Mental health is a big issue for many of our students. Some of our young adult 18-26-year-olds, like in FIELD’s Environmental Conservation Corps, have experienced different types of traumas, which has impacted their ability to take advantage of opportunities presented to them. Some have had to drop out of school for reasons beyond their control. Most of our students have never had the support or direction needed to help them become successful.
That’s where FIELD has come in. FIELD takes these students and gives them hope and a vision for the future. We pay them, train them, house them, offer them mental health support and even transportation. Then we put them together with other young adults who have been through many of the same struggles. We teach them about careers in environmental restoration, recycling, early childhood education, firefighting, construction, solar and agriculture. Someday, we hope they can see themselves being successful and even participating in shared-ownership businesses. We help build peer networks among these corpsmembers that give them reliable support with their colleagues.
Recently I drove six hours up to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park located in Santa Cruz County to visit a group of corpsmembers who were cleaning up after the big rains there. They were doing remediation in the state park at the site of the CZU Complex.
The storms had washed away trails and there was mud, fire damage, and a broken clean water pump. The corpsmembers camped there for eight days on, working 10-hour days, then came home for six days off. They had to park near the camp at the end of the road, then haul their tools the last mile to the worksite. We’re talking about power saws, fuel, gas, water and food.
They lived together as a team and began to build community by trusting in each other. Maybe, just maybe, they could start to see themselves as part of a successful team — relying on each other, dreaming together and maybe even someday owning their own cooperative enterprise with their cohorts on the crews.
After spending a day and night with them (yes, I camped out there with the rest of the crew of 11), I was so moved by their dedication to their craft. I joined them, carrying lumber and tools up and down the hill. We made dinner together around the campfire. At first, they didn’t talk about their backgrounds, but as I spoke to them one on one, their stories blew me away. I heard about their challenges in life: being abandoned, homeless, living in their cars, beaten up, dropping out of school, not having enough food to eat, being rejected by their parents, abused by their foster parents and even ostracized at school because they were poor and didn’t have nice clothes. I could feel their collective pain.
Once they opened up and started sharing their stories, their community as a crew began to grow. The next morning at breakfast, it seemed different. There was more camaraderie, a low buzz among the crew. That’s what we want at FIELD. Building community a day at a time, one good experience at a time, one team-building exercise at a time. And best of all, these students were getting paid, fed, clothed and housed while they learned new skills.
But FIELD wants more. We want our students to dream big -– to see themselves in the future of an enterprise as a shared ownership business, taking care of themselves, their families and their community. FIELD is here to change lives and give these young people hope. That’s why it’s so important to keep these corpsmembers together, working as a team with the same supervisors, so they develop a genuine camaraderie, a new family, and can see potential.
Social and emotional training is key to building their confidence. We want to replace any trauma filled experiences with good experiences, one small victory at a time. The remediation effort at Big Basin Redwoods State Park is an example of how this can happen. They were doing good. They were in nature. They were with colleagues collaboratively solving problems. They could believe in themselves and in each other.
Just imagine how successful they can be when we have enough funding to get trailers with showers and stoves up there. Hopefully, that will be coming soon.
MORE GOOD NEWS
I have some other good news to share. This past week, FIELD signed a partnership agreement with the Kern County Fire Department to help with the emergency support service throughout the county, including but not limited to cleaning up whole swaths of flooded areas from the recent rains and snowmelt. This exciting new contract will put more than 100 of our corpsmembers to work. FIELD has the vehicles, the supplies and trained personnel. Now we just have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
More on other exciting partnerships we are developing next month. Stay tuned. You ain’t seen nothing yet! Si, se puede!
Thank you/Muchisimas Gracias
David Villarino Gonzalez