History of the Service and Conservation Corps Movement
Corps take Root
The Service and Conservation Corps model dates back to 1933, directly descending from the successes and the spirit of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was the most popular New Deal program, providing jobs for a total of 6 million young men. Implicitly, the CCC also led to increased awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation's natural resources. CCC volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America; constructed more than 800 parks that would become the start of most state parks; developed forest fire fighting methods; created a network of thousands of miles of public roadways; and constructed structures and buildings on our public lands.
The CCC was never considered a permanent program, and it depended on emergency temporary legislation for its existence. On June 30, 1942 Congress voted to eliminate funding for the CCC, formally ceasing the active operation of the program. Although the CCC was officially disbanded, the concept lived on in the nation's heart and mind. The inherent value of the CCC led to the development of similar programs for youth.
Rebirth of Conservation Corps Programs
In the years following 1942, several attempts were made by conservation groups to re-establish the CCC.
In 1957, the National Park Service placed summer volunteers in the Grand Teton and Olympic National Parks under a new program called the Student Conservation Program (SCP). The concept of engaging young people as park volunteers was suggested by Elizabeth Cushman in her 1955 senior thesis, "A Proposed Student Conservation Corps". Her idea, similar in many ways to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s, was to take the burden of labor-intensive jobs - such as entrance fee collecting or trail - work from National Park Service employees, and shift those tasks to the student program.
In 1964 the Student Conservation Program transition from the National Park Service to a new organization - the Student Conservation Association, Inc. (SCA).
It was in 1965 that a federal youth conservation corps program came to fruition. One of the major concerns of President Johnson’s war on poverty was how to help the rising number of teenage drop-outs and draft rejectees break the “cycle of poverty.” The President’s General for the war on poverty - Robert Sargent Shriver – incorporated a youth conservation element into a new training program to be known as the “Job Corps.”
Through this effort, the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (JCCCC), like the CCC camps of the 1930’s, were administered by Federal land managing agencies like the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
At first, the Job Corps conservation centers were designed specifically for enrollees with less than a 5th grade reading level. Enrollees stayed at conservation centers until their reading level improved, and they were then were transferred to urban centers for vocational training. Conservation centers differed from other job centers in size, with only 160-220 students versus up to 2,000 students in the larger urban centers. Also, training at the conservation centers had a tendency to parallel the types of conservation work needed near the centers. While the primary focus of Job Corps is to provide young adults with vocational training, many of the training projects conducted by the JCCCC’s help meet local conservation and community service objectives. Today the U.S. Forest Service operates 28 Civilian Conservation Centers nation-wide.
On February 18, 1969, Senator Henry M. Jackson introduced a bill in the Senate that would create a Youth Conservation Corps. He stressed the educational impacts of his proposal, stating that young people “would acquire an appreciation for our natural resources which cannot be taught in schools. In addition, they would develop good work habits and attitudes which would persist for the remainder of their lives.”
Despite opposition from the Nixon Administration, the Youth Conservation Corps began as a small pilot program in the summer of 1971. After three summers of operation as a pilot program, and with strong Congressional support, the YCC became a permanent institution in 1974. Program participation jumped from 3,510 in 1973, to 9,813 youth in 1974, and continued to grow until it peaked at 46,000 enrollees in 1978. In the first ten years of operation, the Youth Conservation Corps provided an opportunity for over 213,300 young people to “earn while they learn.” Between the years of 1974 and 1980, the YCC flourished and youth could be found nationwide each summer accomplishing needed conservation projects while gaining valuable insights into their environment. In addition to being operated on National Forest Service and Department of Interior lands, YCC programs were conducted throughout fifty states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, the trust territory of the Pacific Islands, and American Samoa. In 1980 the YCC was dealt an almost fatal blow when funding was halted by the Reagan Administration. Both the Departments of Interior and Agriculture felt so strongly about the Youth Conservation Corps that they have continued the program on a much reduced level with funds coming directly from each agency’s existing budget.
Late in the 1970s, an even larger federal program was launched, the Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC), which provided young people with year-round conservation-related employment and education opportunities. With an annual appropriation of $260 million and employing approximately 25,000 individuals, the YACC operated at both the federal and state levels. Like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, the Young Adult Conservation Corps provided federal, tribal and state agencies the opportunity to complete valuable conservation and community service projects while providing opportunities for young Americans. As a result of the 1980 federal elections, funding for the YACC ended but the program would provide a working model that many future state and local conservation corps would utilize.
State, Local and Urban Conservation Corps
The value of Youth Conservation Corps and the Young Adult Conservation Corps had been proven and many states had already begun to support these programs directly. California became the first, when former-Governor Jerry Brown launched the California Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1976. By the end of the decade, conservation corps were operating in Iowa and Ohio, and during the first half of the 1980s in several other states, including Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
In 1983, the emerging Youth Corps movement took a new twist with the birth of the first urban conservation corps programs. Once again, California took the lead with the start-up of urban conservation corps in Marin County, San Francisco and Oakland (East Bay), plus eight more in subsequent years. The California local corps’ were strengthened by passage of the California Bottle Act in 1985, which earmarked funding for local corps’ recycling projects.Just a year later, New York City established the City Volunteer Corps (CVC) and added a new dimension to the corps field by engaging young people in the delivery of human services as well as conservation work. During the mid-1980s, new state and local corps continued to spring up across the country despite the absence of federal support. Many of the early local conservation corps began to add human services projects to their portfolios.
Late in the 1980s, with support from several large foundations (Ford, Kellogg, Hewlett, Mott, Rockefeller, and the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, among others), The Corps Network (formerly known as NASCC) and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) sponsored a national demonstration to create and evaluate urban corps in 10 cities across the country. The best practices gleaned from the established corps programs and the first of these new corps became operational in the fall of 1990.
In 1992, the youth corps movement saw the first targeted federal funding in more than a decade, when the Commission on National and Community Service awarded approximately $22.5 million in grants to 23 states, the District of Columbia, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) (for disaster relief projects) and five Indian tribes. These funds became available under the American Conservation and Youth Service Corps Act or Subtitle C of the National and Community Service Act of 1990. While only half of the established corps benefited directly from these funds, the number of corps programs almost doubled to just over 100 as a result of the new Federal "seed" money.
In 1993, the Congress enacted and President Clinton signed The National and Community Service Trust Act, which amended Subtitle C of the 1990 legislation to provide federal support to many kinds of community service programs in addition to the traditional youth corps. Within this new legislation would be authorized a new program, the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), a team based residential program for young men and women age 16-24. NCCC members serve in teams of ten to twelve and are assigned to projects throughout the nation addressing critical needs in education, public safety and the environment. The new law also established post-service educational benefits for participants through the AmeriCorps Program. During the first full year of AmeriCorps, beginning in September 1994, 53 youth corps received AmeriCorps grants through state-wide population-based and competitive processes as well as through a national direct application process and collaborations with Federal agencies.