(Arlington, VA) — Young conservation volunteers have long helped shape America’s public lands. Now, research reveals that service to the land also shapes young volunteers, and a new pilot program is underway to enhance and deliver these positive developmental outcomes to young people nationwide.
The Student Conservation Association (SCA), the national leader in youth service and stewardship, today announced it has received more than $670,000 from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to implement a capacity-building program designed to strengthen SCA’s unique approach to character development through service to nature.
Studies of SCA participants indicate SCA service strengthens numerous life skills, including decision-making, teamwork and perseverance, which foster optimal advancement and lifelong growth.
SCA President & CEO Jaime B. Matyas says the Bechtel Foundation’s support will enable SCA to institutionalize its program framework and enhance the training provided to adult practitioners who supervise program participants in the field.
“For sixty years, SCA has seen outdoor, hands-on service transform young people from all backgrounds and cultures,” says Matyas. “Now we know that individual development happens not alongside this service, but because of it. With funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, SCA intends to identify best practices, refine our curricula, and eventually share our methodologies with other youth-serving organizations to impact the largest possible number of young leaders.”
Evaluations show that peer interaction and adult role models or mentors are key factors in SCA’s youth development outcomes, according to Matyas, along with inspiring outdoor settings, challenging team-based projects and opportunities for reflection.
“SCA’s track record in character development through service to nature is unrivaled,” states S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation Program Officer Alex Hooker. “We are pleased to help SCA formalize its developmental road map and to assist both the organization and the field in advancing the understanding, practice, and outcomes of nature-based experiences related to character development in youth.”
Pre- and post-service studies by the Search Institute, an international authority on what youth need to succeed, demonstrate SCA volunteers exit the program with substantially improved character skills including self-awareness, emotional competence, communication and leadership capabilities, as well as stronger connections to nature and a greater capacity to think critically and act positively on environmental issues.
SCA members aged 15-19 generally serve on crews charged with habitat restoration or trail building, while those 18+ serve as apprentices to professional resource management staffs. Service sites range from national parks and forests to municipal green spaces.
About the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invests in youth-serving organizations in California and across the nation that are committed to using data to improve and sustain at scale the character development practices of adult staff and volunteers. The Foundation engages with youth development partners to identify promising adult practices that build youth character, and helps these organizations translate this knowledge into trainings and professional development for adult staff and volunteers.
About the Student Conservation Association
The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is America’s largest and most effective youth conservation service organization. SCA conserves lands and transforms lives by empowering young people of all backgrounds to plan, act, and lead, while they protect and restore our natural and cultural resources. Founded in 1957, SCA’s mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders, and 70% of its 85,000 alumni are employed or studying in conservation-related fields. For more, visit www.thesca.org.