Conservation Corps instills work habit in youths Summer program benefits state parks

July 13, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

SHAD LANDING -- For Levin Spence, the worst part about working outdoors all day is not the heat or the humidity.

"I love the outside," said the 18-year-old from Pocomoke City on the Lower Eastern Shore.

And it's not the mosquitoes, ticks, and occasional spiders and snakes he encounters.

"I saw some insects the other day I never saw before," he said. "I liked that."

No, the part Levin hates most about having a job is getting out of bed at 5 or 6 in the morning so he can be at work by 8.

That sentiment may never change. In fact, it's one of the hard lessons that state officials hope is imparted to Levin and the other 900 or so youths who will have participated in the Maryland Conservation Corps summer work program before it ends.

Formed in 1984 in the likeness of its federal predecessor, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the MCC is designed to provide work experience for economically disadvantaged youths who might otherwise venture unprepared into the job market when they leave school.

Additionally, the MCC program offers environmental and drug education to participants, who range in age from 14 to 21. Depending on the location of their work sites, crews may take a canoe trip or hike a nature trail as a break from work.

MCC members also are paid the $4.25-per-hour minimum wage, making it possible for each to earn about $1,000 by the end of the seven-week program.

The program is partially funded through the federal Job Training Partnership Act. While the MCC began the summer with enough money to hire 600 youths, an additional 300 positions were created under a federal program for youth projects developed in the wake of the Los Angeles riots.

Because most MCC work is strenuous, most applicants are male, said Jonathon Underwood, who heads the program for the state Department of Natural Resources' forest and parks division.

For many youths, being part of the MCC represents their first job ever. So program officials said they want to make sure participants like Levin realize the value of work -- even if it means accepting such drawbacks as getting up early in the morning.

"They may come from a background where 'work' is a dirty word," Mr. Underwood said. "We want to make it as positive an experience as possible for them."

On the other hand, it is a work program. The youthful employees are watched by crew bosses, who can dock their pay or even fire them. When youths complete the program, written evaluations are kept for seven years as references for potential employers.

And not everyone hired by MCC is a success story. Darryl Birckett, an MCC area coordinator, said two members of the original Shad Landing crew were fired for disciplinary problems. Another was fired because he was dangerous with tools.

Crew member Marvin Randolph, a 14-year-old from Pocomoke City, said it takes all his patience not to fight another boy who gives him a hard time.

"I don't want to lose my job," he said, adding that there are occasional fights and other rules violations that are never detected by crew bosses.

"We're not a social rehabilitation program," Mr. Underwood noted. "We don't guarantee that we're going to make changes in these kids' lives."

Each MCC crew member is given three T-shirts, a pair of steel-toed work boots and a work cap. Crews are picked up at their homes and driven to the work site in state-owned vans and returned home at the end of the work day.

In return, the public parks get some much-needed sprucing-up.

At state parks from Crisfield to Cumberland, MCC crews are busy repairing hiking paths, building wooden shelters, planting beach grass and setting up wildfowl nesting boxes.

At Shad Landing, part of the Pocomoke River State Park halfway between Snow Hill and Pocomoke City, Levin and the nine other XTC youths recently completed construction of a fishing ramp for handicapped visitors.

Crew chief Tom Beckett said that the job was not tough but nevertheless gave crew members a feeling of pride. "They saw something they built for other people, something they made for someone other than themselves," he said.

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