Most Anchorage teenagers aren't going to find many summer jobs like those offered by the Youth Employment in Parks program. YEP, as it's also called, puts its employees to work on Anchorage's trails, helping them to build future careers.
For many of these young adults, the YEP program is their first meaningful job, because they are learning skills that could be used when they take long-term employment.
There's no debating the will of Savannah Commerford. As one of YEP's 25 program crew members, she's taking the lead on projects like one at Ruth Arcand Park designed to improve the city's trails.
"We are doing a fire line of buckets of gravel, and we are throwing them up in these wheelbarrows, and we are carrying them down the trail a ways and unloading the gravel so we can do a compact trail," Commerford said. "It's for horses to have easier access over bogs of water that build up on the trail."
The summer work at Ruth Arcand is one of eight park projects this crew is doing all over town -- projects which involve environmental classes, civic engagement and also having a little fun with their surroundings. The goal is to create ambassadors for Anchorage's parks, while also teaching them some lifetime skills.
Abdirahman Abdi, who wants to eventually become a doctor, says it's hard work which he's quickly figuring out.
"It's going to give me more experience, and more patience, because this job is not easy," Abdi said.
It's a first job for many that takes its toll, but despite the sweat and occasional blisters, the YEP crew is seeing the rewards.
"You have the struggles of physical labor and mental dealing with mosquitoes and lifting heavy buckets, and at the same time you're interacting with the community, interacting with other kids," Commerford said.
Although Commerford's crew is only responsible for a few trails this summer, she says members are learning that the work they're putting in is impacting the community for the better.
"This is and probably will forever be one of my favorite jobs," Commerford said.
While Commerford previously worked in an office and a kids' inflatable party zone, she says the YEP job puts her in a perfect place to help decide her career path. Because she wants to be an equestrian veterinarian, she calls this experience a bonus that will be worth way more than the paycheck.