The CCC California Conservation Corps: low pay, hard work; Stories of success and failure in corps
San Ramon, Calif.
The Bollinger Canyon Fire Center of the California Conservation Corps is housed in what once were residences for Army personnel manning a Nike missile site.Skip to next paragraph
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Since there is room for only 60 people, director John Oubre says, Bollinger is one of the smallest of the 26 CCC centers strategically placed from Siskiyou in the far north to San Diego in the south.
The primary mission of the C's at Bollinger is helping control brush, grass, and forest fires. Lately, they've been fighting water, not fire - sandbagging levees in the San Joaquin Delta.
The C's here also perform community projects: They recently built a baseball field and stands in nearby Oakland and a trail and viewing platform for the handicapped in Mt. Diablo State Park.
On this morning Mr. Oubre is pensive; he has just said goodbye to Archie, a corps member from Los Angeles who could not get up enough self-motivation to work on his GED certificate.
Archie was a good worker who got along well with his crewmates, but after many attempts to get him to fulfill his educational obligation, Oubre finally had to dismiss him.
He's concerned about what lies ahead for Archie. He says he hopes the young man will decide to take one final option available in the CCC: Under a second-chance policy, Archie can write to the corps director, Robert J. Shelbe, requesting reinstatement.
Up to 45 percent of the people who join the corps give up, or get ''fired,'' before fulfilling their one-year contract. But though their cups of success are not running over, Oubre and other CCC leaders obviously consider them more than half full. There are a lot of successes. For example:
Lisa Sargent had finished high school and was drifting from one minimum-wage job to another when she applied for the CCC at the urging of a friend who had already joined. After four months, she is in charge of the Bollinger Center's warehouse.
''It was a mess when I got here,'' she says proudly. ''Now we know just where everything is. . . .''
Never particularly interested in reading or writing, Lisa now writes ''five or six pages a week'' in her journal (which all CCC members are required to keep and write in daily). Also, ''I'm doing more reading now than before.''
Lisa is at ease with the interviewer and expresses herself more than adequately. She attributes that to the CCC educational program: ''I've learned to talk to people, to interview, to write a resume.''
Lisa admits she wasn't much of a student, although she managed to get her high school diploma. And, she says, ''I just wasn't motivated'' after getting out of school.
What comes after her year in CCC is up? ''I've already talked to the people at Caltrans (California Department of Transportation), and hope to get at least a part-time job there.''
One senses the people at the car wash in San Diego where she used to work won't be seeing Lisa again.
Tanya Holbron is a crew leader at Bollinger - two months into her second year with the CCC. In a few days she will be heading to Yosemite National Park to work in the prestigious ''Back Country'' program. She's not very large and isn't sure she can meet the physical demands of carrying a heavy backpack and moving large logs and rocks - but she's determined to test herself.
Tanya didn't have to learn self-confidence in the CCC. A top student and leader in high school in Los Angeles, she could easily have gone to college. But she ''wasn't ready for that routine.'' She had no trouble obtaining good-paying office jobs, but that didn't satisfy her, either, since she yearned to be outdoors.
''In CCC there is both a physical and mental challenge,'' she says. ''In fire work where you work long shifts, sometimes through the night, it takes both mental and physical effort to keep going and concentrate on the job.''