Program trains Minnesotans for outside work

Learning the ropes of tree climbing, Oliva Peterson is doing a job she never dreamed she’d be doing, tree climbing, far different compared to studying art in college.

"I didn’t even know if I’d like it," says Peterson.

But last year an ad for the Conservation Corp of Minnesota and Iowa or CCMI caught her attention.

"What drew me was there was a phrase... ‘Do you want to work outside with youth?’" says Peterson. "I was really intrigued by that, and applied, and heard back really soon."

From there the young Iowa native did two 10-month terms with CCMI earning $12,000 toward her student loan debt, plus living expenses and various other benefits.  CCMI is an independent nonprofit with a long history of leveraging funds through being an AmeriCorps grantee.

"So we receive funding through AmeriCorps from the federal government, to help our programs, and then we partner with state and federal and local agencies to provide opportunities to do all kinds of environmental service across Minnesota and Iowa and really service the broader country," says Brian Miller, CCMI program director. "We also participate in disaster response. So Hurricane Relief, tornadoes, floods, all kinds of different things."

Miller says when the corps’ programs are fully ramped up, he needs roughly 700 people between 15 and 35 years old. Currently has about 150 people and is recruiting to at least double the summer workforce.. this summer.

"We have a lot of folks who maybe they get experience in political science or art of English, but a lot of us in Minnesota spend time hiking camping in state parks, so we have that desire to maybe take a gap year, or you get out of school and think maybe I didn’t go to school for the right thing?" says Miller "Working with CCMI can be that skill and networking you combine with an education even if it wasn’t in the field, which can then allow you to move into something outside your education background.  I think that can be really beneficial because we need folks who are going into the political system working the environmental field."

For Tim Morgan, owner of Morgan Tree Service, recruiting from CCMI has offered his company new growth. Morgan has hired multiple CMMI alum, like Peterson, especially at a time of worker shortages and applications for this sort of specialized work have dropped off.

"We haven’t had to go anywhere else. Almost all the staff we’ve hired have come from the conservation corp exclusively," says Miller, "They’ve been amazing to work with, they come with a knowledge base, they come with a safety culture in place already which is very important to us because we want people who are safety conscious, and they already have that ingrained.

Working alongside fellow CCMI alum, Peterson is now considering conservation as part of future grad work, and her opportunities are sky high.

"It’s amazing and I came into it, I couldn’t identify plants or anything. I think that kept me from truly feeling connected to nature and just getting a little bit of knowledge led me to start studying myself," says Peterson. "It's really opened my eyes to a whole new passion I could follow."