Pilot program for young people provides work experience, improves job prospects

Marin County Parks hopes to groom its next recruiting class of road and trail specialists through an experimental program underway now with the nonprofit Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB). In September, Parks contracted with CCNB for $179,976 for the six month pilot project and provide Parks a four-person crew for trail maintenance. Most of the work will be in tread improvements, drainage, vegetation management, and stair maintenance. Whenever the weather turns wet and wintery, the crew will work with Open Space District staff on flood prevention efforts. Santos Ordonez, a corpsmember on the crew, said, “I feel lucky to be doing work that will help me get a job working in Parks. It’s been my goal for a long time.” Respondents to Parks’ resident survey earlier this year showed the strongest support for sustained or increased funding in three key areas: vegetation management and wildfire fuel reduction; facility maintenance and upgrades; and trail maintenance and upgrades. “We needed assistance in those areas, and our friends at CCNB were ready to answer the call,” said Parks Director Max Korten. “This collaboration responds to our emphasis on professional development and training, too. There’s no doubt that corpsmembers are viable candidates for jobs with us. As they look to climb the career ladder, Parks is benefitting from their hard work through this pilot apprenticeship.” CCNB, based in San Rafael, gives corpsmembers a leg up in the job market by providing opportunities for them to earn skill-based certifications and to access job and internship openings through its extensive network. CCNB serves 200 young people annually, most from underserved North Bay communities such as San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, Marin City, Novato, Petaluma, Cotati, Santa Rosa, and Windsor. Almost all of them live below the federal poverty line. Typically, more than 60% of corpsmembers have dropped out or aged out of high school and are disconnected from both work and school when they join CCNB. “This expanded partnership builds on CCNB’s foundation of preparing young people to enter the workforce,” said Tyler Pitts, CCNB’s Director of Environmental Programs and Contracting. “The opportunities provided by Marin County Parks are a natural fit and align with the career pathways we seek for our corpsmembers.” The venture between CCNB and the Parks trail maintenance team benefits young people from minority populations as well. More than 30% of corpsmembers are Hispanic and 30% are English language learners. Those identifying as multiracial make up 21% of corpsmembers. “This is an important piece in our equity program and addresses our goal to increase diversity in our department,” Korten said. After gaining experience with CCNB, about 70% of program graduates go on to living-wage jobs in construction, landscaping, and natural resource management among others. Parks would like to improve opportunities for corpsmembers to find full-time, part-time, or seasonal employment. Martin Acosta has been a ranger with Marin County for 14 years, after starting out as a corpsmember. “For many young adults, including myself, CCNB is a stepping stone that opens doors to other opportunities,” he said. “It is one of the best places to learn and develop new skills, forge a solid work ethic, and gain cultural awareness. Thanks to CCNB, I’m working to protect Marin’s wonderful open space preserves.”