Making a Difference West Edition

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: L.A. Conservation Corps prepares young people for jobs

After Carlos’ father was deported, his mother had a hard time financially with that part of the family income gone.

Carlos, a young man studying robotics engineering at Cal State Northridge, was helping his family of eight making ends meet while going to school full-time. Eventually, he was left with the decision to either continue his undergraduate studies or leave school to work to help his family.

“[Carlos] decided to leave school and went to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps,” said Kea Duggan, the organization’s marketing and special projects director.

With no work experience, Carlos had difficulty finding a job. So when he saw that the corps’ South Los Angeles location was recruiting, he decided to apply.

“He applied and rose through the ranks,” Duggan said. “He did our environmental workforce training program, helped repair sidewalks all over L.A., worked on building homes for veterans. He really blossomed here.”

Now, thanks to the knowledge and skills he gained from his time with the corps, Carlos works for a global company helping collect geological data for safe building construction. Duggan believes he is getting great work experience and will eventually be able to return to school to finish his degree.

Like Carlos, many young people living in L.A. have gained work experience through the nonprofit since it was founded in 1986. Founder Mickey Kantor, a former U.S. secretary of commerce, saw how young people from underserved communities didn’t have the same opportunities and amenities as those from more affluent areas.

So he decided to create work opportunities and education access to those in disadvantaged neighborhoods to increase their chances of leading successful and productive lives.

Wendy Butts, CEO
L.A. Conservation Corps

And the organization delivers those opportunities through its three core programs. The first, the Youth Adult Corps, is for 18 to 24 year olds and follows a Green Career Pathways framework. The career routes include land management, zero waste, construction, energy and manufacturing.

Within the 28-hour work weeks, workers do projects like sidewalk repair, trail maintenance, tree planting, street and alley cleanups, community garden construction and habitat restoration, Duggan said.

For off-track middle-school and high-school students there is the Clean and Green program, which was created in 1988 to provide youth with environmental work experience.

During the program’s eight weeks, young people remove graffiti, plant trees and clean up trash from alleys and streets. The nonprofit’s website says that in partnership with the Bureau of Sanitation, more focus has been put on cleaning up trash, overgrown vegetation and bulky items from alleyways in South L.A and Council District 1.

The third is its marine science and conservation program, known as the SEA Lab in Redondo Beach. Those high school graduates, Duggan said, do public tours of the lab, run summer camps and learn about marine conservation and ecosystems, all while getting valuable job skills and training.

“Some are even in training to become California naturalists,” she added.

Through their work and programs, Duggan believes the organization is helping young people in underserved communities rise out of the circumstances they live in by giving them work opportunities and helping them finish their education.

“For some, this is the first opportunity [young people have] had to be surrounded by people who care about them,” Duggan said. “Many have said that being at the corps is like having a second family.”

As for the future of the L.A. Conservation Corps, Duggan hopes it continues to help young people access work and other opportunities that will allow them to live their best lives.

“We want them to have education and access to jobs … that they’re not overlooked because of mistakes they’ve made in their lives,” Duggan said. “We want young people to go into careers that are building their lives, that give back to their community and that provide legacy.”


Chief Executive Officer: Wendy Butts

Years in operation: 32

Annual budget: $20 million

Number of employees: over 100

Location: 605 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 450, Los Angeles, 90015