Kevin Hollenbeck is the Central Valley District Manager for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. He has worked with YOU Boston for the past five years. This summer, he is managing our youth at Cochituate State Park and their project to construct accessible picnic table for State Parks. We asked Kevin a few questions about his experience with YOU Boston.

Why do you like working with YOU Boston?

There are several reasons. First, all of the teams come with a great Team Supervisor which means they’re self sufficient. To us, that’s incredibly valuable. We can assign a goal or task that the team will accomplish with minimal direct involvement from our own staff. That’s essential for us because of how busy our park staff is. We’re getting a lot of substantial help improving our parks!

Second, most of the youth are from Boston, so they have very little experience with non-urban areas. I like to provide that experience for them so they can see what a career working in parks looks like. Even if they’re picking up trash or pruning, or managing vegetation, they’re working in a park and realizing this is something they can pursue as employment.

What projects have youth completed in the past?

One project sticks out in particular to me. A few years ago, one of the teams spent the whole summer cleaning, painting, and pruning vegetation off of one of our large fences on the Chestnut Hill Reservation. We had recently acquired the park and were undertaking many different improvement projects. Their work that summer saved us an enormous amount of time and substantially improved the park. That fence will last us for the next thirty years because of the work they put in. They were an enormous part of the improvement process that year.

How has the current DCR Work Team been this summer?

They’ve been great! We always start off slow with the new work teams so they can acquire the skills they need to finish the job correctly. But they’ve become really skilled at building the tables. There’s still a bit of learning to be done, but they’ve developed a great system with different teams assembling different parts of the table before bringing it all together. They’ve learned how to use power screwdrivers and other important tools competently. They’re also gaining really useful carpentry skills along the way.

What project are the youth currently working on?

They’re building accessible picnic tables. We have hundreds of picnic tables in each of our parks, and we need to replace all of them regularly. They either get damaged with use, worn out, or damaged during the winter season. Each year, we have to replace about 10% of all our picnic tables. We had some money in the budget to purchase the lumber, and we thought it would be a great opportunity for the work team to learn the skill. It also really helps us out because it frees up DCR staff to work on other general improvement projects.

Is there anything you wish others knew about YOU Boston?

The teams always come with great Team Supervisors, and interested youth. From a partner’s point of view, that always stands out and is very convenient. Some of the youth initially don’t seem excited to be working during the summer, but they’re always interested in learning a new skill. Before long, they’re excited to come to work. The crew always wants to learn. Even when they’re picking up trash in a park, they understand that that’s a task that needs to be done for our customers, and that’s an important lesson to learn.