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Forest Preserves of Cook County Launches Pilot Program for Youth Employment

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Special to
by Cook County Forest Preserve District

Forest Preserves of Cook County Launches Pilot Program for Youth Employment

Teens will learn conservation work and make improvements to local habitats

One hundred and sixty-six Cook County youth will have the opportunity this summer to learn necessary job skills while spending time enjoying nature and the outdoors in the Forest Preserves. One hundred of the teens will be part of the new Forest Preserves Experience program, which is being piloted this year, while others will be participating in the ongoing Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps program.

“Providing our youth with meaningful employment opportunities is essential to ensuring they learn the skills needed for successful futures,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Participating in summer work programs not only broadens the horizons of our youth by exposing them to a variety of conservation related career paths, it can also be an effective way to reduce youth violence.”

Friends of the Forest Preserves (FOTFP) is a partner in the pilot program which will teach teens how to clean up lakes and rivers, mulch trees and remove invasive plants at Wampum Lake in Thornton, Chicago Portage in Lyons, and Beaubien Woods in Chicago. The four-week program will begin July 5 and run through July 29.

“During ‘The Forest Preserves Experience’ program, participants will learn how to work as a team to complete fundamental conservation and restoration work,” explained Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall. “In addition to the work experience, participants will also learn why healthy forest preserves are important to the community through environmental education and nature-based recreation activities.”

The pilot will also include a working group to assess how to maximize the mutual benefits of the program which include habitat restoration for the Forest Preserves and job-readiness and team-building skills through paid summer employment.

Another goal of “The Forest Preserves Experience” is to retain youth who are passionate about conservation, and lead them into other Conservation Corps programs, including the “Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps” program which was established in 2009.

This year, the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps program will engage 66 youth, ages 15 to 19, in a six-week hands-on summer work experience. Participants will received extensive and specialized conservation training from highly skilled field leaders that will train youth toward a conservation career.

“I commend the Forest Preserves for establishing these programs for our youth. Continued exposure to the Forest Preserves and Conservation Corps programs can ultimately translate to recognizable and transferrable skills,” said President Preckwinkle. “At the same time, it is important that the Forest Preserves has partners in this effort to broaden their capacity. While providing job opportunities for more than 150 youth is a great beginning, this work requires both funding and skilled adult field leaders who can guide youth in an outdoor setting. We therefore will need partners if we want to grow youth employment opportunities.”

“Whether youth are participating in ‘The Forest Preserves Experience’ or the ‘Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps’ program, the Forest Preserves is achieving two goals with the summer youth employment initiative: providing youth with an opportunity to learn the job skills needed in leading industry growth sectors, and exposing a diverse group of individuals to the Forest Preserves and conservation work,” explained Randall.

To learn how your organization can partner with the Forest Preserves on summer youth employment opportunities, contact Alice Brandon, resource management programming manager for the Forest Preserves, by email at

Both summer youth employment programs advance the goals of the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan, which calls on the Forest Preserves to restore 30,000 acres of land to high natural quality, ensuring the ecological health of our public lands for current and future generations. For more information on the Forest Preserves of Cook County, visit


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