Brendan Reiff, Malachi Cullen and Aiden Greene participate in a Youth Conservation Corpse beach clean-up at Jackson Beach in July 2019. (Contributed photo)

Brendan Reiff, Malachi Cullen and Aiden Greene participate in a Youth Conservation Corpse beach clean-up at Jackson Beach in July 2019. (Contributed photo)

Ways to keep kids occupied this summer

Rumors of summer’s demise have been greatly exaggerated — there are still activities for kids to get involved with. The San Juan County Youth Conservation Corp is accepting applications to become part of a paid crew and 4-H is still welcoming members and volunteers.

Island Youth Conservation Corps

Youth Conservation Corps is a national program geared toward inspiring teens to assist with stewardship projects on public lands. Locally, the program is managed by the San Juan County Conservation District.

“Depending on which phase Washington will be in during the early-late summer, we have several different options for programming,” Island Youth Conservation Corps Assistant Program Manager Libby Valluzzi said. “At this point, we are accepting applications without a specific deadline.”

Each summer, 12- to 18-year-old outdoor enthusiasts on every island may apply to repair fences, create trails, remove noxious weeds and other projects. Their first year volunteering, according to Valluzzi, the kids are paid $25 a day; the second year is $27 a day; and $30 a day the third year. There is also a leader in training position that is paid $45-$60 a day.

Each summer, the crews log in at least 5,500 stewardship hours, Valluzzi added. This position is offered to youth who are heading into their third or higher year in the program and the position includes greater crew responsibilities, leadership development skills and supervisory roles, according to Valluzzi.

Funding comes from a variety of sources, she explained, including donation; government and private grant; agency partner contracts to conduct fieldwork; and soon, from the San Juan Island Stewardship specialty license plate. Purchasing a specialty plate is an easy way to support the program, Valluzzi said, 30 percent of the proceeds go directly to funding the YCC program. For more information about the plate, visit the Washington State Department of Licensing, or contact the San Juan County Auditor’s office.

“We want to offer youth opportunities to engage more fully in conservation work, and grow their own personal and professional skills,” Valluzzi said.

Last year, according to the corps’ year-end report, the teens’ projects included, among others, gathering trash, removing weeds and clearing trial on Lopez Island’s Point Colville trail; removing trash at Iceberg Point on Lopez; clearing Canadian thistle and collecting Camas and Indian celery seeds at American Camp; creating a new trail at IHIYA Biological Preserve on Prohaska Road on San Juan Island; removing barbed wire from two miles of trail on Turtleback Mountain Preserve; and removing noxious weeds from Moran State Park on Orcas.

All island crews have been assisting the development of the “Lands’ End Trail” at Moran State Park for the last two years and are slated to continue this year, according to Valluzi.

“The trail is very close to completion and would be a huge multi-year legacy project and our local youth will have been an integral part of completing it,” Valluzi said, adding that often crew members re-visit work sites with family and friends to proudly share their work and nature discoveries. “The sense of accomplishment from being able to live near and frequent the places where you spent so much time and energy-conserving really strengthens these kids’ local sense of place.”

The program has a life-changing effect on the kids, according to Valluzzi. During the four years she has been involved in the program, Valluzzi said she has watched the teens develop confidence; team building; comradery; work ethics; critical thinking skills; connect with the community and the natural world around them; and generally become more inquisitive.

“Parents call, email and approach us every year with the vast positive changes they see in their child, it is so rewarding,” Valluzzi said.

Being outdoors for four to eight hours a day for weeks, sweating and working hard with fellow team members to implement positive stewardship projects while surrounded by the wonders of nature makes the youth conservation corps a unique opportunity, Valluzi added.

“The staff thanks all the folks in the community for showing such appreciation and dedication to the program in all the 13 years of its development across the islands,” Valluzzi said. “It has come a long way and we are dedicated to growing the program further to serve the needs of our community, our youth and the precious local environment.”

To apply for the youth conservation crew, visit

Family Resource Center

The family resource center is expanding its mentoring program, which pairs adults with youths who could benefit from additional one on one time with a caring mentor, Armstrong explained. Mentors and mentees can find ways to be active in the summer months by participating in 4-H clubs, riding bikes, baking cookies, or just relaxing and talking with each other, she added.

“Our next big focus is on youth support this summer,” Joyce L. Sobel Family Resource Center Executive Director Jennifer Armstrong said. “With no school, day camps, etc., we are looking at how to support the social, emotional and physical needs of kids and families.”

According to the resource center’s website, “Mentoring is a way for adults and kids alike to experience quality time together and make a positive difference in each other’s lives.”

The resource center is also partnering with 36 Weekends to help enable the program to continue through the summer, Armstrong said. The nonprofit organization 36 Weekends is sponsored locally by San Juan Island Rotary Club, and provides food for school-age children on weekends during the school year. The resource center is also partnering with Master Gardeners and 4-H, Armstrong said, doing gardening and nutrition education projects with kids.

4-H clubs

For those too young for youth corps, but still interested in outdoor activities, connecting with peers and the community, 4-H might be an alternative. The Washington State University Extention Agency administrates the state’s 4-H, which focuses on positive youth development. The groups focus on leadership and life skills, as well as giving back to the community, according to San Juan County 4-H Program Coordinator Wendy Waxman Kern.

The youth organization also frequently partners with other agencies. Earlier this year, 4-H’ers made granola for the Joyce L. Sobel Famly Resource Center to give to families in need, Kern said.

Due to the coronavirus, the San Juan County Fair is hosting a virtual fair this year. Specific details remain in flux.

“We are dedicated to showcasing what these 4-H’ers have learned over the year,” Kern said, adding that since the livestock auction is a major event for those clubs, staff and volunteers are working to ensure an auction of some kind will still be held, and also tune in to what the kids want from their program.

Once a month, Kern hosts a virtual to connect all the clubs. The general public is welcome to view these meetings and see what the clubs are up to.

Dropping into a meeting or two is free, Wendy said, joining a club and doing a project is $25 per year.

“We try to keep it low to no cost so that many kids may participate,” Kern said, adding that scholarships are also available.

Due to the unique nature of San Juan County, the clubs have been meeting virtually for years, Kern said. As a result, as the coronavirus shutdowns began, 4-Hers jumped seamlessly to Zoom meetings, and have been introducing new clubs that way as well.

New to the 4-H in the islands is the Lego Club, which recently began an intergalactic Lego challenge. Kern also has taken the time to contact every family with a child in 4-H to take gauge how they are feeling and coping with the pandemic.

Many families are overwhelmed, Kern said and with school being virtual as well, kids are getting “screened out.” However, as school winds down, children need another outlet.

“4-H has always been something that can be done in the backyard, kitchen or even on the living room floor,” Kern said with a laugh. “So while families may have a lot on their plate right now, it is probably in line with what they are already doing.”

For more info, visit or contact Kern at 360-370-7662 or


Lopez youth crew trail raising. (Contributed photo)

Lopez youth crew trail raising. (Contributed photo)

Orcas crew trailblazing. (Contributed photo)

Orcas crew trailblazing. (Contributed photo)