Promoting Environmental Justice and Youth Engagement

Steven SchauerUncategorized

By Steven Schauer, Deputy Executive Director

The data speaks volumes about the urgent need for programs aimed at creating equity across all sectors, particularly within the environmental space. People of color bear the brunt of environmental problems yet remain significantly underrepresented in positions of power. A study by Green 2.0 highlights that while 27% of interns hired into green jobs are people of color, only 14.5% are in leadership roles and a mere 8% occupy board positions in green NGOs, government agencies, and foundations.

A New Response to Environmental Justice and Jobs & Sustainable Livelihoods

The King County Flood Control District (KCFCD) is steadfast in its commitment to environmental stewardship, equity, social justice, and environmental justice, particularly in our flood mitigation capital projects, which aim to incorporate ten additional multibenefits, including Environmental Justice and Jobs & Sustainable Livelihoods. This commitment, however, is woven into every aspect of our work, not just the capital projects we fund.

In November 2023, the KCFCD’s Board of Supervisors instructed the executive director to collaborate with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks and other non-profit organizations to either create a new internship program or enhance an existing one. Supervisor Rod Dembowski spearheaded the inclusion of this initiative and its funding in the KCFCD’s 2024 budget, earning unanimous support from the other Supervisors. The directive emphasized developing workforce pathways that provide career opportunities and living wage jobs for youth in areas related to climate change, habitat restoration, and flood risk reduction. The program was mandated to recruit participants from traditionally disadvantaged communities and offer the necessary support for a successful experience.

Rod Dembowski, Supervisor, District 1, King County Flood Control District

Speaking on this new internship effort, Supervisor Dembowski remarked, “Engaging young people in King County’s environmental stewardship is a win-win. Aimed at recruiting young people from resilient communities, I sponsored this program to give kids in this region valuable training in environmental stewardship, a leg up into educational and job opportunities focused in these areas, and exposure to a wealth of knowledge about our local environmental challenges and solutions from the county’s experienced workforce. In return, the county will benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of our young people in combatting climate change and the potential pipeline this program establishes for future employees with an understanding and passion for caretaking the amazing natural resources in our region.”

King County Parks Youth Conservation Corps

In a joint effort with King County, which serves as the service provider to the KCFCD, it was decided to channel the new funds into the existing King County Parks Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) internship program. Established following a 2019 levy passed by King County voters, the YCC aims to build pathways for the next generation of park and environmental leaders through paid summer internships for high school students. The program prioritizes students from historically underrepresented backgrounds, fostering a sense of community and belonging while providing insight into careers in land management, parks, and the environmental sector.

The YCC program is based on principles of youth engagement, agency, and positive youth development, incorporating best practices in experiential learning. Interns gain:

  • Increased knowledge of environmental careers and topics.
  • Leadership and career development skills.
  • A sense of belonging and connection through hands-on learning.
  • Critical thinking about local and global environmental challenges.
  • An understanding of the importance of equity and social justice in environmental work.
  • The belief that they can make a difference.

Expanding the YCC with KCFCD Funding

“The Youth Conservation Corps is a transformative program where teen interns learn about environmental career pathways, cultivate valuable skills, and contribute to the preservation of our natural resources,” said Warren Jimenez, King County Parks Director. “This additional funding from the King County Flood Control District will allow us to offer this opportunity to even more young people who will go on to make a positive impact in their communities.”

With the additional funding from KCFCD, the YCC plans to expand its 2024 internship cohort from 10 to 16 youth. Further expansion utilizing KCFCD funding is planned for 2025, increasing the number of interns from 16 to 20. The application period for the 2024 cohort has already closed, with interns starting their six-week paid internship on Monday, July 8, earning between $19.17 and $24.30 per hour. The internship includes:

  • Hands-on learning through weekly restoration projects in local parks.
  • Networking opportunities with King County Parks staff and local environmental groups.
  • Interactive workshops on environmental topics.
  • Field trips to King County Parks.
  • Youth-driven independent projects.

YCC’s Impact

Michelle Clark, Executive Director for the KCFCD, expressed enthusiasm about the partnership with King County, stating, “The King County Flood Control District is excited about collaborating in this important new way with our partners at King County. The Flood Control District’s funds are expanding King County Park’s YCC internship program, which has already demonstrated its worth with outstanding results in just a few short years.”

Since its inception, the YCC has employed 30 youth as paid interns, with 83% identifying as Black, Indigenous, and people of color from 20 different schools throughout King County. These interns have contributed nearly 130 hours of restoration efforts in five high-use urban parks in South King County, completed creative independent projects that further their connection to parks, and have met with dozens of professionals to explore local environmental challenges and solutions.

Michelle Clark

The upcoming summer of 2024 is set to bring in another cohort of teens eager to explore environmental careers. Post-internship feedback indicates:

  • Increased awareness of local environmental challenges and solutions.
  • A stronger connection to King County Parks.
  • Enjoyment and satisfaction from restoration work.
  • Improved communication skills.
  • New knowledge about environmental careers.

KCFCD and King County Parks YCC

The KCFCD’s support for the YCC exemplifies its dedication to fostering environmental justice and empowering the next generation of environmental leaders. Through this initiative, the KCFCD not only addresses the urgent need for equity in the environmental sector but also cultivates a skilled and diverse workforce ready to tackle the environmental challenges of the future. This collaboration with King County to expand the YCC program stands as a testament to the positive impact of strategic investments in youth and environmental stewardship.