Friday, July 19, 2013

Same Corps, Different Name

Credit: Destry Jaimes
The Texas Conservation Corps was more than welcome at West after the fertilizer plant explosion.
Few know or remember the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s, yet evidence of their contributions surrounds us, especially in Texas’s state parks. Although the CCC may not be officially still in existence, its legacy is living on through the Texas Conservation Corps. They too are leaving behind long-lasting contributions.

Credit: Destry Jaimes
Within 48 hours, the Texas Conservation
Corps disaster response team was on the scene, where Heather
Kouros, in gray, helped manage American YouthWorks efforts
from temporary headquarters.
The CCC was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18 to 25.

The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs. Principal benefits of an individual's enrollment in the CCC included improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. Of their pay of $30 a month, $25 went to their parents. Implicitly, the CCC also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation's natural resources, as well as the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for the protection and development of natural resources.

During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.

Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation for its existence. By 1942, with World War II and the draft in force, need for work relief declined and Congress voted to close the program.

Credit: Destry Jaimes
Valerie Tamburri, left, and Will Kruckeberg
drop off cases of water in a neighborhood
damaged by the April fertilizer plant
explosion in West.
While the CCC was never officially terminated, Congress provided funding for closing the remaining camps in 1942 with the equipment being reallocated. Eventually, more than 50 years later in 1995, the Environmental Corps, now Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC), was formed from the CCC model. Chris Sheffield, program director, explains that TxCC is a modern-day version of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.

The TxCC is an American YouthWorks program which allows youth, ages 17 to 28, to contribute to the restoration and preservation of parks and public lands in Texas. The only conservation corps in Texas, TxCC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas, which serves the entire state. Their work ranges from disaster relief to trail building to habitat restoration. TxCC has done projects in national, state, and city parks.

The TxCC’s skills were put to the test while aiding in disaster relief in West, TX.

Less than 48 hours after the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Will Kruckeberg and Valerie Tamburri were on the scene, helping organize thousands of volunteers who seemingly descended on the town en masse to do whatever needed doing.

Credit: Destry Jaimes
When the West Fertilizer Company plant
outside West, about 20 miles north of Waco,
exploded April 17, the damage extended
across a 37-block area, including this
home on property adjacent to the plant.
As part of the Texas Conservation Corps disaster response team, Kruckeberg, 20, and Tamburri, 32, hit the ground running. The Westfest Fairgrounds, where the predominantly Czech community holds an annual Labor Day weekend polka festival, became the staging area for receiving—literally—tons of clothing, food for people and pets, baby supplies, hygiene products, household items and just about every other immediate need of hundreds of displaced residents, some of them members of Hilco Electric Cooperative.

Out of the chaos of pavilions piled high with overstuffed cardboard boxes, household appliances and bulging black, plastic bags, Kruckeberg had to create order. He directed volunteers as they unpacked, sorted, organized and distributed necessities to long lines of shocked and weary West citizens.

Tamburri took charge of creating a makeshift dining hall with long tables of food—much of it straight from the kitchens of West neighbors and concerned folks in nearby towns—for citizens and volunteers alike. Tamburri was amazed at how the West citizens, even some who’d lost their homes, pitched right in. “I love this town. Everyone’s so nice and willing to help,” she told Texas Co-op Power magazine.

Kruckeberg and Tamburri landed in the middle of a maelstrom, and with skills learned in the Texas Conservation Corps, they played a big role in calming the waters.

By April 23, the crowds of volunteers were mostly gone, the warehouses were clearing out, and the TxCC team could take a breather before the next phase of their work: finding long-term replacement volunteers.

Credit: Destry Jaimes
Will Kruckeberg, 20, helping with donations at West, also volunteered
to join a crew headed to Joplin, Missouri, to provide relief
after a series of deadly tornadoes struck in 2010.
The agency has given him ‘a sense of fulfillment that
makes every aspect of my life better,’ he says.
Before coming to West, Tamburri had participated in disaster-relief efforts in New York City after Hurricane Sandy in February and in Baytown after Hurricane Ike in 2008. She had never fully experienced small-town culture and being embraced by its citizens like she did in West. “This has been such a positive experience. All the people of this town are great. We had people who lost everything or were injured from the blast, and they were in there volunteering, handing out food to other people. Some of them said, ‘We’re used to giving; we’re not used to receiving.’”
“I never lived in a small community, and it was really inspiring,” says Tamburri. “This is a learning experience for me. Everybody is so inviting and warm and helpful. They just jump in and do what needs to be done. You don’t have to ask them.”

For the original article from the Texas Co-op Power magazine, click here.

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