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Kids who showed up for the Urban Youth Conservation Corps orientation Friday afternoon gather around to talk to staff about the program. Only 10 of the approximately 25 kids who came to the first meeting will initially get a spot on the crew.

When youth and conservation meet

New Barstow chapter of Urban Youth Conservation Corps hires local teens

This article was updated on Feb. 24, 2009 to correct the name of the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino.

BARSTOW • Thirteen-year-old Barstow Junior High School student Salvador Yniguez is one of 10 teens from public housing projects in Barstow who will soon be out twice a month working on conservation projects and earning a pay check as they go.

Yniguez already knows what he’s going to do with his stipend of $80 to $100 a month — buy wrestling gear and school supplies.

He and the other nine kids are now part of the Urban Youth Conservation Corps, a project of the nonprofit San Bernardino National Forest Association. The UYCC has had chapters in San Bernardino and Colton since 2006, said director Sandy Bonilla, but the group in Barstow is brand new.

The work crew will eventually grow to 20 or more kids between the ages of 13 and 18, all from Bartow’s public housing, she said. The project is a partnership between the SBNFA; the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino, which is providing funding; the Bureau of Land Management, which is providing projects; and Barstow Community College, which is sending instructors to lead the kids in science and engineering workshops.

Two Saturdays a month, the crews will be out building trails, planting trees, cleaning up campgrounds or rehabilitating desert areas damaged by off-road vehicle use.

Brad Mastin, an outdoor recreation planner with the Barstow BLM office, said he sees the program as a way of channeling the kids into environmental and technical careers. Their first project will be building an “outdoor classroom” on eight acres of land behind the Desert Discovery Center on Barstow Road. The teens will build a quarter-mile trail with eight teaching stations; including a small foot bridge that they will help to design and engineer.

UYCC operations manager Bobby Vega, on the other hand, came to the program with a background in gang prevention and intervention and no background in conservation. When he was working with urban youth, he wanted them to do more than pick up trash or clean graffiti, he said. They needed to learn skills that would help them in the long run.

Not only did the kids enjoy the outdoors trips and camping excursions that came along with conservation work, he hoped they would be able to jump onto the rising tide of green industry.

“It’s not all about just conservation. If it was, I wouldn’t be involved,” Vega said. “... It’s about making a difference in these people’s lives.”

Kids who might be failing science in school will learn science in the field, working alongside biologists, he said. At the same time, the program gives them an incentive to stay out of trouble, be on good behavior at home, and be responsible. Kids who violate the rules will get shunted back to the waiting list, Bonilla said.

Vega and Barstow resident William Yriarte, who works part time for the program, began making the rounds of Barstow’s public housing to recruit kids a couple of weeks ago. With only 10 slots open on the initial crew, almost 25 kids showed up to the orientation meeting Friday afternoon. Those who didn’t make it on the crew will be put on a waiting list, Bonilla said.

Although the kids said they liked the idea of working outdoors, staying away from trouble, and having something to occupy their time, the prospect of a paycheck and experience to put on their next job application were the biggest attractions.

“I don’t mind working,” 15-year-old Barstow High School student Kadijah Lewis said. “I just want to work and make some money.”

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or

More info:

For more information on the Urban Youth Conservation Corps, contact Bobby Vega at 909-963-8161 or Sandy Bonilla at 909-963-8172.

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