Gap Year Program Profile: Conservation Corps

Organization gives participants hands-on environmental and leadership training.

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You've decided to take a gap year after graduating high school and before attending college, but how do you choose a program? Price is one important factor that can help narrow down the options for gap year students. AmeriCorps programs can be affordable options for a gap year since they provide a living stipend, health benefits, and an educational scholarship at the end of the service. Conservation Corps is one of AmeriCorps's 3,000 local and national nonprofit partners across the country. 

[Other Gap Year Program Profiles: City Year | Global Routes.]

Conservations Corps is the heir of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to conserve public lands. Today's 145 Conservation Corps exist independently in 44 states and the District of Columbia, and are represented on a national level by a non-profit association called The Corps Network. Collectively, the Corps annually enroll more than 30,000 young people, ages 16 to 25, who serve 21.3 million hours in year-round and summer positions, says Sally Prouty, the president and CEO of The Corps Network. As a Conservation Corps member, you will likely be getting your hands dirty. Most Corps work in conservation and environmental restoration, such as maintaining national parks and public lands, while other Corps help in emergency and natural disaster relief, as well as building renovation and construction. Some Corps involve less manual labor and focus on addressing social issues in low income communities, assisting with healthcare services, education, and other human services. 

Costs: All Conservation Corps members receive a monthly stipend that ranges based on the specific Corps to help pay for their housing and food. Members can also receive classroom training to complete their GED or high school diploma. Many Corps provide health insurance and the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award at the completion of service, says Prouty.

[Read 7 Questions to Ask When Considering a Gap Year.] 

Benefits: Dannyn Smith, 21, from Reno, Nev., has strengthened his leadership skills during his gap year, which turned into two years of service with the Nevada Conservation Corps. Smith earned the 2010 AmeriCorps Member of the Year award for the state of Nevada this May. He has climbed up the ranks fairly quickly during his service for the Great Basin Institute, a nonprofit organization that partners with the Nevada Conservation Corps. Less than a year into his service, he was promoted to a Crew Leader position and this past March, during his second year of service, he was promoted to a Senior Crew Leader position. He leads groups of seven to 10 volunteers on four- to eight-day trips working and camping in Nevada state and national parks to remove invasive species as well as maintain and create trails. 

"You have to be passionate about the conservation and getting projects done," Smith says. This drive has kept him going in rain and freezing temperatures, working 10 hour days, carrying tools weighing up to 25 pounds four miles in and out of a trail. This leadership has helped Smith determine the path of his future education, which will be partially funded by the nearly $10,000 in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards he has earned. He'll be attending Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno this fall, and plans to transfer to Sierra Nevada College, also in Reno, where he wants to major in sociology and minor in environmental sciences with the career goal of becoming a probation officer working with youth. "Being a leader has helped me and step up and lead my own life," he says. 

[Read AmeriCorps Helps Focus Futures of Two Gap Year Students.] 

How to apply: To find a listing of the contact information for all 145 Conservation Corps, visit The Corps Network website . Each individual Corps lists its application requirements on its website. Interested applicants can also visit the AmeriCorps website to find more information on Conservation Corps.