The Onondaga Earth Corps (OEC) was formed to:
- Help youth understand the relationship between people and the urban ecosystem
- Engage youth in hands-on community and environmental service learning projects
- Train youth for future jobs and careers in environmental fields
- Empower youth by developing their leadership abilities that help them analyze situations, solve problems and implement strategies to improve their communities
These can be accomplished by bringing youth to the forefront of creating livable, sustainable communities through service, social enterprise and outreach.
The OEC models itself on the highly successful and effective Youth Conservation Corps model that has been in operation throughout the United States since the 1930’s to address critical environmental and human service needs. A 1997 Abt Associates/ Brandeis University random assignment study concluded that Youth Service and Conservation Corps are an invaluable resource for young people. Corps programs lead to positive impacts on participants’ employment and earnings, teach them valuable job readiness and technical skills for the future, and provide needed services
OEC crew members participate in urban forestry projects, stormwater management projects, private property management and community environmental education and outreach. Urban forestry projects included tree inventories, neighborhood outreach, tree planting, and tree care.
- Inventory – In collaboration with the City Arborist and Cornell Cooperative Extension Urban Forestry specialists, the OEC participated in several types of tree inventories. Youth have inventoried existing trees, potential tree planting sites, and bare root trees to help assess and improve conditions of the urban forest in Syracuse. The tree planting inventories were helpful because these inventories are utilized by the City Arborist to seek funding for tree planting or to determine fall planting sites.
- Neighborhood Outreach – Urban trees struggle to survive without proper stewardship. In this regard, the OEC has been an instrumental component of the City’s urban forestry efforts on the South and Near West Sides of Syracuse since 2005. Youth work with neighborhood and community groups to identify homeowners that want trees, lead community volunteers in tree plantings, and disseminate information about the benefits of trees and proper tree care.
- Tree Planting – OEC crew members worked with the City Arborist and Cornell Cooperative Extension staff to lead volunteers in large scale community tree plantings. Sometimes this meant planting 10 trees with children from a community center and at other times it meant working together with over 100 volunteers to plant hundreds of trees.
- Tree Care – The success of an urban forest does not end with planting trees. New trees need proper watering, mulching, pruning, protection and stewards. Crew members play an active role in taking care of trees in parks and at schools; they also do outreach to residents with new trees to encourage stewardship.
Stormwater management projects included rain gardens, rain barrel construction, demonstration of a green roof, and neighborhood outreach.
- Rain gardens – The OEC has been instrumental in introducing green infrastructure to Syracuse neighborhoods. Demonstration rain gardens at 515 Tully St. and at the Altamont Building in Syracuse Housing Authority have become beacons of the growing green infrastructure boom in Syracuse. Crew members worked with specialists to design and install rain gardens that catch stormwater runoff; this reduces the burden on our aging sewage infrastructure, protects our rivers and lakes from runoff pollution, provides habitat for wildlife and increases groundwater recharge.
- Rain barrels – Another stormwater management tool that the OEC introduced to Syracuse residents is the rain barrel. Rain barrels capture rainwater, preventing it from washing pollutants into local waterways. Water that is collected in the barrel can be used to water gardens, lawns or potted plants. Youth work with specialists to convert affordable food grade barrels into rain barrels.
- Green Roof Demonstration – With guidance from a local greenroof plant nursery, Mother Plants, and under the supervision of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Home Headquarters staff, youth helped create a greenroof at 515 Tully St. Youth made structural improvements to a storage shed so it could bear the load of this demonstration greenroof and planted greenroof trays to be attached to the roof.
- Neighborhood Outreach – OEC crew members spread the word about rain barrels and rain gardens through outreach to neighborhood residents. Youth give rain garden tours, deliver educational activities at festivals and are working to identify homeowner or property owners that would like rain barrels.
HOPE: HANDS ON PRESERVATION EXPERIENCE
In partnership with The Corps Network, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and owners of unique cultural sites, Onondaga Earth Corps is helping train the next generation of preservationists. Young people gain experience in carpentry, masonry, preservation craft, and remodeling skills. Additionally, historic spaces are re-invigorated and new connections are made to our nation’s inspiring places. More information can be found at www.savingplaces.org.
PRIVATE PROPERTY MAINTENANCE
Private property maintenance activities began in 2004 with the first group of Corpsmembers, then known as the Eli MacDonald Green Team. The primary property maintenance activities were landscaping services and allowed youth to serve elderly and disabled community members by helping them maintain their private properties. Landscaping services include cutting lawns, trimming overgrown shrubs and trees, and landscaping under the guidance of program staff. Intergenerational communication, correcting mis-perceptions and overcoming stereotypes are some of the critical community benefits to result from these activities. The OEC staff remains committed to ensuring that property maintenance activities remain an integral part of the youth-led projects.
Neighborhood and Park Beautification
Onondaga Earth Corps has recently partnered with the City of Syracuse and the Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Public Works to bring real work experiences to young people in the summer. These crews bring work opportunities to the City’s youth, improving their own neighborhoods and green spaces. Parks benefit from additional work done to maintain the grounds and provide environmental education to summer program participants. Neighborhoods benefit from the additional support from the county’s Save the Rain program in cleaning up litter and improving clean streets practices for residents. These crews have been crucial first responses to the city’s need to clean up litter, maintain open spaces and engage the neighborhood residents in stewardship of their valuable natural resources.