Sound to Summit program wins Project of the Year!

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Northwest Youth Corps (NYC) received the prestigious Project of the Year Award from The Corps Network in recognition of NYC’s unique Sound to Summit program. The Corps Network  – also known as the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps – presents this award on an annual basis to select organizations from their membership of more than 140 Corps across the country. Awardees are chosen through a competitive nomination and review process.

This national recognition is a testament to partnership” states Jay Satz, Northwest Youth Corps’ Senior Director for External Affairs. “Mount Rainier National Park staff recognized the value of engaging neighboring urban youth with the park, and Metro Parks Tacoma was looking to expand youth programming that created a sense of neighborhood stewardship. Northwest Youth Corps was able to step in as the connector to create the program model based on our extensive experience running backcountry conservation service crews (40 years) and community based conservation service crews (15 years). The result has been an inspiring program impacting 163 members and leaders (thus far). Northwest Youth Corps is honored to receive this award from The Corps Network.”

National Project of the Year Award Info:

Project of the Year Awards are presented on an annual basis to Corps that have undertaken especially influential or innovative initiatives. Projects of the Year are noteworthy for their ability to provide both a positive experience for Corpsmembers and meaningful improvements to the community. The year ahead could be an exciting time for Corps programs: in September 2023, the Biden administration announced the launch of an American Climate Corps to “put a new generation of Americans to work conserving our lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, advancing environmental justice, deploying clean energy, implementing energy efficient technologies, and tackling climate change.” The Corps Network’s Projects of the Year, like the Sound to Summit program, are an example of what the American Climate Corps can accomplish.

Projects of the Year demonstrate the power of national service programs to change communities and change lives. The Sound to Summit program from Northwest Youth Corps shows the amazing outcomes possible when local organizations give young people a chance to serve and lead,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, President and CEO of The Corps Network. “With this award, we recognize extraordinary individuals and programs from our network. Initiatives like Sound to Summit shed light on the vast capabilities of Corps and show how an American Climate Corps can deliver meaningful results and comprehensive career development programming. The Corps Network is humbled to represent such inspiring and impactful organizations as Northwest Youth Corps.”

Sound to Summit Program Info:

Since 2017, NYC’s Sound to Summit (S2S) program has served urban teens, ages 15-18, from the South Puget Sound (WA) area, giving them an opportunity to learn and serve in their own communities. Service activities typically include tree watering, staking, and protection from vandalism, trail building and maintenance, and removal of invasive plant species like English Ivy and blackberry. Daily educational lessons deepen the member’s understanding of the need for, and the impact that their work is having on the ecosystem.

Sound To Summit refers to the scope of the program, which extends from Pierce and Thurston county’s Puget Sound to the summits of Mount Rainier and Mount Olympus. The majority of  Sound to Summit participants have grown up seeing Mount Rainier and the Olympic mountains from their neighborhoods, but for a variety of reasons (including limited family income and transportation), had never visited these spectacular parks before their participation.

During the summer of 2023, youth met each morning at a central location in town, worked outdoors (averaging 32 hours per week) on urban forestry projects, and enjoyed 8 hours per week of education and training, before returning home each evening. The last week of the program, the crews moved to Mount Rainier, Olympic National Park, or the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where they camped for the week in the great outdoors. Examples of the conservation work they accomplished while camping included trail maintenance and assisting with an elk habitat enhancement project by removing foxglove and scotch broom. While in the mountains, participants also learned to prepare outdoor meals, leave no trace camping, and gain other outdoor skills. Many members saw the Milky Way for their very first time away from city lights. In total in 2023, 54 teens (serving on four five-week Tacoma crews and two Olympia/Thurston County crews) earned a non-taxed $2,125 and 1.25 high school credits for their five-week experience.

When Sound to Summit members speak of their experience at graduation, they say their experience ignited an interest in them and their peers for environmental stewardship. Youth from disadvantaged communities became engaged participants in urban forest management as they protected, enhanced, and expanded urban tree canopy cover in their own communities. Before this program, members say that few of them understood that their electricity, drinking water, and fish come directly from glaciers on Mount Rainier, for instance – glaciers which are shrinking, and in some cases disappearing. Through the program’s educational curriculum members gained a new understanding of the impact they have (both positive and negative) on an amazing resource less than 60 miles away from their neighborhoods.

Thank you to NYC’s S2S Program Partners:
Mount Rainier National Park, Metro Parks Tacoma; Olympic National Park, Capitol Land Trust, City of Lakewood, City of Olympia, Pierce County Parks, Pierce Conservation District, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Thank you to additional S2S Funding Partners:
The National Park Foundation, Dawkins Charitable Trust, REI, and The Russell Family Foundation. 

The three winners of the Project of the Year Award were honored at The Corps Network’s 38th annual national conference, which took place March 19 – 21, 2024.

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