A recent research project evaluated stress-recovery and personal effectiveness for young people who work in conservation jobs. The research project explored how an outdoor work environment (including urban forest settings) may serve as a path to personal resiliency (through job opportunities, peer engagement, and skill building) and provide healing opportunities.
Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) is an environmental service program for young adults supported by the federal AmeriCorps service program. Corps members are 18 to 25 years of age, and participate in service work in small crews to restore natural resource sites. WCC engages approximately 300 people each year, a minority of whom are veterans. This study followed a cohort of approximately 270 WCC members who served for a year from autumn 2013 to autumn 2014.
The study was funded by the USDA Forest Service and Washington State Department of Natural Resources, with collaboration by the Washington State Department of Ecology. Dr. Kathleen Wolf from the University of Washington and Elizabeth Housley from OurFutureEnvironment Consulting LLC conducted the study.
Overall, the corps members entered the work program in quite good health compared to national standards, and yet research results show their perceived stress was further reduced after a year’s service. Returning second year members reported better perceived health and higher perceived leadership ability compared to new members.
Employment by organizations such as WCC can engage veterans and other early career adults in a socio-ecological projects where the benefits of nature experiences are coupled with opportunities to exhibit mastery, recover from stress and anxiety, and gain other positive markers of personal resiliency.
One possible outcome of this study might be to introduce outdoor work as a therapeutic activity for young adults, including younger veterans. If so, careful planning of work tasks to align with more diverse physical abilities would be important.
The technical report or a two page results summary are available online. Or visit the Green Cities: Good Health web site for more information about the social and human health benefits of nature in cities.
This article was reprinted as it originally appeared in DNR’s Tree Link Newsletter.
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