SIKESTON -- The Missouri Department of Conservation has expanded its Southeast Youth Conservation Corps program in Sikeston to include a second team this year.
The Southeast Youth Conservation Corps program, which has roots in the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, was established four years ago and put together its first full-time Scott County crew last year.
The program's goal is to help economically disadvantaged youths who are considered "at-risk" of dropping out of school or being referred to social or juvenile justice agency build their work ethic and college fund while lending a hand to the conservation department for eight weeks in the summer.
This year the program has a total of eight teams in Southeast Missouri, according to Phil Helfrich, media and outreach specialist for the MDC's southeast region, who coordinates the program for MDC along with Chris Kennedy. In addition to the two Sikeston teams, there are two teams from Cape Girardeau and one team each from Marble Hill, Perryville, Ironton and Puxico, he said.
MDC provides crew leaders, conservation projects to work on and environmental education and other training such as CPR as well as a van for transportation and tools.
Mers/Goodwill in Sikeston is the youth service organization partner this year which, in exchange for federal job training money, provides crew members and pays their salaries.
"We couldn't do this without them," Helfrich said of the partner organizations.
Leading one of Sikeston's two crews this year is Roymaiel Huggins, 22, of Grady, Ark., a student recruited by Kennedy from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Ark.
"The kids learn to work together and have different experiences in the wild instead of sitting around the house," Huggins said of the program. "They learn more about themselves than they normally would during a regular summer."
Huggins said his crew has been working on conservation trails at various sites in the area and, most recently, on fisheries determining the types and amount of fish in various bodies of water and working "to keep fish abundant in that water."
"We're setting nets, building fish habitats," said returning crew member Tyrone Bateman, 17, Sikeston. "This is my second year. It was that fun -- I came back to do it again."
In addition to having a good time and earning an hourly wage, Bateman is also building his college fund. Upon completion of this year's program, he will add another $1,000 for a college or vocational school.