Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Thankful Conservation Corps

(L-R) Betty Webb, Danny Collins, Will Collins, Holden Foley, Mayor Van Johnson,
Eric Coleman, Joe Taylor and Jeanette Taylor accepting a $25K check from Duke Energy

By Joe Taylor, Executive Director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Inc.

In the week before Thanksgiving, the newly established Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast (CCFC) had many reasons to be thankful.

On Monday evening, November 23, seventeen corps members along with Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson, CCFC Champion; Danny Collins, Duke Energy Community Relations; parents, program leaders, and community volunteers gathered at St. Patrick’s Church Hall for a Thanksgiving meal, graduation ceremony and community assessment.

A highlight of the evening was Duke Energy Foundation’s announcement of $25,000 to support the conservation crew members’ preparation for on-the-job training opportunities scheduled to begin in January with the Nature Conservancy supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the coordination of the Corps Network out of Washington DC.

Mayor Johnson participated in a community assessment where corps members evaluated the region on 9 issues including transportation, healthcare, jobs, wages, banking, housing, predators, education, and leadership.  After a lively discussion, the group came to a consensus that the primary barriers to local community success were first, affordable housing; second quality educational opportunities; and third, low wages.

The Mayor presented certificates of completion for the week long “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” training that was held November 16-20 at the Franklin’s Promise Coalition offices.  Participants learned about the theory of change, the use of language, the hidden rules of economic class, and the eleven resources for a successful life and produced a plan with realistic personal goals.

“We are so proud of these young adults. They were really committed to the process and I cannot believe how they contributed to the discussions. We all learned so much about the barriers they face in our community” stated Jeanette Taylor, Program Coordinator.

(L-R) Former Mayor Alan Pierce, Mayor Van Johnson & Former Mayor Boyd "Sandy" Howze

On the prior Saturday evening, November 21, the first fundraising event for the CCFC was the Mayor's’ Gala hosted by H’COLA and Franklin’s Promise Coalition.  Mayor Johnson initiated the Gala to bring the community together. Based on his personal experience as a conservation crew member serving on St. Vincent Island during the early 80’s, he spoke about how his Corps experience influenced his life.  He pulled together a team to organize the effort; Fonda Davis as event Co-Chair, Elinor Mount-Simmons, Tami Ray-Hutchinson, Curt Blair, and Joe Taylor. H’COLA members worked like a fine tuned machine to produce a beautiful event. Guests of honor were Mayors Alan Pierce and Sandy Howze (and his lovely wife Edna).  A superb meal was served by Heavenly Catering, exceptional entertainment was provided by The Gary Farr Big Band coordinated by Bo May, photography and video was captured by Tamara Seaman, and Valentina Webb delivered the invocation.

The Corps is most grateful to the sponsors, those who financially invested in the young corps members’ work; Helen Willis-Escobar (also served as event Co-Chair), Katharine Willis, Rose McCoy/M&M Monuments, Curt and Beth Blair, Beard Equipment Company, Ring Power Corporation, Water Street Seafood, the City of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson and First Lady Gail, George Kirvin Floyd, Preble-Rish Engineers, the Honey Hole, Shaun Donahoe, Barbara Holmes, Francis Edwards, Sand Grain Photography and Rio Carrabelle.

As the keynote to honor the Mayors, Tami Ray-Hutchinson shared the concept of “ONE”, One City, One Voice, One Vision, centered on the philosophy that we are all one people, regardless of where we live, our age, our political views, our race, our religious beliefs, our resources. Tami reminded us that we are our strongest when we come together as “ONE”. (Click here to read her remarks in their entirety)

Conservation crew members volunteered to support the event and shared these comment with Elinor Mount-Simmons, H”COLA President.

“This week with CCFC has been so much more than a training opportunity for me. I was introduced to my new family.  This program has opened the first of many doors of success in my life.  I am proud to be able to say that I am part of this team and I am excited for not just mine but all of our futures. Thank you for this once in a lifetime opportunity”, said a new Crew Member.

“This program has opened my eyes and made me realize [that] there is a chance for everyone to succeed,” said a Crew Leader.

“This has been an amazing experience.  I love how I wake up every morning and want to come straight to work. When I get to work I see a lot of loving and caring people as soon as I walk in the door. I could not ask for a better crew or work place”, said another Crew Leader.

“This experience overall has been a catalyst for growth and expansion. Working out in nature has been an overwhelmingly delightful and refreshing experience, and the information learned in the academic portion of the program has served me quite well.  Tools for future job sites and a broad [range] of job experiences have been acquired to give my tool belt less empty spots”, concluded the last of three Crew Leaders.

The end-of-year giving campaign to support the conservation corps crew members is active through December 31st. All contributions are tax deductible. For further information about the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast contact Franklin's Promise Coalition at (850) 653-3930.