During the Beckley Common Council Meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 26, Zach Foster, Director of the Appalachian Conservation Corps- a nationwide network of conservation service organizations envisioning a world with healthy lands, air, and water, thriving people, and resilient communities- informed council members of the Corps’ newest conservation program, which will employ Beckley youth and expose them to professional conservation.
Foster, who founded the Corps in his hometown of Harrisburg, Virginia, five years ago, shared his excitement for the program, which he hopes to kick off this summer.
As Foster explained it, the program will be open to Beckley youth, ages 16 to 18, and will be completed in two separate groups, with each group participating in the program for four weeks.
Each group will employ six youth, who will act as part of a conservation crew and will receive an hourly wage for their work. Each group will also be equipped with two crew leaders.
During the four-week program, participants will mainly focus on trail conservation, historical restoration, habitat improvement and municipal support.
Foster explained that the Corps will be working with local recruiters, who will go out into the community- various schools, churches, boy scouts, girl scout groups, etc.- and meet with the children. Children interested will apply to be part of the program, go through an interview process where they will provide references and go through additional hiring measures.
While he doesn’t have an exact timeline nailed down, Foster wants the program to coordinate with the school calendar so students will also have time with their families during the summer.
“I have been involved in similar programs elsewhere. Programs like this one give kids a diverse experience. West Virginia is an amazing state, especially this part of the state, but, in my experience, young folks here aren’t interested in a career in conservations because they don’t know how to take that next step.”
Although the Corps has been working with West Virginia since 2016, this is the organization’s first opportunity to work with the state’s youth.
April Elkins Badke, Director of the Conservation Stewardship Program, who is helping Foster launch the program, also remotely attended the council meeting. According to Foster, Badke has deep roots in the community and has always advocated for localized programming.
“We want to introduce people to a life of conservation,” Badke said. “We are very excited for this opportunity to get Beckley involved and be a part of this national movement of conservation efforts.”
The Appalachian Conservations Corps has already applied for a $25,000 grant from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority but is still looking for an additional $25,000 to fund the program.
During the Common Council meeting, Beckley City Mayor Rob Rappold showed great interest in the Corps’ program.
“This seems like it is going to be a well-run, well-supervised program,” Mayor Rappold said before suggesting a future council meeting to consider funding a portion of the remaining $25,000.
Rappold hopes to address the matter in the next council meeting slated for Feb. 9, 2021.
Visit https://appalachiancc.org for more information on the Corps and its programs.