What is a Youth Outdoors Crew?

by Karissa Vetsch, Youth Outdoors Crew Member/ AmeriCorps Member

Being part of a Youth Outdoors crew is similar to other Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa field crews where we do conservation work in the field, but we also get to run youth terms!

High school-age youth are hired from across the Twin Cities and placed with one of our Youth Outdoor crews. Each crew has a different site location (a park in St. Paul versus a park in Minneapolis) that they work at each time they meet. Youth terms are often eight weeks long.

These youth get paid while gaining some great job experience, working outside, and learning more about nature conservation. A big goal for each Youth Outdoors crew member/ AmeriCorps member is to help our youth develop stronger leadership skills, get job experience, and learn more about future careers or educational opportunities. The youth meet with us twice a week at park sites and get involved with educational activities and work projects. The youth work two hours after school on Thursdays where they learn about nature conservation, climate change, cultural competency, watersheds, ecology, and more. Then on Saturdays, they work a full day (8 hours) where they get to complete work projects. Some work projects the youth crews did this spring was pulling garlic mustard (invasive species that spreads easily), piling cut pieces of buckthorn, gardening, cleaning up litter, GIS mapping, and trail maintenance.

Our spring youth terms just came to a close at the end of May. For most Youth Outdoor crews our next youth term will be in the fall.

My Youth Crew

My crew was based out of Minneapolis and we met at Theodore Wirth Regional Park each week. My Youth Outdoors crew consisted of three AmeriCorps members who co-led a group of five youth. Numbers were a bit smaller for each group this year to adhere to COVID-19 safety practices.

Theodore Wirth was a fun park to be based out of because it was so spacious. We piled buckthorn, pulled a LOT of garlic mustard, and even taught some basic GIS mapping skills. My co-leaders and I took turns leading educational activities and teaching our curriculum. I found it was super fun to see the different teaching styles of my peers and learn from them. It was nice to draft lesson plans together and brainstorm ideas as a group. I am very bummed our term is over but I’m so excited for our fall term to get here.

A Highlight and Challenge from the Term

One of the highlights of our youth term was building a “Bee Motel” where the youth got to use wooden boards, an impact, screws, drill bits, and bamboo poles to create a bee resting place. They loved the hands-on part of the project and getting to physically build something together.

One of my co-leaders created the Bee Olympics and had Bee-themed challenges for the youth to compete in. The winner won a handmade paper crown, a pollinator (dandelion) bouquet, and a beehive (paper) medal. This was a big success and a great reminder to find fun in or work hours.

Youth playing a game of Buzzzzz in the background- where everyone is a Bee and if you are stung, or tagged, you are out. In the foreground sits our bee motel, paper bee crown, dandelion bouquet, and hive medal for the Bee Olympics winner.

Spring often means rain, so a big challenge we faced was the vast differences in weather from week to week. One week was windy and cold while another week was 90 degrees and humid. Keeping youth on task and healthy for eight hours was a challenge but our youth worked hard and got through each day.

Inspired by Youth

The eight-week youth term flew by, but we have another coming up soon. Hearing our youth’s ideas about climate change and seeing their passion for ecology and civic engagement was very encouraging and gave me hope for the future. Youth voices matter and I am thankful I got to learn alongside them.