BECKLEY, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – The first graduates of the Appalachian Youth Conservation Corps’ first Beckley-based summer conservation program will be recognized this evening at a reception held at the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia Amphitheater.
According to Corps Director April Elkins Badtke, the Appalachian Youth Conservation Corps is part of a national conservation program called Conservation Legacy. The Corps works throughout the country, completing conservation projects on public land for non-profits and communities.
Although the Corps has worked in West Virginia for the last two years, Badtke said she and her counterpart, Zach Foster, wanted to create a youth conservation corps in Beckley and investigate the interest and needs for this type of programming in southern West Virginia
Both the City of Beckley and the Coal Heritage Authority supported the pilot program and provided the startup funds. The community also provided food and other items for the crew.
The program, which was open to youth ages 16 to 18, operated in two four-week sessions. Four youth participated in the first session, and two participated in the second. The participants would work from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day under the guidance of crew leaders.
Throughout the summer, the group completed several conservation projects, including doing rock work at the Paul Cline Memorial Soccer Complex, painting fencing at the Wildwood House, building a deck, completing trail work and landscaping, painting a mural in downtown Beckley and more.
Leslie Baker, director of the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, where the groups completed many projects this summer, commended the students on their work.
“What a wonderful collaboration it was. We hope to do it again,” she said. “We couldn’t be happier with all the efforts they put forth.”
While the program helped spruce up the Beckley area, it also taught those involved the importance of conservation.
Badtke says that while college is a great option for many, some people know college is not the path for them but still don’t know what they want to do as a career.
“We want to be able to provide those students who don’t know what they want to do but know they don’t want to go to college an option. We believe there’s a space and a need for the trades. We give them the opportunity and the availability to learn, and we hope it strikes an interest so that they can start exploring careers in conservation.”
Tonight’s reception will serve as a graduation for the six youth that participated, highlighting their growth throughout the summer.
“I have to choke back tears. To think that we made a difference for even one person and that we will see that ripple effect is amazing,” Badtke said. “I believe that when you show a young person interest in them and provide them with power and knowledge and let them see the future, that is when you empower them to make good decisions and good choices.
“I am so proud of them and for our ability to pull off the pilot,” she continued. “There were so many unknowns and undecideds, but we did it as an organization and a program. We did it and we are ready to plan for 2022.”
Badtke explained that the program will have a meeting with the Raleigh County Board of Education next week to see if they can recruit participants from the schools and gain more participation, ultimately making next year’s program bigger and better.
The program is also hoping to have this year’s participants serve as ambassadors in the years to come.
“Our hope and goal is to grow this program next year and provide the opportunity to introduce a space for youth in the community to learn about the values of conservation service and introduce job opportunities and skills for their futures.”
Tonight’s end-of-season celebration will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.