March 6, 2024

SCA Maintenance Action Teams and Youth Corp Team Up for Historic Preservation Trades

Modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) was established in 1957 to put young people to work to meet the growing demands of visitors to national parks during the rise of popularity in outdoor recreation following World War II. Sixty-seven years and 100,000 members later, SCA has broadened the traditional understanding of conservation work to include climate resilience, habitat restoration, wildfire management, and more recently, historic preservation.

Regardless of the scope of work or project site, all SCA programs are designed to provide youth and young adults with opportunities to engage in service-learning projects, build job readiness skills, and develop social, emotional, and leadership skills. These core elements along with SCA’s organizational infrastructure provided the foundation for a youth corps version of the Maintenance Action Teams (MAT) funded through the Great American Outdoor Act (GAOA). With a few adjustments to the classic SCA Crew and Corps model, I built out a sequenced program that engages young people interested in preservation trades.

The crew pauses work for a picture while installing cedar shingles.

photo by: Molly Diggins

The crew pauses work for a picture while installing cedar shingles at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

Ace gives a thumbs up while working on the siding of Darrah Hall

photo by: Gabby Blanchette

Ace gives a thumbs up while working on the siding of Darrah Hall at Reconstruction Era National Historic Park.

Beyond a Pilot Program

Following a pilot of the program, SCA’s Maintenance Action Teams tackled projects at Reconstruction Era National Historical Park and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Beaufort and Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, with support from the Moe Family Fund for Statewide and Local Partners as part of work with the Preservation Priorities Task Force. SCA leveraged GAOA funds to partner with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC) and fielded two crews to complete deferred maintenance and historic preservation work. After a week of program orientation, team building, and Historic Preservation Fundamentals training, the crew was ready to pick up their tools and get to work.

At the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, three SCA members and one crew leader worked with HPTC staff to complete two major projects at the Snee Farm. The crew leader and two of the crew members were graduates of the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Corps, another SCA historic preservation training program. First, members deconstructed an exterior wall of the barn, replaced it, and painted the new siding.

For the second project, the crew prepped, repaired, and painted shutters on the main farmhouse and visitor's center. Members worked alongside park and HPTC staff to refine their skills and learn some new ones. With their previous experience, they moved through the projects with intention and focused on quality work while also learning tricks of the trade from the NPS staff.

At the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, located on St. Helena Island at the Penn Center in Beaufort County, two SCA members and one crew leader restored the exterior of Darrah Hall, the home of the first school in the South for formerly enslaved students. The crew honed their carpentry and painting skills and gained construction experience through the removal and replacement of rotted siding, a section of the front porch, and the gable shingles.

Crew member takes measurement of window opening on rear of barn at Snee Farm.

photo by: Molly Diggins

Crew member takes measurement of window opening on rear of barn at Snee Farm at Charles Pinckney National Historic Site.

The crew also assisted with smaller projects such as constructing a lean-to for storage and rebuilding a fence around the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park HVAC units in downtown Beaufort. Both projects were intended to be completed in 2022 but were delayed due to the backlog of deferred maintenance projects around the country.

Expanding Impact

While the tasks to complete these projects seem straightforward, the impact was felt beyond just the work that was done. SCA emphasizes both quality project work and member experience as high priority. The sense of accomplishment the crew felt as they cleaned, prepped, and painted the exterior of Darrah Hall is as important as the finished product. One of the crew members, Ace, said of her experience, “It was an honor to have worked on Darrah Hall at the Penn Center, a staple location of Black American educational history. As an all-woman crew, I am proud of how we rose to the occasion to work at various parks this term.” The SCA crew leader, Gabby Blanchette, also commented on the impressive visual impact of seeing Darrah Hall before and after their season at the park.

Another outcome of the program is training a pipeline of preservation tradespeople, which is vital. Preservation Maryland and Campaign for Historic Trades completed a labor study that identified that around 100,000 preservation trades workers will be necessary to address the need to preserve and restore historic buildings. Critical components of the historic preservation programs at SCA, especially the Maintenance Action Teams, is job placement in the preservation trades or allowing crew members to seamlessly transition into another MAT crew at a new location to gain additional skills. This model has proven to be effective and benefits the crew members and the historic sites involved.

For example, upon completion of the projects at Reconstruction Era and Charles Pinckney, all the crew members and leaders reported a job or internship. Two members continued into park interpretation and archaeology internships. One leader and three crew members continued to the next SCA MAT crew location in Springfield, MA. Another member, Quin, was hired by HPTC in the Southwest as a preservation carpenter.

“Participating in two SCA historic preservation programs made me stand out as an applicant,” Quin expressed, “I came into HPTC feeling confident in my skills because of my experience. Not only did I learn hard skills such as carpentry and masonry, I learned soft skills, which allowed me to grow as both a leader and a teammate.”

A final member, Gabby, continued to work in preservation as the Program Assistant with the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Corps. She stated her positions with the SCA MAT program “helped me realize my potential in historic preservation as an anthropology undergrad. I'm proud to say that I will be continuing to work with SCA on many historic buildings that need our preservation skills.”

Finally, the SCA MAT program aims to increase accessibility for preservation trades training for those with limited experience. Members and leaders are paid for their time in addition to other benefits, such as provided housing and paid professional certifications. The program is designed to meet applicants where they are and provide exceptional training to prepare for a career. One member at a time, SCA is addressing that need for preservation craftspeople while changing what the field looks like. On average, 80 percent of the participants in SCA historic preservation training programs are women while a majority of the field is male.

Darrah Hall at Penn Center, Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, before the crew began work

photo by: Gabby Blanchette

Darrah Hall at Penn Center, Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, before the crew began work.

The crew sits in front of Darrah Hall at Penn Center, Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, after the crew completed projects.

photo by: Gabby Blanchette

The crew sits in front of Darrah Hall at Penn Center, Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, after the crew completed projects.

Lessons Learned

One big lesson learned for anyone who wants to start a preservation trades training opportunity is do not try to start from scratch. The reason these MAT crews work is because we simply expanded an already successful crew model. There are many examples of successful programming out there that could be adjusted to fit your idea for a preservation – or other trades - training program.

The Youth Corps model at SCA worked for our crews because of the emphasis the organization puts on building the next generation of leaders and getting solid work done. We are working with people; humans that are looking to enhance their lives while building skills in historic trades. Our crew members go on to do amazing things and that’s what this is all about.

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A woman in a blue shirt that says "conservation begins here" and a logo with the letters SCA smiles at the camera. There is grass and a natural landscape behind her.

Nina Peppers is the Senior Manager for Historic Preservation at the Student Conservation Association (SCA). She started with SCA in 2016 as a crew leader and entered the preservation field with the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Corps in 2018. That particular program inspired her to continue in preservation trades and build more opportunities for young people to enter the field.

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