WOODSIDE — They were hot and sweaty from the morning's labor, but the pride on the faces of the teenagers constructing a nature trail at Huddart County Park spoke volumes about what they've come to think of as the best summer job ever.
Clutching wheelbarrows filled with base rock and wearing matching T-shirts with the motto "Conservation Begins Here," the high school crew paused under a stand of redwoods to describe the rewards of their paid summer internship with the Student Conservation Association, billed as some of the first federally funded "green-collar" jobs for youths in the Bay Area.
In addition to earning a salary for trail maintenance — $10 an hour — this group of low-income youths from Redwood City and East Palo Alto has spent the past month taking field trips to farms to learn about the environment and agriculture, facilitated by the San Mateo County Parks Department.
They toured a green technology showroom in South San Francisco to learn about green-collar careers they could pursue after high school. And thanks to a partnership with JobTrain, they'll gain job interview skills and update their résumés to reflect the work experience they gained before the month is over.
Young people in Richmond and San Francisco are gaining similar experiences this summer through partnerships with local nonprofits and the Student Conservation Association, the first program of its kind in California to focus on youths younger than 18 and to gain federal stimulus funding toward fostering concrete job skills.
This summer's program for 60 students across the Bay Area is just the beginning. Partnerships with counties, community colleges and programs such as Richmond YouthWORKS are just getting under way when it comes to job training and employment, said Bettina Mok, regional manager of community programs for the Student Conservation Association.
"Despite adults not having jobs right now, there is a real interest on behalf of our partners to create new jobs for youth," Mok said.
"We have a lot of open space in the Bay Area that needs tending to, and we have a lot of youth unemployment," she added. "Young people are motivated to work — we've learned that over the years — but there just aren't those opportunities. It's a great thing to get them out of doors, out of the stresses they deal with at home, and into a beautiful place they're contributing to."
Though San Mateo County crews will do more traditional trail maintenance work at San Pedro Valley Park, San Bruno Mountain and other parks in San Mateo County this summer, the Richmond crew will help cultivate a community garden at Verde Elementary School, write a cookbook, and learn how to market the vegetables to restaurants.
At least two of the dozen or so students hard at work spreading 2,500 linear feet along a hiking trail in Huddart County Park last week said their summer job had inspired them to pursue work as a state park ranger or county park maintenance leader some day.
"It's been a lot of labor. But we're in a beautiful area and we're making it better," said Matthew Jimenez, a 16-year-old student from Redwood City. "I'm going to bring my family out there and give them a tour, show them what I've been doing.
"These internships open you up to all kinds of jobs," he added.
Fellow crew member Katherine Vega, 16, agreed that the monthlong internship was hard work.
"I know I'm doing it for a good cause, and that motivates me," she said, smiling.
Students eager for more parks experience can find year-round work with the Student Conservation Association in other states and in similar programs like AmeriCorps, Mok said.
Upon graduating from high school, students will find new green vocational programs available to them thanks to the federal stimulus package. Mok said Oakland's Laney College has already approached her about recruiting parks interns into the school's new green jobs training program.
"The kids are really interested in the environment when they come from us so they're perfectly poised to go on to programs like that," she said.
Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.