By Lauren Wanko
A generator roars as young workers restore a piece of history at Gateway National Recreation Area Sandy Hook Unit.
“We actually got the privilege to come here and work on this building,” said Kay Little.
18-year-old Little’s reconstructing the porch on historic building number 26 at Fort Hancock. He’s part of New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, a voluntary program designed for young adults ages 16 to 25, who haven’t completed high school. The program includes a combination of academic instruction and community based service projects administered by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the corps members work to get their high school equivalency diplomas.
“For these guys the intangible value of the feeling of pride in work that they do that they see out in the community every day that’s really the thing that stays with them,” said NJ Youth Corps of Phillipsburg Director Michael Muckle.
This porch project is part of HOPE Crew — Hands on Preservation Experience — an initiative launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Corps Network. HOPE Crew connects local youth corps with preservation projects, mostly on national park service land.
“What we found with the trust and working across the country on our other work is that there are many people who are retiring from the job market, who have preservation skills. We found a huge gap between those who had those skills and young people who want those skills but there really isn’t an opportunity to work on a nationally significant property,” said HOPE Crew Associate Director Monica Rhodes.
The New Jersey Youth Corps members started the project here at the end of July. Three young adults are here five days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They’re staying at the Monmouth County Long-Term Recovery Group‘s dorms and they’re working with a preservation expert. The HOPE crew program connects youth with these experts who train and guide the team members through the entire project.
“With this particular foray, we’re learning an incredible amount that we hope to be able to translate. There’s a lot of work to be done here in the park and we’re hoping that this project will be the catalyst for more,” said Muckle.
The project’s funded by the National Park Service. Building 26 is the former post headquarters for Fort Hancock, today’s it’s still the headquarters for the Sandy Hook Unit. It was severely compromised during Superstorm Sandy.
“Honestly when people come to our headquarters for meetings they see a porch they can’t even walk on,” said Gateway National Recreation Area External Affairs Officer John Warren.
The crew members receive a stipend from the youth corps. After a couple of weeks, Phil Young might have discovered a new career path.
“Originally I wanted to be a chef,” Young said. And now he said, “Possibly construction.”
Kay wants to be nurse, still he’s grateful for this.
“It will give me working experiences and how to hold a job steady and just stay focused,” Little said.
This team hopes to complete the porch in about three weeks.