Inaugural class of Chesapeake Conservation Corps chosen

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 10:33 PM

Meet Maryland's first class of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, a sort of Peace Corps for the Chesapeake Bay.

Among 16 young adults introduced Monday at a ceremony in Millersville were Elliott Wright, 24, with tattoos snaking around his thick forearms, who said he was excited and ready. "They say they've got a lot of things for me to do," said Wright, a Baltimore resident.

Also there was Jennifer Carr, 24, of Lancaster, Pa., who said she came across the conservancy's recruitment ad for the corps while surfing online - one day before applications were due. "I was looking for conservation opportunities. It's a great start," she said.

The corps members will pair with 16 watershed organizations and government agencies such as the South River Federation and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for one year to develop career skills that organizers hope will encourage them to become the next generation's guardians of the water system.

"We do believe this will be a model for the nation," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said to the group that sat watching him in two rows of eight, gleaming with crisp white T-shirts passed out by the conservancy. "Thank you for being the inaugural class. You don't know what you're in for."

Cardin said the corps has two priorities: "to protect our environment and create good jobs." The senator told them they would be working in the nation's largest estuary, a place of "global significance."

Speakers referred to the inaugural class as volunteers, even though they'll be paid a $16,000 stipend, in addition to health insurance and travel costs.

The first year of the program, slated for five years, is funded by the state with $250,000 and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which matched that amount. Constellation Energy pitched in $25,000. A second class will be picked next year.

Allen Hance, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, said the organization is counting on the corps to increase public involvement in the bay's restoration and protection and also to become leaders in energy conservation and the green economy.

"We need you," said Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), president of the Maryland Senate.

Miller pushed legislation to create the corps this year. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed a bill in May that established the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program as part of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

In a statement, O'Malley called the program an opportunity for youths to develop green-job skills while having "a positive impact on the natural world."

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