Youth program provides experience

trioBy Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

Construction, repairs and maintenance jobs at various city locations are enriching the resumes of seven Tucumcari young people and giving them college credit this summer in the city’s Youth Conservation Corps.

If they stay with the program for four years, the young workers can choose a $500 lump sum or $1,500 in scholarship aid to pursue higher education. The summer’s work will give each participant three hours of credit in the construction program at Mesalands Community College.

They’re working under the direction of Chris Gries, the city’s facilities manager, and receiving day-to-day instructions from Mark Martinez, a facilities supervisor.

This year’s crew is “a bunch of good workers,” Martinez said.  “This is a great program. It teaches  them skills and gives them incentive to continue their education.”

Gries said, “It’s a win-win for the city and the employees. The young guys get experience and some college credit, and the city gets some projects done that it otherwise would not have.”

Nathan Vargas (left),  Bradley Lopez and Shawn Martinez install a new roof on a canopy at the Tucumcari Little League field.

Nathan Vargas (left), Bradley Lopez and Shawn Martinez install a new roof on a canopy at the Tucumcari Little League field.

This summer, the conservation crew also helped prepare the Tucumcari Convention Center for the Rockabilly on the Route event. They installed a misting system to cool patrons in the convention center’s courtyard.  Past projects, Gries said, include landscaping at the Tucumcari Train Depot, as well as the bleachers, ground-leveling of dugouts and laying of sidewalks at the Tucumcari Little League field.

This year, the Little League field is again the chief beneficiary of the Youth Conservation Corps. At the field last week, the youthful crew framed and built metal canopies for picnickers and spectators at the city’s Little League field.

Last week, they were painting the outside of the field’s concession stand.

On Monday, they started installing roofs on bleacher canopies.

The conservation corps group ranges in age from 14 to 25 years old. This year’s group includes one high school sophomore and a junior in college.

They will also help with the Rattler Reunion, which starts July 31, Gries said.

For Shawn Martinez, in his sixth year with the YCC program, the scholarship funds will help finance the next two years of classes toward an electrical engineering degree at Eastern New Mexico University, he said.

“I love the job,” he said, “and it’s good experience.”

Even the youngest member of the team, Santiago Alires, a sophomore at Tucumcari High School, appreciates the value of the work experience he is gaining as a member of the crew, not to mention some extra money. Alires, Marcus Chavez, a high school senior, and John Fought, a high school junior, are not thinking much beyond graduating from high school.

Older participants have more focused ambitions beyond the summer. Nathaniel Vargas, in his third year with the program, is pursuing a degree in engineering.  Bradley Lopez, a first-year participant, and Nathan Vargas, third-year participant, plan to enroll in wind energy program at Mesalands Community College.

On July 10, the Tucumcari City Commission approved a $42,457 grant from the state YCC fund to operate the conservation corps program.  The city will match the $42,457 with $25,143 in cash and in-kind services, Ralph Lopez, a city grant writer said.

To qualify YCC projects must be of six months duration or less, not be part of existing services, and provide work opportunities on public lands or facilities, according to YCC publications.

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