I was in school when my teacher, Mr. Hearne, showed my class a flyer for a summer job with this program called the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.
I was very interested because I wanted a job, and the pay was pretty good -- $12 an hour. But there was a problem.
Mr. Hearne said, “If you like being outdoors, you should sign up; but if you don’t like being outdoors, don’t sign up.” That definitely discouraged me. I didn’t like being outdoors; at least I thought I didn’t like being outdoors.
I was new to Pennsylvania. I moved recently from Brooklyn, New York.
I had never been camping. I never hiked. I never went fishing. I never swam in a lake. I had never even seen any wildlife.
Heck, I had never even truly been in a forest or in the woods. I’ve been in small parks like Prospect Park and Central Park, but nothing as massive as a state park.
I was hesitant to apply for the position, but I did anyway -- not because I liked nature or anything, but honestly, just because of the money.
The First Day
The first day was nerve-racking. I didn’t know what to expect. I was about to spend eight hours with total strangers. I thought it was going to be back-breaking work.
The first day didn’t go as expected, it was welcoming. I even recognized a co-worker from school.
I remember the drive to our first park --Tuscarora State Park. I was riding shotgun with one of leaders, Marie, and I asked her if we were going to see any wildlife.
She told me that there was going to be wildlife, but I shouldn’t worry about it. I told her that I wasn’t scared, just that I had never seen any real wildlife before.
The most wildlife I ever saw in Brooklyn was a pigeon, or maybe a squirrel. A minute later, a deer crossed the road. It was my first deer! I saw a lot of animals while working with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps -- that deer was just the first.
The first project was a boat launch. The boat launch had two sides of it. The left looked like it was in pristine condition and a dozen boats were docked there. The right side looked like it hadn’t been used in ten years.
The paint on the boat poles was chipping away. The grass needed to be cut badly, and there was a lot of brush in the way that needed to be cut down.
It was a lot of work, especially for me with absolutely zero experience. I was not excited about it, to say the least.
The first thing I did was take loopers and cut brush. Everyone around me looked like a natural and I was just there dumbfounded by the tool. Luckily, the other leader, Geran, came over and taught me how to use them. I found out pretty quickly it was easy.
After the brush was cleared, we painted the poles. After that, we cut the grass, and placed down stone.
The first two weeks on the job were rough, but when it was over, I realized what it was for. The launch looked ten times better.
Boats were actually starting to dock on the right side. People were actually using what me and my group made. It made me feel happy, and it made me feel proud of myself. I really enjoyed working with my hands and transforming that launch.
The next four weeks were great too. We fixed up a pavilion. We fixed up a playground. We placed a staircase down. I didn’t mind the work at all.
One of my favorite moments of the program was when a stranger walked up to us and thanked us. She said that what we were doing was extremely important.
People were appreciative of what we were doing! It made me feel so happy. I loved hearing “thank you” and I loved hearing “wow that looks great.”
It made me feel great knowing people were appreciative, and it made me feel great seeing what I accomplished.
Discovering a Love of Nature
On top of the work, I also got to discover nature. I’ve never been hiking before, and I went hiking twice with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps. I saw so many beautiful things that I would’ve never seen. I saw many beautiful waterfalls and lakes.
I’ve never been kayaking, I did it here. When I went kayaking, I saw a bald eagle swoop down and grab a fish. I never knew what I was missing. I never knew how beautiful nature was.
I used to not care about conserving nature. I used to hear on the news wildlife was going away, animals are going extinct, and I didn’t care at all. Now, after my time with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps, it saddens me. The experience opened me up to a whole new world I knew nothing about.
I’m grateful to the Student Conservation Association and DCNR for what they allowed me to see. Yes, it was about the money at first; but later it became more than that.
This program allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and experience things I have never experienced. I also made great friends along the way.
I’m so glad I decided to work for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps this summer; and would love to do it again.
About John and the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps
John was a member of the six-week youth crew in Hazleton. DCNR had 17 crews for young people ages 15-18 working on public lands and conservation projects across the state in 2019.
The youth employment and enrichment program is managed by the DCNR in cooperation with the Student Conservation Association, a national conservation jobs organization.
The 2019 Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps is financially supported by DCNR and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Reemployment Program, along with private contributions made through the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.
DCNR and the Student Conservation Association will be offering 2020 Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps opportunities. For more information, visit the DCNR website.