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COUNTYWIDE : Conservation Corps Provides Work Skills

Kenneth Gill, 21, of Seal Beach, dropped out of school in the ninth grade and since then, he says, he hasn’t been doing “much of anything.”

But for the next 12 months, that will change as Gill joins 150 other volunteers who left last week to begin their time with the California Conservation Corps.

The corps began recruiting in Orange County this summer in search of young people to join its program of clearing trails, building rock walls, landscaping freeways and reforesting hillsides.

Last week, the first group of Orange County recruits got to work on the first phase of their corps experience, a year that, as the corps motto boasts, will be filled by “hard work, low pay, miserable conditions . . . and more!”

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An average day for a corps member starts at 5:30 a.m. with physical training exercises, followed by a rigorous regimen of natural resource work and, when needed, emergency assistance.

The corps is sometimes called in to help tackle emergency situations--volunteers helped battle the Huntington Beach oil spill cleanup in February and are often asked to back up firefighters battling forest fires.

Like Gill, a number of the corps members are school dropouts with few marketable skills, and the corps helps them develop skills that will increase their job opportunities after the program.

Some volunteers sign up because they are interested in preserving the environment, and many go on to become firefighters, park rangers, recreation directors and landscapers.

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Louis Newbern, 23, of Torrance, said he joined the corps because he wants to become a firefighter.

Although Newbern has only been a corps member for five months, he already has assisted in fighting two forest fires. He said he believes the fire training will give him the chance to get one step closer to his dream.

“It’s a great program,” Newbern said. “If you want to become a firefighter, the corps is the best way to go.”

And for some of the volunteers--as well as some of their parents--the program represents a chance to test their adulthood in a strictly controlled environment.

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Dave Gill, a contractor from Seal Beach, wants his son Kenneth to learn to be a little more responsible, and said he thinks the corps will teach him to be exactly that.

“Sounds to me like it’s a little bit of an Army-indoctrinated type deal where you have to be a little bit more responsible as far as doing your own laundry and cleaning up your own mess,” Gill said. “I think it’ll give him a little more self-discipline.”


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