Conservation Corps is building a better city
(Page 2 of 2)
We go out to Hunter's Point, a low-income housing district overlooking San Francisco Bay, where the eight men and two women in Crew 4 are building a park. ``It's important for these kids to learn how to use a jackhammer, take measurements, and read blueprints,'' Ms. Gomez says as the crew sets out the tools and begins work. ``But they can pick that up anywhere. What we teach them are skills for life - how to delegate work, handle anger, work as a team, communicate.'' Most of the crew, says Gomez, come into the corps lacking confidence and self-esteem. ``They are shy and introverted. I remember Pele,'' she says, pointing to a large Samoan. ``He wouldn't say a word when he came here. Now he thinks nothing of making a speech.''Skip to next paragraph
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Gomez is referring to the SFCC program every Friday, when the crews stay at their Fort Mason headquarters and discuss the week's events. Several times during the year, corps members are expected to stand in front of the 100 crew and staff members and discuss the week's work. ``Once you've done that,'' says Pele, ``you can do anything.''
Friday is also a day to discuss the daily journals. ``I used to just write about work,'' says corps member Bill Canizales, ``but lately I've been writing about problems, and doing some poetry, too.'' The journals are a way to keep corps members active mentally, says Burkhardt.
On Tuesday and Thursday nights, corps members take classes in basic reading, writing, and math skills; English as a second language; or a recent addition - critical thinking.
It was this rich mix - the morning workout, the upbeat sense of accomplishment in having ``built something,'' and the basic education - that helped Michael English ``see myself in a whole new light.''
``It's true,'' says Burkhardt. ``You can see it happening. The kids physically carry themselves differently. Out of their experience, they develop a `sense of who I am - that I'm capable, I'm a member of society.'''
Burkhardt is even philosophical about the high attrition rate. ``I don't think of it as failure. Getting bounced from the program is often just the straw that's needed for these kids to realize what a real job is about.''
Thus far, corps members have graduated to jobs at Pacific Gas & Electric, the YMCA, and construction firms. Reginald Gary, a young black, was at the corps only two months before he was hired in 1985 as an intern at the Monterey Aquarium south of San Francisco, a job ``I just couldn't believe I could get,'' he says. ``It's all due to the corps.''
Tom Bressan, co-owner of the Urban Farmer Store, a city contractor, has worked closely with the SFCC: ``We've designed a good many systems - irrigation projects in parks and repairs of neglected streets - that the conservation corps has built. They work very hard.'' The main problem Mr. Bressan sees is that some jobs require higher skills. ``They might have to cut a coupling apart and redo it once or twice.'' But Bressan is impressed with the wide range of basic skills the corps imparts.
San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein says the FSCC ``adds much to San Francisco's overall quality of life.''
Burkhardt hopes the SFCC will expand as more city and municipal contractors discover that the corps does a first-rate job for less. Further, it's as yet uncalculated what even a couple million dollars might do spent well on youth service, he says. Currently, SFCC operates on about $900,000 in private and federal money.
``Cities could get quality work that costs less done by young people who would be just standing around otherwise,'' says Burkhardt. ``And let me tell you, these kids are learning how to build and influence communities for the better. Cities need that.''