Building new forest trails, preserving historic ruins, installing irrigation systems and mapping acequias are just a few of the projects New Mexico Conservation Corps members will complete this year.
The projects are made possible by the 32 grants, totaling $3.6 million, distributed to nonprofits and governmental agencies by the Youth Conservation Corps Commission, earlier this month. About $500,000 of that money will go to organizations working in Rio Arriba County.
“Youth Conservation Corps is a process to employ young people,” Corps Executive Director Wendy Kent said. “The focus is on natural resource projects and also projects that are of community value. Another part is that we want our Corps members to develop a sense of accomplishment and have pride in their work for a job well done.”
The Village of Chama received $41,695 for park re-beautification projects and to install a sports field irrigation system; Santa Clara Pueblo received $117,737 to restore adobe ruins using traditional building methods; Santa Fe-based nonprofit the Forest Stewards Guild received two grants, totaling $299,912, to work on several projects, like preparing areas for prescribed burns and building new forest trails, in the El Rito area; and The East Rio Arriba County Soil and Water Conservation District received $45,560 to complete acequia resource inventories.
Seventy percent of the grant must be used on wages, Kent said.
The other 30 percent can be used to purchase uniforms, project or office supplies, or things like Workers Compensation or general liability insurance. The organizations are expected to contribute in-kind donations.
“We want to make sure that the program is well-funded and that the money is going to the Corps members,” she said.
Conservation District Manager Marcos Valdez said this is the fourth year the organization received a Conservation Corps grant.
Each year, the Conservation District hires four or five students and pays them $10 to $12 an hour, while they work on the project.
“Most of that work is out in the field,” he said. “They have to call an acequia group, see what a good day to meet with them is, when they are available, and they actually go out there and conduct a full survey, from beginning to end.”
The resource inventory includes an inspection of the entire acequia’s infrastructure, noting any problems or damages, land surveying, GPS mapping and creating a report of their findings.
Their work has real-world impact.
Valdez said acequia boards will often cite the reports and maps completed by the Corps members when asking their state senators and representatives for help in obtaining Capital Outlay funds.
Former Corps member Deandre Velasquez worked with the Conservation District for two years.
“It was a learning experience, you know, learning about the cultures and how important acequias are to Northern New Mexico communities,” she said. “It was amazing to learn how passionate everyone still is about keeping the acequias.”
Valdez said it is important to reach out to students like Velasquez, who is a junior at Northern New Mexico College.
“One of the biggest things we were kind of looking at was encouraging local students at Northern who are studying environmental science,” he said. “They already have that interest in what we are doing, so this is kind of like a way to give them experience.”
Kent said although the Corps’ projects give young people an opportunity to gain field experience, the Commission also requires the organizations applying for grant money to plan other educational opportunities.
“This could be first aid, CPR or conflict resolution training,” she said. “They have to teach job skills. Showing up to work on time, wearing the proper clothes, being able to get along with other people. These are all important skills that people recognize.”
Some organizations also integrate resume building and workplace harassment training in their project curriculum.
Corps Commission Vice Chair Beth Wojhan said many of this year’s grants went to organizations in Northern New Mexico because that is who applied. The goal for next year, is to get the word out about the grants so they will receive more applications from all over the state.
“(Kent) will go out and give trainings throughout the state to teach people how to apply for these grants,” she said.
Kent said the money comes from Governmental Gross Receipts Tax.
This year, about 630 New Mexico youth will be employed by an organization receiving grant money.
Years when the Corps Commission has received more funding, that number has been as high as 900.
The grants are available to nonprofit organizations, federally recognized Native American tribes, school districts, charter schools and any organization that is a unit of government, such as municipalities or counties.
Corps members must be between the ages of 14 and 25 years old for summer projects and 16 to 25 years old for projects worked out during other parts of the year.
Applications for future fundings are due April 26.
For more information, visit the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps website at www.emnrd.state.nm.us/YCC.