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Montana Corps eyes local summer effort

| February 3, 2005 11:00 PM

By Steve Kadel Western News Reporter

Teenagers in Libby and Troy could make some money while developing outdoor skills and helping their communities this summer.

Montana Conservation Corps wants to bring its statewide Youth Engaged in Service program for 14- to 16-year-old boys and girls to Lincoln County.

Six teens are paired with two adult supervisors on crews that do such chores as trail maintenance, clearing litter from parks, repairing bridges or painting buildings. Part of the five-week sessions are held in town while the other time is spent working in a forest, said Cliff Kipp, Montana Conservation Corps regional supervisor from Kalispell.

He briefed Healthy Communities Initiative members on the program Tuesday during a meeting at St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital.

³It¹s for anybody who needs opportunity,² Kipp said. ³They are building major job skills and learning teamwork.

³We¹ve had the program in Kalispell and benefited that community. Now I¹d like to bring it out here. We¹re specifically talking about kids from Libby and Troy.²

Although participants who complete five weeks of work receive $350, Kipp said money isn¹t the teens¹ biggest reward. Those who took part during past summers say the program boosted their self-confidence and gave them a sense of community responsibility, Kipp said.

Each five-week session costs $12,000 to run. Kipp said the conservation corps chips in $2,000 of that, with the rest paid by the local community.

A sponsoring agency usually provides $6,000 toward the local cost, Kipp said, leaving $4,000 to raise in whatever way possible.

HCI members who spoke at the meeting supported the idea. Paul Rumelhart, executive director of Kootenai River Development Council Inc., suggested that Stimson Lumber Co. or Revett Silver Co. might be interested in sponsorship if the project included work on railroad tracks they use.

³The spikes need to be pounded back down, and we need a lot of weed control,² Rumelhart said.

Libby City Councilman Gary Huntsberger noted the Kootenai River bridge needs a new deck.

³That¹s a project, too,² he said. ³There are lots of potential projects, it¹s just prioritizing them.²

Rumelhart added that fund-raising depends on finding the right jobs for a crew to tackle.

³The benefit of the projects will drive acquisition of money,² he said.

Kipp emphasized that crew leaders are experienced in youth development because building the youngsters¹ work ethic is one of the goals. Also, he said applicants are interviewed along with their parents to fully explain the program and gain support of the family.

No particular socio-economic level is targeted, he said, and past crews have consisted of teens with a range of backgrounds. It¹s not intended as help for troubled or at-risk kids, Kipp said in response to a question.

There usually are many more applicants than can be accommodated. Kipp said it¹s normal for 30 kids to vie for six spots on a crew.

John Desch, Libby District director for Flathead Electric Cooperative Inc., liked what he heard.

³It gives kids an alternative,² Desch said.

Local communities must decide by late March if they¹re interested, Kipp said. That¹s because adult crew supervisors must be lined up, dates for sessions need to be set, and recruiting of interested teens typically starts in mid-April.

A session in Libby was tentatively set for July 19 to Aug. 19, if local interest is sufficient. Kipp took phone numbers of those at the meeting and said he will contact them for an update in a few weeks.

³It¹s pretty beneficial,² he said of the program. ³It¹s a great opportunity.²