Revitalization projects help at-risk youth
Civic Justice Corps builds park amenities, career skills
For about a dozen Maryland teens, the Stoneybrook Trail in Clarksburg's Little Bennett Regional Park is a path to success.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Civic Justice Corps, a six-week, nonresidential summer program now in its third year, provides at-risk and underprivileged young people between the ages of 14 and 17 with job training and puts them to work on projects in state and county parks. Participants learn basic landscaping and construction skills, explore park careers and work in small crews on tasks ranging from removing invasive plant species to building barns.
The program expanded to Montgomery County this summer. On July 21, about 12 teenagers were hard at work rebuilding the Clarksburg hiking trail and moving it out of a flood plain. Other projects completed this summer by the two county crews, based out of Seneca Creek State Park in Gaithersburg, include litter clean-ups and building a park pavilion.
Jobs are overseen by the Maryland Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program where young adults work on natural resource management and park conservation projects.
"These kids are having a positive experience; they will absolutely remember this for the rest of their lives. Somewhere in all of our pasts we had that and it's made us who we are today," said Lt. Col. Christopher Bushman, deputy superintendant of the Maryland Park Service. For many of the youths, the program is their first experience in nature, he said.
"There's definitely a mystical and spiritual experience out here, seeing that there's something bigger than you," Bushman said. "Man made the cities, but he didn't make this. It adds to their life experience."
The program began in 2008 with 200 youths from Baltimore City, and this summer more than 340 youths are involved statewide, including 31 at Seneca Creek, where the crews meet for breakfast before heading out to the day's project site, said CJC coach Tim Martin.
"I like doing stuff that's different and I never did this before," Devante Wise, 14, of Silver Spring, said during a lunch break July 21.
"You learn stuff that you just can't learn anyplace else," added Ishmael Ehimo, 14, of Silver Spring.
The program costs about $1 million per year, with roughly half of the funds coming from local governments and nonprofit partners; participants completed about $870,000 worth of projects last year, Martin said. They earn $7.25 an hour.
"It keeps kids productively engaged over the summer," Martin said. "It's not just about getting these resources restored, it's to help the kids get these skills and go out and get another job in the world."
The young people also take part in activities such as camping, canoeing, art and wildlife projects and picnics. About 70 percent of last year's participants applied for this year's program, said Capt. Peyton Taylor, executive director of the Conservation Corps and interpretation for the Maryland Park Service.
"It's amazing to watch them blossom from one year to the next," she said.
For more information on the Maryland Civic Justice Corps, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/cjc.