Along the roads in and around Occidental, you'll hear the sound of chipper/shredders, chainsaws and weed trimmers. It's part of a state-funded project to create and maintain fire-safe pathways for residents who may need to evacuate from a wildfire. Sure, there's a lot of weed cutting, but it's also about clearing out the shrubs and smaller trees that make up the understory.
Megan Meder is natural resources manager with Conservation Corps North Bay, or CCNB. She said a project like this takes careful planning "to thin the dense vegetation so fire cannot move easily from the ground up into the overhead canopy."
Doing this hard work are teams of eight-to-ten young people who are CCNB members. They're usually easy to spot in their bright green helmets. Their work is part of a much larger program that provides services to the community and the chance to learn teamwork and outdoor trade skills, and accomplish other goals.
Franky Gonzales has been a CCNB corps member for a couple of years and said he was grateful for a way forward.
"We lost our house back in the crash so I dealt with homelessness two to three years," Gonzales said. "That's kinda why I also didn't finish my high schooling; this program was able to give me the opportunity to get my high school diploma."
Not having it, he said, kept him from getting the kind of jobs he was interested in.
"I realized how [many] places did not hire me because I had no high school diploma," Gonzales said.
But it wasn't just jobs he was missing out on.
"I actually want to go to college," Gonzales said. "I want to study botany."
Gonzales said he feels it would be a good fit for job he's already got a lead on from being in the program.
"Caltrans...because I've been working a lot with them and I've been talking to one of the main supervisors there - he wanted to give me a shot," Gonzales told KRCB. And as for college, "I've been thinking about doing that and attending night school for my botany classes," he said.
Ambition is not in short supply among corps members.
Meet Whitney Brodersen, who harbors ambitions of going into nursing. Brodersen is a corps member who also experienced homelessness before entering the program nine months ago. She said she was referred through a social advocates for youth shelter, and that her first day in the field was a lesson in hard work and camaraderie.
"I remember my first tree I cut - I cried," Brodersen said. "Because the supervisor was like everyone come watch Whitney cut her first tree... and I was like NOPE, go away!"
December will mark one year for her in the CCNB. Brodersen said she hopes to start coursework for nursing in the spring.
While the work they're doing is hard, there's some truth to adage 'time flies when you're having fun.'
"They like to do these before-and-after pictures and while I'm working I'm like we didn't get that much done," Brodersen said. "Then I see the after picture versus the before picture and It's just like wow, we got a lot done."