For 36 young people, the Eastern Connecticut Conservation Corps’s summer-long Trail Blazers program offered the promise of fresh air, work in the state’s beautiful parks, a regular paycheck, and an opportunity to learn job skills that will improve their chances of finding full-time employment.
For 15 weeks this summer, the ECCC Trail Blazers, ages 18 to 25, improved the infrastructure of eastern Connecticut state parks by refurbishing picnic areas, improving old park buildings, and clearing miles of walking trails.
“It’s awesome working outside,” said Willimantic resident and ECCC Trail Blazers employee Juan Ortiz, 21, as he built new picnic tables at Natchaug State Forest in Eastford. “I’m learning a lot. It gives us great experience and a better resume.”
Funded by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board (EWIB) and administered by EASTCONN in collaboration with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (which runs the state parks system), the ECCC Trail Blazers hired young adults and war veterans from the Willimantic, Danielson and Norwich areas.
One day a week, crews sat in an EASTCONN classroom, where they learned resume-writing, interpersonal, online-job-search and workplace-etiquette skills, among other things. They earned industry-recognized certificates in areas like First-Aid, CPR and OSHA 10 and received career and post-secondary-education counseling. Following their Trail Blazers experience, 10 youths have found full-time, unsubsidized jobs.
In September, representatives from EASTCONN, EWIB and the state DEEP celebrated the Trail Blazers’ success. DEEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Whalen conferred certificates of completion and praised the work of the Trail Blazers crews, as well as their success in job-skills training classes.
“I am so proud of them. These programs are invaluable. You can see it in their faces,” Whalen said afterward. “The State of Connecticut has gotten a huge benefit out of this.”