YORKTOWN — Colonial National Historical Park is participating in a first-of-its-kind workforce development program for young adults with disabilities serving at various National Park Service sites nationwide.
Part of Conservation Legacy‘s Stewards Individual Placement Program that provides service and career opportunities to strengthen communities and preserve natural resources thanks to a donation from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, the Youth Empowerment Stewards (YES) program will serve throughout the summer and fall of 2022.
Conservation Legacy notes individuals with disabilities continue to be unemployed at twice the rate of their non-disabled peers, spiking to their highest recent unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, National Park visitation has seen its highest rates in history, with 2022 expected to see even higher numbers with the return of international visitors. The YES program provides young adults with structured, challenging work and educational opportunities through service, while ensuring public lands remain accessible for all.
“This is our first year participating as a host site for the YES program. We were interested in serving as a pilot park, particularly knowing that the intern hired would be eligible for Schedule A hiring in the federal service,” said Lauren Gurniewicz, Chief of Visitor Experience and Community Engagement at Colonial National Historical Park. “I have utilized Schedule A to hire well-qualified employees here at Colonial National Historical Park and in my previous park, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
“As an inclusive workplace, we hope to expose interns to career opportunities in the NPS and other land management agencies through a continued partnership with Conservation Legacy to host YES interns here,” she continued. “While this summer’s internship was remote, park staff would love to host on-site YES interns in future years, working in a variety of park divisions. We’re also taking a leadership role by providing Schedule A and federal career information/training sessions for current YES interns from other parks that will be utilized for interns this year and in future years.”
The YES program supports self-empowerment and professional development of people of all abilities to provide jobs, hands-on work experience, and leadership development opportunities for youth from diverse backgrounds. The program is designed to connect those individuals to the nation’s heritage and cultural values through the outdoor economy; complete critical projects at National Parks; and expose youth to potential careers with public land management agencies, according to Conservation Legacy.
Stewards Individual Placement will begin recruiting for project sites for the Fall later this summer.
Currently, Colonial National Historical Park’s YES program volunteer, Olivia, is working remotely. They’re in charge of managing many of the important documents, including standard operating procedures and a volunteer handbook, helping keep the park running smoothly and efficiently.
“My own experience as an intern at Grand Canyon National Park with Conservation Legacy’s Community Volunteer Ambassador program a few years ago provided an opportunity for me to start a career as a permanent employee in the National Park Service,” said Rachele Funk, Community Engagement and Volunteer Coordinator. “After learning about Schedule A hiring and how people with disabilities represent such a small percentage of NPS employees, I wanted to advocate for the YES program and Schedule A hiring in my agency by participating as a host site for a YES intern.”
Colonial National Historical Park says it has loved working with Olivia. So much so, in fact, it has offered her an opportunity to continue working with them in a one-year-long Community Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) internship position that begins in September. In that role, she will work in the park alongside the Community Engagement and Volunteer Coordinator. The CVA will learn about volunteer program management and administration, assist volunteer supervisors, develop and lead volunteer project days in the park, and participate in community events.
For more information about Colonial National Historical Park or Stewards Individual Placement, visit their websites for details. To explore opportunities to participate in the program, check out the national park job site.