The Youth Conservation Corps program entails more than working outside, but the "offices" where other lessons are learned can be pretty majestic.
Based at six locations in the Lake County Forest Preserve District system, the crews involved in the eight-week summer program do construction and maintenance projects and spend one day a week learning about natural resources off-site.
Besides planting trees and shrubs or mending fences, the 48 youths, mostly aged 16 to 18, are trained in environmental awareness, career planning, teamwork and other skills to be used in work and life. Funded by contributions raised mainly at an annual golf outing hosted by YCC Inc., the partnership with the forest preserve district has lasted 42 years.
"My dad was in the Youth Conservation Corps growing up," said Faith Gazdzicki, 20, who has returned for a fifth year as assistant program manager for the entire operation. The Round Lake resident said she wanted to work outside in her teen years but had lifeguard in mind.
"My parents convinced me (about the YCC program) and I loved it. I am definitely a fan now," she said.
Forest district and YCC officials spent the day Tuesday touring projects at Rollins Savanna, Grant Woods, Lakewood, Ryerson Woods, Greenbelt Cultural Center and Lyons Woods preserves. The long-standing program blends with district's 100-year vision that, in part, calls for future generations to protect and cherish these resources, officials told the crew.
Mike Tully, the district's chief operations officer, was a YCC program manager in 1989 and recently celebrated 25 years with the forest district.
"Your kids are going to replace this fence," he joked to the crew.
Tully said there are 300 to 400 applications each summer but because many participants return, there are only about 20 available slots that are filled by lottery.
"YCC is an education program not a work program," he added. Participants are paid $8.50 an hour but most also receive $1,100 toward a college education.
Judge, wildlife photographer, social worker, chef, are among the occupations the Lakewood crew members are pursuing.
Crew leader Emily Schlebecker, 20, of Mundelein is in her third year at YCC. She is majoring in biology at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point and would like to work in an animal sanctuary.
"It helps solidify why I want to be in this field," she said.