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It’s time for a Massachusetts Service Corps

Published: 5/21/2020 2:19:50 PM

Modified: 5/21/2020 2:19:40 PM

In the midst of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) reshaped the face of rural America.

In less than a decade, “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” became one of the most successful programs in American history, with nearly three million young men, aged 17-28, in its ranks. By the end of the program, these corpsmen had established 700 new parks, assembled over 40,000 bridges and planted 3.5 billion trees across the country.

The CCC quickly became a fixture in every community across the nation, providing economic relief to the hard-hit youth of the Great Depression. In Massachusetts alone, this program had 31 camps and over 6,200 corps members helping with projects spanning from the Berkshire mountains to Cape Cod.

Known for its deep commitment to serving the community, developing local youth and creating the next generation of service-oriented leaders, the CCC was a remarkable program for our country. As our commonwealth faces yet another economic downturn from COVID-19, it’s clear that we must revive the Massachusetts CCC.

Fortunately, policymakers have a roadmap. In addition to President Roosevelt’s model, we can also examine several states that have adapted their own modern versions. Whether we look to our fellow New Englanders in Vermont, our neighbors across the border in New York, or states out West like Montana and California, there are several active and flourishing Service Corps programs Massachusetts can emulate.

This Massachusetts Service Corp could provide a low cost option to tackle the unique environmental, conservation and infrastructure needs of our state, 59% of which is classified as rural. Additionally, the program could be further divided into regional corps, allowing for groups like a North Quabbin or Pioneer Valley Service Corps — where the focus can be on projects that serve unique community needs.

In addition to providing a much-needed jolt to our rural economy, the Massachusetts Service Corps can serve other purposes. Similar to the long-term effects of serving in the military, young adults who serve as corps members receive numerous developmental benefits like training, vocational skills, communication, budgeting and leadership.

Usually serving for one to two years, corps members often look back on their experience as a launch board to their personal confidence and careers and as a transformative period where they learned the value of service. The Massachusetts Service Corps could also serve as a pipeline and training ground for the state’s many vocational schools.

Wherever Corps programs are developed, it is one of the few programs in the country that enjoys widespread support. Corps programs are powerful tools to help build communities, capacity, infrastructure, engagement and the economy. They are also great for young adults, future employers and community leaders. These programs build the present and prepare for the future; and give our younger members of the community a reason to stick around, reducing the brain drain across our state.

My proposed Massachusetts Service Corps has the flexibility to become a stand-alone entity within the Department of Conservation and Recreation or expand upon existing initiatives like the Student Conservation Association. Whatever final form this program takes, it is time we had leaders who put forth creative and innovative ideas. It is time the region took concrete steps to secure our future. It is time we founded the Massachusetts Service Corps.

William LaRose is a candidate for state representative of the 2nd Franklin District.

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