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High School Students, Recent Grads Learn and Earn in the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps

A group of CCLC crew members learn about restoration tools.

It’s a hot summer day. You put on your gear to protect you from sun damage and insects and grab your equipment—whether it be a shovel, loppers or a bow saw—and prepare to remove invasive plants or trail building. 

Dealing with the heat of the sun and insects buzzing in your ear is no easy task when you’re out in the field. All your concentration and patience must be focused on identifying what plants are invasive and how to safely cut them down. 

This is the story of many of the youth in our Chicago Conservative Leadership Corps (CCLC) program. Although the heat can be a nuisance, they like working towards the goal of restoring the ecosystem and seeing change happen. 

CCLC is a paid, five-week summer job-training program that focuses on ecological restoration, teamwork and responsibility. The goal of the CCLC program is to engage youth with nature, teach them important professional job skills and show them potential career paths in the environmental and conservation fields. CCLC organizers hope crew members are prepared for their future, whether it be with the Forest Preserves or in other professional settings. 

“I had so much fun doing the work that we do, I even met my best friend here,” said Caroline Kawczynsai, a fourth year CCLC youth who is stationed at River Trail.  

Students are trained by Forest Preserves and SCA staff to safely use tools with personal protective equipment, differentiate between native and invasive plant species, and build and restore trails. There are four crew, each stationed at a Forest Preserves nature center: River Trail Nature Center, Trailside Museum of Natural History, Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, or Sand Ridge Nature Center.  

During her sophomore year of high school, Caroline heard about CCLC. She said that she has always wanted to follow a career path that involved science and nature, so the program was a good way to start her experience.  

She decided to return summer after summer because the program enables her to do things she loves: teaching and learning about nature, making connections with people, and seeing the differences her and fellow crew members make in the environment.  

“The best part of the job is getting work done for the community and helping people find possible career paths,” said Nasser Broadnax, a second-year CCLC youth stationed at Sand Ridge.  

Nassar has always been a team leader, even when he first started the program. He believes that teamwork is “very, very important.” He believes that one should push themselves and their team leaders towards their goals.  

Nassar, like other crew members, had a challenging time with the heat this year. Yet he stayed hydrated and kept working. He advises new CCLC youth to prepare for the heat, drink plenty of fluids, and stay in the shade while working when possible. 

The Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps is a Conservation Corps partnership program coordinated by the Student Conservation Association, Friends of the Forest Preserves and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, with generous support from the Forest Preserve Foundation and others.