(Cook County) – The Forest Preserve Experience (FPE) Program has been named the recipient of the 2018 Nan McKay & Associates Resident Service Honorable Mention. The Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC) accepted the award on Monday, Feb. 25 at the annual NMA Housing Conference in New Orleans, LA.
First launched in 2007, the NMA Housing Awards recognize individual agency performance and honor excellence in the affordable housing industry. The awards are open to housing authorities and associations throughout the United States, who may enter in two categories: the Development Award and the Resident Service Award. The Resident Service Award honors leaders in community outreach and efforts to improve the future of families.
Since partnering with HACC in 2017, the five-week FPE summer internship program introduces high school-aged residents from HACC’s Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and Public Housing programs to work and education throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC). Throughout the summer, HACC youth (also known as Crew Members) engage in rewarding and valuable physical work outdoors on conservation and restoration projects in the Forest Preserves’ jurisdiction.
Throughout each week, time is also devoted to learning about the local environment where Crew Members have the opportunity to participate in a number of environmental enrichment activities, such as hiking, canoeing, and other recreational opportunities. Participants also met with and learned from conservation professionals, participated in a Green Career Panel, and participated in a “Smart Money” class presented by HACC.
FPE is made possible through a sustained partnership between a number of public and non-profit organizations. HACC, FPCC, Friends of the Forest Preserves (FOTFP), and the Forest Preserve Foundation (FPF) all play critical roles that have led to the success of the program.
“Thanks to the continued collaboration between the Forest Preserves, Friends of the Forest Preserves, the Forest Preserve Foundation and the Housing Authority of Cook County, nearly 100 youth experienced a meaningful employment opportunity and learned the skills needed for successful futures,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Participating in summer work programs broadens the horizons of our youth by exposing them to a variety of conservation-related career paths.”
One goal of FPE is to retain youth who are passionate about conservation, and lead them into other Conservation Corps programs, such as the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps.
“We hope by participating in this summer jobs program, each participant knows the potential for future career paths related to conservation and the environment,” said Arnold Randall, General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves. “Whatever their interests may be, this is a growing industry that includes opportunities in environmental law, environmental advocacy, wildlife biology, forestry and more.”
In 2018, FPE expanded in terms of enrollment and location. Compared to 48 Crew Members in 2017, 84 youth enrolled in the 2018 FPE class. The number of adult leaders expanded as well from 9 to 19, all hired from the local communities. In terms of location, the program was solely concentrated in the south suburban Forest Preserves in 2017. In 2018, FPE added another south suburban work site and Crew Members were employed in the western suburbs as well.
“The growth that this program has seen over the years reflects the desire of our youth to reach their full potential. The skills they have learned by taking that all-important step toward adulthood, a summer job, will serve them for the rest of their lives, said Richard Monocchio, Executive Director of the HACC. “This award is a testament to all of the hard work HACC youth have put in through this program”
FOTFP’s support is crucial to the staffing and administrative structure of FPE. Crew leaders are supervised by FOTFP employees and FOTFP administrative staff members are responsible for processing applications, interviews and selection of Crew Members.
“Friends of the Forest Preserves is
highly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and is intentional about
working with a wide range of people to ensure those working and volunteering in
the conservation arena in Cook County reflect the people that live here,” said
Benjamin Cox, Executive Director of FOTFP. “The preserves belong to everyone
and everyone should be given the opportunity to enjoy, learn from, recreate in,
and help them. FPE is a wonderful way to introduce and ensure a life-long
connection to preserves for these kids.”
The Housing Authority of Cook County and the Forest Preserve Foundation provided funding for last year’s Forest Preserve Experience. The Foundation was the major donor for FPE, providing two grants totaling $125,000. Commissioner Deborah Sims helped secure $75,000 of the Foundation’s contribution thanks to a grant from Illinois Counties Association.
“The Forest Preserve Foundation has supported the Forest Preserve Experience since its inception” said Shelley A. Davis, President. “The return on this investment is obvious. Program alumni are able to compete in the marketplace for better, higher-paying jobs and contribute to their household economy,” she added. “We look forward to supporting FPE for years to come.”
To learn more about partnership opportunities with FPE, contact Holly Wallace, HACC’s Manager of Educational Programs and Partnerships, at 847-779-3585 or [email protected]