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Oconaluftee Job Corps students and North Carolina NF collaborate to improve forest, lives

Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards crew heads into the forest during training. Forest Service photo by Bill Hodge.

NORTH CAROLINA — The Oconaluftee Job Corps Center and Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards recently signed an agreement that will not only improve public lands in North Carolina but also help young adults learn important skills for their futures.

“Student connection with nature is imperative. This collaboration will create more avenues for Job Corps students to value our natural resources and increase interest in wilderness stewardship. They will also be able to position themselves for future employment with the federal government and natural resource organizations,” said Jim Copeland, Center Director.

The training leads to certifications in Wilderness, Crosscut Saw, Trail Maintenance, Customer Service, and Leave No Trace Stewardship. Students also learn safety in back country, camping, and situational awareness.

"SAWS is incorporating knowledge and skills surrounding wilderness and conservation into students' lessons in Job Corps classrooms,” said SAWS Program Manager Katie Currier. “We also place students in seasonal positions that provide vital 'on the ground' work on our public lands.”

Henry Heard, Oconaluftee Job Corps student, recently participated in a work-based learning opportunity with SAWS. Henry shared, “SAWS was an exemplary experience. It made me appreciate the finer things in life. If life was complicated the wilderness made things simple. If you were bald your hair would grow and if you were short tempered you learned patience.”

Henry has recently been accepted into the Advanced Fire Management Program at Schenck Job Corps Center in Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, where his newly acquired skills from the SAWS program will be put into practice.

SAWS was founded in 2010 to respond to a regional need for stewardship focused on federally designated wilderness. They work with national forests in the mountain regions of Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia to provide stewardship through four program areas: field crews, wilderness rangers, volunteers, and education.

The Oconaluftee Job Corps Center borders tribal lands of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. The Job Corps program is the nation’s largest residential, educational, and career technical training program that prepares economically disadvantaged youth, ranging in age from 16 to 24, for productive employment. Centers are associated with national forests or grasslands and are operated by the Forest Service under an inter-agency agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, which has overall management of the Job Corps program.

Katie Currier, Jim Copeland and Bill Hodge pose with a U.S. Forest Service flag after signing an agreement between the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center and the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards. Forest Service photo by David Cohen.

Henry Heard, Oconaluftee Job Corps student, during his work-based learning opportunity with SAWS. Forest Service photo by Mason Boring.