Midewin Youth Corps

Working with Chicago Youth Since 2012

Since 2012, we have partnered with the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to provide career pathway exposure to Chicago youth through a summer work experience. For six weeks each summer, one to two crews of eight high school students from Chicago’s North Lawndale community engage in hands-on restoration at Midewin. A first job for many participants, Midewin Youth Corps provides students with job skills, networking opportunities, and exposure to career pathways in the field of conservation.

The NFF coordinates closely with Midewin staff to plan the activities for each summer’s program. The crew works to clear invasive plants and reestablish native vegetation by planting native species, monitoring previously planted areas, and collecting native seed to be planted in later years. The crew also helps to maintain Midewin’s trail system and various other tasks to support ongoing restoration priorities. In 2021, the crew helped preserve a WWII bunker and planted native grasses in a new area on the prairie where bison will be introduced next year.

Conservation activities provide students with hands-on experience in the field and context for the education and career pathway exposure that students receive as part of the program. Midewin staff hold “Science Talks” to teach the crew about the unique role of tallgrass prairie ecosystems. Topics include:

  • Midewin’s fish and wildlife; plant identification;
  • the bison project, which began with the bison’s reintroduction to the prairie in 2015;
  • Midewin’s historic bunkers; GIS or geographic information systems, and more.

In addition to these dedicated science days, Midewin staff weave conservation education into the crew’s daily experience, ensuring that students understand the purpose behind the projects they are completing and the impact of their work on Midewin.

Every Friday, students go on a field trip to an off-site location such as the Wildlife Discovery Center, Peggy Notebaert Museum, and Starved Rock State Park. Through these field trips, crew members are able to experience the greater Chicago region.

In addition, Midewin Youth Corps partners with the Midewin-run Youth Conservation Corps, which provides a similar experience, but for youth from rural backgrounds. Pre-pandemic, youth from the two programs would take their Friday field trips together, providing the opportunity for the students to gain a better understanding of not only the natural world but also of each other.

“[The Midewin Youth Corps]...has truly helped shape my career path, perspectives, and passions.”

~2021 Midewin Youth Corps member

Watch the 2019 ABC 7 Chicago News Story below featuring the Midewin Youth Corps. Click here to read the full news story.

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Contact

Marlee Ostheimer, Conservation Partnerships Manager, at 406.830.3368 or mostheimer@nationalforests.org