SCA Community Crews Working in a Chicago Park

Today, only 6% of children play outside on their own. Those who do enjoy less than eight minutes a day in unrestricted outdoor activities. Yet the average teenager spends 10 hours a day staring at an electronic screen.

In urban areas, the disconnect between youth and nature is even more acute. But here in Chicago, SCA—which launched the American youth conservation movement nearly 60 years ago—is spearheading a new drive to engage young people in hands-on service in the very neighborhoods they call home.

With an active focus on under-served populations, we provide students from all backgrounds with empowering opportunities to preserve city parks, explore the local ecology, and discover their own potential. Independent studies confirm that SCA members gain greater self-esteem and direction, enhanced critical-thinking and focus, and improved fitness and stamina.

Additionally, as students advance along a continuum of conservation experiences, they build the skills and insights necessary to lead effectively, practice lifelong stewardship and succeed in their careers.

Following their initial service, some SCA members return to lead the programs on which they once volunteered; others progress to become interns with the Friends of the Forest Preserves, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, or distant locations like Yellowstone and Acadia. And with seven in 10 SCA alumni employed or studying in the conservation field, their influence will reach across local governments, businesses and communities for many years to come.


over 12,000 volunteer hours a year Serving chicago youth and lands.

Chicago Special Initiatives:

SCA Chicago Community Program

The Chicago Community Program provides year-round conservation opportunities divided into two seasons: school-year programs (running October through May) and summer programs (running July through August), offering both volunteer and paid service opportunities to high school aged youth. Participants build trails and restore habitat while exploring green career opportunities, building leadership skills, and learning about the local environment through environmental education field trips, outdoor recreation, service projects and green jobs training. Learn more

Centennial Volunteer Ambassadors

In advance of the National Park Service’s 2016 centennial, these interns will assist the new Pullman National Monument and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore NPS in increasing volunteer engagement. The Ambassadors will focus on recognized service dates such as Earth Day and MLK Day while also developing original annual events on a local basis to ensure ongoing community engagement and outreach.

Jardincito Crew

This new team is comprised of five young adults from the Little Village community, all of whom are graduates of SCA’s Chicago Community Crews. An important part of the SCA service-learning continuum, this program provides members with increasingly advanced and challenging positions and serves as a pilot for other community projects in Chicago and elsewhere.

Chicago Urban Treehouse

Chicago Urban Treehouse, in partnership with BP America, provides environmental education programming to Chicagoland students grades K-8. Urban Treehouse programs are meant to guide urban youth of all backgrounds to understand ecological concepts, become aware of how the environment relates to their lives, and get involved in conservation projects that improve the wellbeing of the whole community. Topics include animals and ecosystems, the web of life, urban pollution and solutions, waste and recycling, and nature-inspired art.

River Region Restoration

Focusing on two distinct regions within the Calumet, Eggers and Whistler Woods, SCA crews are removing invasive plants along the Calumet and Chicago Rivers as well as the Burnham Greenway bike trail, improving the state of these resources while using the outdoors and a classroom and teaching participating students about their local environment.

“Five months ago, I was your typical teenager: hanging with friends, staying up all night, eyes glued to any technology I could get my hands on, thinking ‘what does the environment have to do with me? The reality of the situation is that the environment has everything to do with me. Thanks to SCA, I now look at everything through a green lens.”

— SCA Member BreShaun Spikes

SCA has been chosen by the Boeing Company to receive a $50,000 grant to support SCA Chicago’s Community Programs. The award enhances SCA’s ability to provide a continuum of programs offereing seasonal conservation employment, environmental education, youth development, and career pathway planning activities to more than 100 high school students and young adults. SCA is honored to have received this highly competitive award from Boeing.

News, Stories & Projects

Volunteers in Chicago for the Earthkeepers Unite event.

On Thursday, September 27th, SCA, Timberland, Journeys, and many local partners came together to transform The Blue Island Corridor from an abandoned lot into a renewed green space. Over 70 participants teamed up to green about 3,500 square feet totaling more than 400 conservation service hours.

Read more

In celebration of Earth Day, SCA brought together 330 volunteers from across the Chicago area for a Find Your Park Day of Service at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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Young Students at Chicagoland doing an exercise with SCA's Urban Treehouse program

For a child, few places pack the wonder of a tree house. A tree house spurs recreation, observation and imagination. As the youngster climbs, the mind soars and even the stars seem within reach.

Last fall, SCA brought its Urban Tree House to Chicagoland. A unique environmental education curriculum, the Urban Tree House connects city kids with the natural world around them…a world that for many had yet to be discovered.

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SCA Board member Ernest C. Wong (inset) and Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chicago

Look around a national park and you may see brown bears, blue herons, or Redwood trees.

But you’re less likely to see any people of color.  Statistically, 80% of park visitors are white as are park staffs, even as projections show whites will be in the minority within 30 years.

As the National Park Service counts down to its Centennial, I struggle with the lack of diversity in national parks, and why even our urban park systems are segregated. 

Read more


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Contact Info

SCA Chicago
224 South Michigan Ave.
Suite 400
Chicago, IL 60604

Local Parks and Community Partners

  • Montrose Avenue Beach
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • NeighborSpace
  • Northerly Island
  • River Trail Nature Center
  • Sagawau Environmental Learning Center
  • Sand Ridge Nature Center
  • Sierra Club
  • US Forest Service International
  • Programming
  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge, Savanna District
  • Crab Orchard NWR
  • Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation
  • Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
  • RTCA Midwest Region
  • Lake Shelbyville

Chicago Area Internships