VYCC Recognized For Innovative Corps Programming To National Corps Network Board of Directors

August 20, 2019 | 

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) campus buzzed with action last week. Corps Members wrapped up a summer of farming and two-weeks of campus improvement projects to prevent erosion and increase accessibility. Having a subset of Corps Members on campus presented The Corps Network (TCN) board of directors a unique opportunity to see VYCC programming in person, and to recognize VYCC for its leadership and innovation within the national corps movement.

TCN, the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, holds a board meeting every August at one of the more than 130 corps in their membership. TCN’s board is comprised of 14 top leaders from youth corps organizations, outdoor industry, workforce development, and other sectors.

After a brief welcome, TCN board members toured the six-acre Farm at VYCC and then moved into the dappled summer light of the forests and hills of VYCC’s 400-acre campus. On the way to meet Corps Members, TCN enjoyed picked directly from the fields! At trail improvement project sites, board members learned about new stonework crews installed to shore up storm water management; infrastructure improvements to camping sites for crews; and even the detailed science involved in composting toilets!

Conversations expanded into VYCC’s Corps Member experience, which focuses on personal empowerment and practical skill building that readies them for the workforce. One Crew Leader, Berta, spoke to VYCC’s culture of fairness and empowerment she has felt while leading her crew, saying, “from the beginning, I felt welcome and supported here. VYCC has a great culture and when I’m here, I can be who I am.”

Meanwhile crews continued their work further along the trails, pounding in rebar, muscling wheelbarrows of crush, and leveling sills for puncheon. In the farm fields and prep kitchen, Farm Team members spoke with purpose about their work. The TCN board was intrigued and impressed with the compassionate and smart way Corps Members talked about vegetable harvesting, chicken processing, and how these experiences are shaping their future plans.

“Holding The Corps Network’s annual board retreat at a Corps is always the highlight of our year’s work,” said Lori Johnston, Chair of TCN’s board. “We were incredibly impressed with VYCC’s leadership after spending the morning touring and learning the range and scope of their programs. Additionally, having the opportunity to engage with individual Corps Members was a perfect way for national board members to connect the larger Corps movement with individual experiences in the field. There is nothing like the Corps experience, and VYCC is an amazing model organization for us all to learn from.”

As Lori indicated, a highlight for many board members was the opportunity to chat one-on-one with VYCC Corps Members and learn about their service experiences.

“Hosting TCN was an inspiring way to cap off a great summer,” shared Breck Knauft, VYCC’s Executive Director. “While we are deliberately focused on serving Vermont, we’re also contributing to a larger conversation about the importance of national service. We appreciate the high marks and are proud to continue our efforts to innovate and expand how a Corps can meet the needs of today’s young people here in Vermont.”  

Over lunch, TCN board members joined Vermont leaders to discuss strategies to enhance statewide and national workforce development efforts. Joining the TCN board were leaders in Vermont’s employment and workforce improvement efforts Alison Lamagna of Vermont Works for Women; Dan Smith of the Community Foundation; Secretary of Agriculture, Anson Tebbetts; DJ Masi of Voc Rehab; Tim Ashe, Secretary Pro Tem of the VT Senate; and Breck Knauft and Daniel Schmidt of VYCC.

The conversation sparked deeper understanding about workforce gaps Vermont and the country face. The group generated ideas concerning the need for systemic changes to enhance workforce systems; Corps as a place to build alternative, work-based education centers for young people; taking bold steps to break gender pay discrepancies and access in all sectors; how to address challenges that rural states like  Vermont face; the recognition that Vermont is  “program rich and systems poor;” and developing workforce certifications that are more nimble and adaptable across sectors. Everyone left the conversation eager to dig in and make meaningful changes that will benefit young people in Vermont and nationally.

The day capped off with an ice cream party for TCN, VYCC staff, and the dozens of Corps Members finishing up their projects. In Vermont, there is only one way to serve ice cream to honored guests—by VIP scooper Jerry Greenfield, of Ben & Jerry’s fame!

“Holding our annual retreat at a Corps gives our board members the invaluable opportunity to see, in-person, the impact a Corps can have in a community and on the lives of the young people enrolled. The energy of the Corps Members and the passion of Corps staff help motivate and inform our discussions,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, President and CEO of The Corps Network. “Thank you to the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps for showing us an impressive range of projects and inspiring us with your spirit to get things done and make a difference.”