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FOR THE KIDS : No Walk in the Park : Perks are few, but youths may get satisfaction from maintaining trails for the love for the environment, plus $5 an hour.

March 31, 1994|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WANTED: Teens willing to sweat under a broiling summer sun, day after day, repairing trails in the Los Padres National Forest and doing other grimy chores. Must be willing to sleep on the ground.

CREW, an Ojai-based group that puts kids to work on outdoor environmental projects, is looking for 100 or so workers for its new residential summer program.

They'll be based in remote Rose Valley, 22 miles from Ojai, where they'll sleep in Quonset-style barracks--when they're not camping out. There isn't a TV for miles. And wake-up is 6 a.m.

If it sounds more like boot camp than summer camp, you've got the picture. But on the bright side, the kids will earn $5 a hour for their labors, build up their strength and develop a sense of responsibility about the outdoors.

At least that's the goal of the organizers of CREW, which stands for Concerned Resource and Environmental Workers. The group was formed three years ago by Paul Starbard, a longtime Ojai resident and builder.

"I walked into the (U.S.) Forest Service office and said I wanted to work with youth in the forest," Starbard said.

Soon he was leading a crew of kids on weekends, grooming trails, planting trees, picking up trash, cutting weeds. In three years time, 100 or so teens have signed on. (Recently CREW took on the job of trash pickup for the GTE Golf Classic in Ojai.)

A year ago, Starbard's efforts attracted the attention of Chris Danch of Ojai, who saw such promise in the program that he quit his law practice to help expand CREW.

They got a lease from the Forest Service for a cluster of abandoned buildings in Rose Valley. Surrounded by majestic mountains, the 10-acre compound had previously been used as a minimum-security jail.

For the past several months, they have been readying the buildings--including four barracks with rows of bunks--for the arrival of the boys and girls accepted into the summer program.

There will be two six-week work sessions open to kids ages 14 to 21, the first beginning in mid-June. They'll work five days, returning home for the weekend, or they may have the option of staying the weekend at the Rose Valley site, adjacent to a lake.

"We'll start them out easy, picking up trash," Starbard said. "That gets them into shape and motivated."

Starbard has a list of projects for the kids that includes restoring fire-damaged areas of Matilija Canyon near Ojai, maintaining trails and building tables and signs.

At times, they'll work in remote areas, where they'll camp out until the work is done.

"There is a lot of hiking involved," Starbard said. "They'll be in great shape when they leave here."

But they'll get more out of it than how to swing a shovel, he said. They'll learn how to work as a team and boost their self-esteem by doing something positive for the environment.

They'll also learn a lot about nature. The newest addition to the CREW staff is Lanny Kaufer, assistant project director. He has taught outdoor education at Ojai private schools and led nature walks for 17 years. He quit his public relations job at Wheeler Hot Springs to be part of CREW.

The summer program won't be all sweat. The staff hopes to set up a library and computer lab where kids can catalogue what they see out in the field. They also have plans to stock a California native plant nursery that would be used by the Forest Service and the California Department of Transportation.

The kids aren't the only ones to benefit from their labors. The Forest Service, faced with dwindling funds, doesn't have the money it once did for keeping the forest in shape.

"We're thrilled to have CREW," said Linda Riddle, acting Ojai District ranger. "The Forest Service will depend more and more on volunteer programs like this."

By Starbard's estimate, it would cost the Forest Service three times what the kids are paid for the work they do. He and Danch have scrambled to raise funds from several sources: a federal cost-sharing program, Forest Service contracts, and donations from individuals, businesses and foundations. It's an ongoing effort.

The program benefits the young workers as much as the Forest Service, its backers say. It gives kids more than a job during hard economic times.

"It all has to do with developing self-esteem," Kaufer said. "A kid can step back, look at a trail, see that it looks better and say, 'I did that.' "

Details

* WHAT: The new summer residential work program for teens is offered by CREW (Concerned Resource and Environmental Workers).

* WHERE: Based in Rose Valley, 22 miles from Ojai, in the Los Padres National Forest. CREW's Ojai office is at 110 Matilija St. Applications are available there, as well as at the Forest Service's Ojai District office, 1190 E. Ojai Ave. in Ojai.

* WHEN: The first of two six-week summer programs begins in mid-June.

* FYI: CREW hopes to hire disabled workers for some tasks. JoAnn Kara, who is disabled, is assisting in the program in hopes of making forest lands more accessible to people with disabilities.

* ETC.: Call 646-5085

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