Project YESS gets three thumbs up

These teenage crew members work for more than green

For more than 15 years, Project YESS at Mount Hood Community College has partnered with nature to help “at-risk” youth in East Multnomah County set sturdier roots.

Running work crews four times a year, eight weeks each, the Project YESS Youth Conservation Corps (PYYCC) hires low-income, underserved youth aged 16-21 for hardy projects like native seed collection; maintaining, building, and decommissioning trails; removing old fencing; and eradicating invasive, non-native plants.

We think conservation work is an ideal vehicle for youth development. Restoration projects at sites like Beavercreek Natural Area -- about which our crew members recently presented to the Metro Council -- engage them in a positive real-world experience, show them how to be good employees, and create opportunities to build self-esteem while giving back to families and communities.

We also think of PYYCC as a way to bring nature to young people who may not have the means or motivation to seek it on their own, thus fostering a lifelong connection and developing our next generation of conservationists.

Now, thanks to a new Metro partnership, we’re able to increase Project YESS’s focus on outdoor field work with the Metro-specific Youth Ecology Corps -- effectively doubling the number of youth on our work crews.

We’re thrilled. But what do the youth think about all this? We asked three Project YESS crew members -- Lexi, Brad and Hanna, all Gresham 19-year-olds -- about their job and what it means to them.

Why did you join the Project YESS Conservation Crew?

LEXI: Originally I joined the crew to get job experience, but within the first couple weeks I started to love working with nature and learning new things. I couldn't have asked for a better first job.

BRAD: The reason I joined was initially to get my GED. I was running low on options and my father wanted me to get out of the house and do something for a change.

HANNA: I joined because I didn’t have any work experience. I was really excited to start because I’ve always loved nature and thought this would be a great job.

What's the hardest part about the work? The best part?

LEXI: The hardest part is probably the physical part of it. We work really hard out there, and it gets hot during the summer. But it’s a good workout and I always give my 100 percent.

BRAD: The hardest part is orienting my time to get to bed on time so I won’t be weary the next day. The best part of work is absolutely everything. It’s opened my eyes to the importance of habitat restoration, and even just plain nature restoration. I feel like a much healthier person, and in the midst of doing what I love I gain valuable skills and experience to further my career in this field.

HANNA:  I would say the hardest part of this job would be the manual labor. The best part is being in nature all day.

What has been the biggest surprise for you?

LEXIFor me, it was how much I ended up loving this job. Before I started, I wasn't really sure I was going to be interested in what we were doing, but now I love being in nature all the time. We get to learn about all the different plants and animals, while working to protect our native species.

BRAD: The biggest surprise for me is how much knowledge my brain can hold now. Before I joined Project YESS I felt like my brain just wasn’t able to keep up with what everybody expected of me. However, I can remember so much now! I’ve been learning about native plants and their medicinal properties. Like Verbascum Thapsus (aka Mullein). It has anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and analgesic properties. Just little things like that have made me very proud of myself.

HANNA: For me, it’s how far I can really push myself, not just physically but mentally. For example, I never thought I would be able to walk for a week on a backpacking trip. I ended up walking 32 miles, something I thought to be impossible.

Would you want to do outdoor work for a living?

LEXI: I've given some thought to working outdoors for a living, I love nature, wildlife and learning something new every day. I'd love to work with animals, that would be an amazing job.

BRAD: I don’t just want to, I am going to do outdoor work for a living, because of what society has done to our planet. Native culture has always interested me, and I would love to know botany so I am aware of the edibility, medicinal properties, and potential harm of native and non-native species.

HANNA: I most definitely want a job in the outdoors. Who would want to be cooped up in an office all day? My dream job would be to become a naturalist interpreter. I want this job so I can pass on my love for nature and help more “city” people understand what’s going on around them.

What has the job taught you?

LEXI: This job has taught me a lot about responsibility, teamwork getting out of my comfort zone, and also how important it is to protect our native species and wildlife.

BRAD: That I am not a piece of trash like I thought I was. I’m a fun-loving, hard-working, and curious person, eager to learn and to help others. And that I love, love, love the outdoors. I wouldn’t be myself without it.

HANNA: This job has taught me a lot about myself, like how if I put my mind to something I’m good at it. I also learned a lot about nature as well, not just the names of plants and trees but how to understand them and the bigger picture. Nature needs love, too.



Michael Oliver is the program coordinator for Mount Hood Community College's Project YESS Youth Conservation Corps. He has more than 18 years of experience as an outdoor educator, including extensive work creating, leading, and managing nature-based programs with underserved and “at-risk” youth. His favorite thing about his job is creating high-impact, immersive opportunities for youth to connect with nature.

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