Last November, I was able to take part of a tour of two juvenile camps with the USC: BEP study that I have been working with. This visit was especially insightful to what the kids that I work with go through when they are locked up in the camps. Without having a sense of what a juvenile camp is like, there would have been a disconnect from myself and my knowledge and the youth and their experiences.
The BEP researchers drove up to La Verne, California to take a tour of Camp Paige and Camp Afflerbaugh. For those who don’t know what a juvenile camp consists of, I will try to break it down as much as I can. On first inspection, it looked like we had arrived to a summer camp. The outside and surrounding areas looked exactly like the camps that I used to go as a girl scout. However, upon closer inspection and starting up the tour, I knew it was going to be different from the summer camps I attended as kid. We started the tour walking through Camp Paige, which is reserved for the younger juvenile youth ages 12 -16. The campgrounds were quiet and serene, the sun was shining bright and you could hear the birds calling out that morning. This was a strange sight being that I had anticipated a harsher environment. At the moment, the kids were in the classrooms for their daily school/schoolwork so we headed over to the adjoining Camp Afflerbaugh to learn about the Forestry Program that had for the older kids [ages 16-18].
Camp Afflerbaugh is unique in the sense that it is the only juvenile camp that allows the youth to be let off grounds. They have administered a Forestry Program so that the youth are able to acquire job related training during their stay and become productive members of society upon their release. We met with the Captain of the department, answering any questions we had about the program, he went through how the program works at the camp.
The Forestry program works in conjunction with the Probation Department camp guidelines and provides the camp youths an opportunity to participate in a work crew environment that emphasizes Urban Forestry and Horticulture concepts. The Forestry program begins for each minor with mandatory Training Crew participation. Each minor must pass a basic physical fitness program and a series of written daily quizzes encompassing four main topics: Program Orientation, Landscape Concepts, Irrigation System Components and Chainsaw Safety/Operation. Upon graduation, minors become Forestry Crew Members and are eligible to participate on a work crews in the capacity of crew leader, sawman, bucker, tool man, or crew member. All crew members have the opportunity to earn as many as three Certificates of Achievement depending on desire and dedication to the program. Practical daily work skills and employer expectations are stressed in all training and work crew assignments in preparation of work within the private sector. Minors are encouraged to seek employment in the nursery trade, landscape business, irrigation systems or tree maintenance companies upon graduation.
Off to work like real firefighters do!
The Forestry Program is staffed Monday through Friday. Two work crews, each consisting of 13 minors and one Probation Department Juvenile Crew Instructor, are checked out from Probation at 0815hrs for their daily work assignment. After roll call and inspection, the minors are required to complete a one hour physical fitness regime to include a combination of calisthenics, stair climbing, jogging or hiking in the surrounding hills. The workday concludes by 4:00PM each day with the last hour dedicated to equipment and vehicle maintenance and cleaning.
Typical work projects have included, Burro Canyon tree removal project in Azusa Canyon, tree plantation maintenance at Bonelli Park, removal of invasive non-native plant species at the Santa Fe Dam facility, and annual brush clearance for fire safety around the entire perimeters of both Camp Paige and Camp Afflerbaugh. Throughout the year, Camp 17 crews provide support services for the Los Angeles County Fire Department Headquarters, and the Los Angeles County Fair exhibit. (http://www.fire.lacounty.gov/Forestry/OpsCamp17.asp)
Beyond what they learn on this job they are still held accountable for their behavior under the supervision of the Crew Instructor. It is made clear to the participants that if they are to mess up, at camp or during work, they are then in danger of not being on the work crew. They are given the 3-strike rule: mess up once, you are looked after, twice, a warning, and three times, you’re out of the forestry program – something that many of the juvenile youth are very proud to be a part of. Therefore, the program provides not only job related training, it also provides incentive to not mess around during their stay in the camp and work towards a bigger goal than they had in mind when they first entered camp.
I believe that jobs and job-training, especially for the younger generations, are a strong way to motivate someone to get out of a gang or to change their lifestyles; it becomes incredibly hard to do so without the proper resources!
Finally, to close, I want to leave you with a video about Homeboy Industries and one of their more recent projects of starting a training program for the Homies to learn how to assemble solar panels on houses. Job training as success!! Check it out!
From Gangs to ‘Green Collar’.