osprey, pelicans, and (the most wonderfully named) shovelnose guitarfish.

Thanks to the publicity the innovative Adopt a Channel program has received from local TV stations and Disneyland, Orange County Conservation Corps has been strengthened by its own boosted visibility in the community. Since the official launch of the program, several large organizations have contacted the Corps to provide the restoration efforts in their adopted portions of the county’s channels. In addition to the $90,000 the program has generated for the organization’s benefit to date, the Corps estimates that the growth of additional partners will increase revenue by 10% annually, helping to further support the Corps’ efforts to hire, train, and educate more youth in the county. The Adopt a Channel program is a great example of how collaboration, a willingness to experiment, and clear goals can result in simultaneous benefits for communities, people, and the environment.