In a Nutshell: The Corps Network is a nonprofit organization that supports community-based conservation efforts in the United States. Its 150 member programs provide resources and guidance to local conservation groups and help young people gain relevant skills and career insights. We sat down with Hannah Traverse, The Corps Network’s Communications Director, to discuss what the Network does and how interested individuals can find a local program.
I have a friend who spent a couple of years abroad for the Peace Corps Kyrgyz Republic as an ESL teacher. This was right after college, so everybody was shocked that he wanted to make such a bold jump so soon after graduation. But it wasn’t long until the Facebook posts came flooding in, and we could see the joy in the endless selfies with his students.
This reminded me of the saying, “It’s always better to give than to receive.” Perhaps it was once a tale told by parents to encourage selflessness, but studies show that people are actually more likely to be happy when gifting something rather than receiving it.
(It’s like how you were always told carrots would perfect your eyesight, which isn’t exactly the case. In reality, carrots provide Vitamin A, the deficiency of which can cause blindness.)
Conservation Corps programs offer an option for young people and veterans who want to give back but not leave their homes, families, or jobs in the US. Nicknamed the “domestic Peace Corps,” these programs enroll teenagers to young adults who want to help their local communities.
Beyond the valuable experience that comes with community service, programs like these open a path to new skill sets, certifications, connections, and career opportunities. And one of the biggest sponsors for these opportunities is The Corps Network.
“We want these Corps programs to be the best possible so that they’re really making a difference and so more people engage,” said Hannah Traverse, Communications Director of The Corps Network.
The nonprofit is a crucial supporter of community-based conservation efforts in the US, playing a vital role in restoring the environment and creating career pathways for young people.
A Valuable Resource for Conservation Programs
When you think of the term “corps,” the Marine Corps probably comes to mind. But Corps can also refer to organizations that address specific community needs. These Corps organizations engage young adults (typically ages 16-30) and veterans (up to age 35) in service projects that tackle local conservation goals via community efforts.
The Corps Network is a membership association that supports US conservation and community initiatives that focus on restoring and preserving the environment. The Corps Network provides advocacy, funding, and guidance to ensure those initiatives have the support they need to make a real impact.
“As you can imagine, the most popular time for enrollment is between spring and summer,” Hannah laughed. “Since it’s often outdoor work, it’s just the more reasonable time to do these projects.”
As for the types of projects? It entirely depends on what the community’s needs are. For example, city-based Corps programs might work with the local government to do tree planting maintenance or turn an abandoned lot into usable green space. A rural-based Corps might work with federal agencies and assist in building trails or removing invasive species.
The numbers are impressive. The Corps Network’s FY22 Annual Report shows that more than 500,000 trees were planted and 94,000 acres of hazardous fire fuels were treated, among many other projects.
Providing a Gateway to Professional Growth
Conservation Corps programs and The Corps Network focus on four main ideas:
- Climate resilience
- Community improvement
Corps programs not only improve communities, but those doing the work can also provide a gateway for professional development.
“While they do get significant work done working with agencies, the focus is really on the young people and making sure they have a meaningful experience and can take something away from it,” said Hannah.
Depending on the type of work you do, you may also need to get certified to participate in specific roles. Thanks to The Corps Network, it’s not uncommon to get a herbicide application certification or forklift license.
In 2022, more than 12,000 Corpsmembers received industry-recognized credentials. These credentials don’t just come in handy for members during their time of service; they offer valuable skills that stick with them long after.
“We always see people move into jobs with the agencies they served before,” explained Hannah. “So if you’re enrolled in a Corps working with the National Park Service, you can work alongside people already employed there. There are people behind you who can mentor and help you get into a position.”
Whether you’re looking for a sense of adventure or a way to beef up your professional résumé, Hannah emphasized that these programs are a great way to get your foot in the door. AmeriCorps members also get an Education Award at the end of their service that can be used to further their education.
Adventures Can Inspire Purposeful Futures
Conservation Corps programs often expose participants to fields that may spark their interest as potential careers. These programs offer diverse pathways — from park rangers to environmental educators and biologists to foresters — for those passionate about making a difference.
In recent years, there has been a growing discussion about resurrecting the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the influential program that still inspires today’s initiatives. Instituted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 90 years ago as part of the New Deal, the CCC employed 2.5 million young men during the Great Depression. Conservation efforts included reforestation, soil erosion control, park development, and infrastructure improvements.
The CCC disbanded during World War II, as many of those same young men employed by the CCC were drafted into war.
Recently, people have been calling to revive the idea of an extensive national work program that can reduce unemployment and increase manpower in conservation efforts around the US. For example, soil degradation is exceptionally high in the Midwest, and a program like this can employ millions of people to protect precious fertile topsoil.
The Corps Network supports this idea — with a few conditions.
“We believe something like this can be built off the existing network that already has relationships within their communities,” said Hannah. “But we want a program built on equity and environmental justice. The original CCC program existed during segregation; a new program should strongly commit to inclusivity and fair compensation. We want to see a CCC that focuses on engaging communities in leading local project decisions and recruitment efforts.”
The good news is that plenty of officials are pushing to reimagine the CCC as a “Civilian Climate Corps.” President Biden signed an executive order that proposes to retool and relaunch the program, so it’s hopefully only a matter of time.
In the meantime, you too can join conservation Corps programs. Discover one near you by visiting The Corps Network website. Connect with like-minded individuals, companies, and nonprofits to embark on a journey toward a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.