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Auburn’s Conservation Corps camp dodges cost cuts

Federal funding hold promise for future projects, more jobs
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The California Conservation Corps’ Auburn facility has survived the budget ax and could thrive with federal recovery funds flowing its way. The future of the state’s 33-year-old conservation corps for youth workers was threatened by budget cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But widespread support for the state-run effort preserved funding to keep it going in the final budget deal between legislators and the governor. Grace Gyeabour, a 23-year-old Auburn corps member, said the threat of funding being cut off was a shock to her. For the past five months that she has worked for the corps, the Los Angeles resident said she’s learned several skills, including CPR and oil-spill cleanup. Now she’s hoping to pick up experience on a forklift that could help her find work in the future. “I was upset because (the possibility of losing her job) meant going back to the streets,” Gyeabour said. “I’ve been just hoping to have a job.” Hollister’s Mat Jacobs, 19, said that the prospect of losing the job he had held down for three months was disappointing but he and fellow corps members are now happy to see the Auburn facility “in the budget and safe.” “If the corps was cut I don’t know where I would be,” Jacobs said. “Now I’ll be able to continue to learn every day and get the training I need to get a job when I leave.” Located about 8 miles east of Auburn at the end of Christian Valley Road, the Auburn camp is one of seven live-in facilities that had been threatened by budget decreases. The camp, located on a 62-acre site that once housed a prison work facility, currently employs 87 corps members and 20 staff workers. All corps members are between 18 and 25. They’re paid minimum wage but have access to scholarships to continue their education at the end of their time with the corps. The governor’s plan to shore up California’s $42 million budget deficit included a proposal to halve funding to the conservation corps by discontinuing residential camps with dormitories. That would have included the 31-year-old facility in Auburn. The corps has 27 centers in all, with most based in urban areas. Jimmy Camp, spokesman for the conservation corps, said program supporters are grateful that the work will continue. In a show of non-partisan support, Governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Jerry Brown and Gray Davis had joined together to blast the Schwarzenegger plan to cut the corps. Federal stimulus funds could make the program even stronger in the near future. “There’s the possibility of expanding with federal stimulus money,” Camp said. The corps currently employs about 1,500 young men and women – down dramatically from its peak of 4,500. The low number is not because of any lack of demand to get in, Camp said, noting that it has a 1,000-person waiting list. “The federal government is asking if projects are shovel-ready and whether they create jobs,” he said. “We also provide training for young people and many of the federal agencies we already partner with will be asking for money.” Those projects include trail work in national parks, fire-threat reduction efforts involving shaded fuel-breaks and forest rehabilitation, Camp said. During the past summer, 800 corps members were at work in firefighting operations around the state. “They (the federal government) appear to be moving quickly and we can put people to work immediately,” he said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. -------------------------- Fast facts: Conservation Corps in the community During an 18-month period ending last July, the California Conservation Corps Auburn camp’s 80 to 90 members provided the area with 2,997 hours of volunteer work during their off-hours. Here are some of the projects they were involved in aside from their work duties: - Old Town Auburn Antique Fair set up and tear down - Sierra Blues Benefest set up and tear down - Festival of Lights Christmas parade assistance - American River Confluence Festival set up and tear down - Auburn Cemetery cleanup - E.V. Cain Renaissance Faire set up and tear down The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.