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Conservation Corps Inspires Curiosity about the Earth
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The Department of Environmental Protection is expanding the Connecticut Conservation Corps, an educational and job-training program for young people working in parks and forests. The funding comes from federal stimulus dollars. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports seven people recently joined the Conservation Corps and are working in a Hartford city park.

Inside the Pond House at Keney Park, a group young people, aged 17 to 24, are building nesting boxes for blue birds.

“Now angle it down a little bit. Alright. Go ahead"

Diane Joy with the Department of Environmental Protection says the Conservation Corps not only teaches people, who were unemployed before the program, how to build things, but how to feel comfortable in the natural world.

"We are giving them the skills and the confidence to go into the workforce. So I think they’re becoming much more confident. They're becoming confident in themselves, they're becoming confident in going into a different world that they may not be used to."

“You can hear it. You can see it working better.”

Joy is coaching Latasha Fitzwilliam as she works her way through a piece of lumber. The 20-year-old Hartford resident joined the Conservation Corps a few weeks ago. She says she’s learning about fish.

“When I first came to the program the only thing I knew about fish was how to cook it.”

But now Fitzwilliam’s had the chance to practice casting with a fishing rod. And the group will have the opportunity to ice fish this weekend. Fitzwilliam was fascinated to learn a bit of natural history, that wild salmon swim upstream to spawn.

"They come back. They remember  where they was born because they always carry that smell with them. I never knew that.  I just  bought it in a can and ate it. I’m glad I’m learning a lot now about the environment."

Fitzwilliam and the other team members are paid about $360 every two weeks for a total of 40 hours of work. Besides building the nesting boxes they’ll construct educational kiosks, work in a state fish hatchery and stock the Keney Park pond with fish.

"I did not know that they had a Great blue heron inside Keney Park. That's something I learned. I never knew Keney Park had catfish insode of it and sunfish also, as well."

22-year-old Vincent Jenkins first joined the Conservation Corps this summer, when he and other team members  learned how to cut trails and build picnic tables at state forests and parks. Except for spending time in city parks, this was Jenkins first experience in the natural world.

"Seeing the pond and the water just the quietness. Just birds chirping. Or  just silence!  Make me clear my mind, clear my head."

Now Jenkins says he wants to help protect the 690 acre Keney Park, close to his neighborhood.  The park has been known as a place where people do illegal drugs or worse. Last June, a dead body was found there. Jenkins, the father of a two-year old, wishes people would take better care of the place.

"It’s somewhere where our children can run around without worrying about picking up glass or getting hurt or injured. As well as the animals. The animals have to live too. "

Jenkins has enrolled at Goodwin College. His goal is to get a job in human services. But his experience with the Conservation Corps has helped him to value plants and animals as well as people.

For WNPR I’m Nancy Cohen.