A personal reflection by Gabe Kohler

The Forest Stewards Youth Corps (FSYC) graduation this July was a celebration of new friends, accomplishments, and lasting memories for the 24 youth corps members. The day started out with excitement as the four youth crews chatted and reunited after two months of work in their respective Forest Service Ranger Districts. Each crew brought a different activity with them. We had card games, rodeo roping competitions, and a drawing competition for next year’s FSYC t-shirt graphic. Amidst all the fun, games, and good food, the corps members looked back at their accomplishments and forward toward new goals.

For some, FSYC is a steppingstone to a career in natural resource management. For others, it is a stopover and a moment of clarity in their pursuit of other career goals. As we filled out surveys and asked questions to review personal accomplishments, I was excited to find out how many of the kids were planning to pursue a career in natural resource management. The Espanola crew, for example, had all worked toward their wildland firefighter certifications during the summer. Other crews had members that were excited to continue learning about natural resource management through continued education or work experience. The Forest Service presented information about potential career paths in natural resource management, and although that didn’t seem particularly interesting to the kids, it was clear that the agency had made a lasting impression on them. The personal connections that developed as these kids worked alongside Forest Service personnel in their local ranger districts are a powerful foundation for this next generation of natural resource leaders.

Even for the kids that had decided that they weren’t interested in natural resource management careers, graduation provided a sense of completion and a chance to clearly articulate a new set of interests. One crew member expressed that the team building experience that they gained through FSYC would help them towards a career in law enforcement, and others valued the essential experience of getting and holding a stable job.

The day ended with each Youth Corps member receiving a diploma certifying their completion of the program and a heartfelt speech from the Guild’s Southwest Director Matt Piccarello thanking the Corps for all the meaningful work they completed. I left feeling grateful and refreshed by the opportunity to help shape this next generation of natural resource leaders. As we prepare for the Fall FSYC program this September, I look forward to helping the next group of excited crew members explore forest and fire management on national forest land.