For the past six years, DCNR has worked with the state Department of Labor and Industry and the Student Conservation Association to provide hands-on training opportunities that lead to family sustaining wages for hundreds of young people in the state through the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.
DCNR has highlighted the work of these programs, which follow in the footsteps of other programs like the Youth Conservation Corps and the Civilian Conservation Corps, making a lasting impact on public lands through the six-week summer programs for young people ages 15 to 18 or a 10-month program for young adults 18 to 25.
Beyond being great ways to spend the summer or year doing meaningful, lasting work, the Pa. Outdoor Corps -- especially the Young Adult Crew opportunities -- have been a great a gateway into employment with DCNR.
Paula Lewis Roman -- Park Ranger 1 at Kings Gap EEC
Take Paula Lewis Roman for example. Paula left her home in Puerto Rico for Pennsylvania after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island and forced her to think about her future career opportunities.
As a talented actor and singer, Paula had wanted to go into the arts as a profession; however, her course changed in Harrisburg when she was looking for work in the Harrisburg area and the Latino Hispanic American Center connected her to the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps Young Adult Crew opportunity in 2018.
Paula worked with the Harrisburg Adult Crew that year, and returned to the Outdoor Corps again in 2019 and 2020 before accepting a position at King’s Gap Environmental Education Center as a semiskilled laborer.
She did so well with that job, she was encouraged to apply for a Park Ranger 1 position at the center and she’s been serving the community in that role since July 2021.
Paula credits the Outdoor Corps with exposing her to the possibilities of working with DCNR and then teaching her meaningful skills she could use to help career development.
“I didn’t understand at the beginning there were opportunities to learn about and become a part of DCNR,” Lewis Roman said. She added that she can pursue her passion for the arts in her free time, while also helping be a great steward for our environment for her day job.
Interestingly enough, Paula says the Outdoor Corps helped her see the overlap between the physical work she was doing and her artistic talents.
She learned how to see the artistic vision of developing trails and uses that to help think about ways to expand park visitors’ experiences through creativity.
Paula hopes that her creativity, will help foster better relationships with diverse visitors and expand opportunities for those who may not be aware of the opportunities working with DCNR.
Al Germann -- Deputy Digital Director
Like Paula, DCNR’s Deputy Digital Director Albert Germann shared a similar experience of having opportunities revealed through the Outdoor Corps.
Al was looking for change and wanting to get out of working in retail. He recalled visiting DCNR’s websites for park maps and then seeing information about the Pa. Outdoor Corps.
Other than his current role with DCNR, Al says his time with the Harrisburg crew was the best job he has ever had.
He thrived in the accepting culture that looked to build up young people, while also learning skills, the importance of teamwork, conflict resolution, and more.
“They really set you up to succeed in making connections and networking, as well as completing the projects,” Germann said. “The Corps helped orient me to see that I could do these things at DCNR and make a difference.”
Al pointed to the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps opportunity to shadow DCNR professionals during the assignment.
He shadowed Aura Stauffer, a wildlife biologist with the department. Though he ultimately went a different direction, Al says it was a good experience that helped him see what the job actually entailed.
“Give it a try if you are someone who needs to try something out to know if you like it,” Germann said. “You may end up really liking the experience.”
Jamie Klebanski -- Park Manager Trainee
Speaking of enjoying the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps experience, Jamie Klebanski, explained that the Outdoor Corps was such a great positive experience, it made her want to cry thinking about how impactful the program has been on her career.
Following her time with the Uniontown crew in 2019, Jamie worked for DCNR as a park manager trainee for eight months before taking an opportunity with the Allegheny National Forest.
“All of my professional experience is tied to the program,” Klebanski said, adding that the work is hard and can be tedious, but it prepares Corps members in a way that makes them standout candidates in recreation fields.
Jamie is proud of her time with DCNR and pointed to Assistant State Parks Director Jason Zimmerman as a mentor who has been helpful long after completing the Outdoor Corps program.
She said he gave her tips on how to interview, dressing professionally, and how to convey interest in the job in a way that mattered.
Her current supervisor at the forest service said her 10-minute explanation of why she wanted the job to set her apart and helped her land the role she is in now.
Matt Pecora -- Delaware Canal State Park Assistant Manager
Current Delaware Canal State Park Assistant Manager Matt Pecora related similar love for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps program.
Matt had worked with the Student Conservation Association in New York and Ohio before working for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.
In his final year with the Outdoor Corps, he was the project leader for the Philadelphia Crew. He was all set to work for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps a third year; but applied to be a park manager trainee.
While he enjoyed building bridges, habitats, doing trail work, and the like with the Corps, Matt said the most valuable takeaway from the program were the soft skills he learned -- many of which he uses as an assistant park manager.
Having spent time as a leader with the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps, Matt says he stays in touch with his former crew members and helps pay it forward when they need references or a listening ear.
“It is a good growing opportunity,” Pecora said. “They put you through healthy ways of working with your peers and help you build a lot of good skills.”
All four of the past participants agreed the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps is wonderful avenue for self-discovery, learning job skills, and building meaningful relationships.
Each one credited Outdoor Corps Program Manager Mike Piaskowski with taking a genuine interest in their professional development and keeping in touch throughout the process.
Mike stays in contact with alumni, helping with their resumes, sharing opportunities, connecting them with other recreation professionals, and being a resource for young people beyond their time in the Corps.
Since the program’s beginning, more than 20 Outdoor Corps alumni have accepted a position at DCNR.
Hiring for the 2022 10-month young adult crews will begin promptly in the fall. Keep an eye on DCNR’s website for application announcements.
Follow DCNR on Facebook and Twitter for more information and updates about the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps.