When I was 16 years old, I was lucky enough to participate in a program that not only allowed me to earn much needed money for the summer, but also taught me skills that I’ve used throughout my life. It was called the Youth Conservation Corps, and it was one of those rare moments when the government really got something right. YCC provided young people with opportunity, hope, gainful employment, and both work and life experience. It also provided work for college students who acted as crew leaders, and it provided much needed improvements to the nation’s infrastructure, much like the Civilian Conservation Corps did. Talk about a win/win/win situation!
I did my YCC tour at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle. I paved roads, I chopped trees, I built a picnic shelter, I roofed a barn, I reinforced a swimming hole with sandbags. I became tan and lean and capable. I had my first experience with dorm life. I learned how to face adversity and challenge and come out on top when all seemed against me. Most of all, I had experiences I would never have had otherwise.
My crew leader taught me much, and is still a dear friend. And I still have my steel toed boots from that summer, even though they no longer fit (Actually, they didn’t even fit then, which would probably be my biggest complaint). I look at them as a point of pride. I also look at them with a bit of sadness, because Reagan pulled the plug on this program, and therefore many generations of youth in this nation have been deprived of this valuable life experience. Fortunately, several states have chosen to continue the program, as has the National Park Service. It’s just not on as grand a scale as it once was.
For all the kids out there who are like I was and don’t yet realize their potential, and are between 15 and 18 years of age, I strongly encourage you to check out this program with the National Park Service, or find out if your state has one. It changed my life. I promise it will do wonders for yours.