Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps.
Former Enrollee and Current NPS Staff Member Shares How the Program Shaped Him
Six years ago Damian Johns was a teen from Dallas who had never visited Yellowstone. Then his dad read an article about the Youth Conservation Corps. (YCC) program inside the Park. YCC offers teens a month-long, paid residential experience where they learn, work outside on a variety of tasks, and recreate with other teens from across the U.S. Damian was intrigued by the opportunity, applied, and was accepted into the program.
Towards the end of his first YCC experience, Damian was selected by his peers and the YCC staff to return to the Park as a Youth Leader the following summer. He has since returned to work as an NPS employee for YCC.
What motivated you to apply to be a part of YCC six years ago?
I have to give credit to my dad. He read an article about YCC and asked me if I would be interested in working in Yellowstone for the summer. I’d never been to the Park before and was intrigued.
What did you think of the program that very first week?
I was overwhelmed at first. I was one of the last enrollees to arrive because of a late flight, so by the time I got to the YCC facility, they were having a dance party and doing arts and crafts and I was thinking, what did I get myself into? But my Youth Leader was welcoming and showed me around the campus. By the end of the next day I was totally engaged.
What did you learn from that first YCC experience?
My first summer with Yellowstone YCC changed my life. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of travel, adventure, and experience. It taught me the importance of community. It reinforced my love of nature. I learned to appreciate something as simple as a sharp axe. I grew so much that summer in self-confidence, work ethic, and leadership.
What aspects of the program challenged you?
The cold, early mornings were tough at first. Also, the highly structured layout of the program, offering minimal downtime was difficult. But at the end of the summer, when I looked back at everything I accomplished, I was grateful for every minute.
Why have you chosen to come back to work for YCC for so many years now?
It really comes down to being voted back as a Youth Leader my first year. Getting to experience that second summer in the program built strong connections with the staff and deepened my love of the program and Yellowstone. Then I came back the following summer as the Logistics Coordinator, which was my first staff position as a National Park Service employee. My duties were to pack food for the work crews each week, maintain tools, vehicles, and assist camp directors. I was the Logistics Coordinator for two summers, then I became a Crew Leader and am now in my sixth season with the Yellowstone YCC.
How does your life in Dallas influence how you approach things in Yellowstone, and vice versa?
My life in Dallas doesn’t influence my life in Yellowstone much other than that it’s where I grew up. However, my life in Yellowstone has drastically influenced my life in Dallas. I find myself feeling less and less content living there. I count the days until I return to the mountains and fresh air. I am now more environmentally conscious in my lifestyle.
What have the YCC kids who come from all over the U.S. with varying backgrounds taught you as you lead them?
Patience. It requires a lot of patience at times to lead work crews of teenagers. They’ve taught me how important it is to be compassionate. I’ve learned that, when leading work crews, delegation is possibly the most vital aspect of a productive, successful crew.
Describe an average YCC day…
We wake up, eat breakfast and pack lunch for the day. We stretch for 30 minutes and discuss safety concerns. Then we work or play hard, depending on the day of the week. We have lunch. Then we have an hour-long lesson on resource education. After the work day we go back to our campsite and prepare and eat dinner together. After dinner, we go for an evening hike, play games, or sit around the campfire and talk. Then it’s off to our tents to rest up for the next day.
Best (and worst) things about being a YCC Crew Leader…
Seeing the improvement and growth of the students over the course of the summer is the best part of my job. Getting to be a positive influence on young people’s lives is very rewarding. Worst is having to leave at the end of summer. It’s always bittersweet.
This year, 2013, marks the 24th consecutive summer that YCC has been shaping tomorrow's stewards in Yellowstone. If you would like to donate to YCC, please CLICK HERE. For more information about how to apply to be a part of Yellowstone's Youth Conservation Corps., CLICK HERE.