Port, Tacoma Urban League team up for at-risk youth

Marotha Pasha speaks with purpose and answers questions with contemplation. When you ask about the achievements of the young adults in the Tacoma Urban League program he directs, there’s a discernible twinkle in his eyes.

“What method suits our youth better, the classroom or getting in the field to be active?” Pasha asks, quickly noting that a path to adulthood may be different for every person. “As a community, we must learn to meet these different needs. Youth today need a path to a mutual landing place in the world of work.”

A path to the future for at-risk young adults is the objective of the Tacoma Urban League’s Youth Leadership Conservation Corps (YLCC) program. Students accepted into the program are mentored through work to develop high self-esteem, leadership skills, self-mastery, higher-order thinking skills, cultural diversity, and respect for self and others.
The program launched in 2001 with six at-risk youth, who went to work in the Olympic National Forest maintaining hiking trails. YLCC has since been strongly supported by Olympic National Forest, expanding to four work crews and 20-plus students each summer.

“It is very hard work,” Pasha said of the Forest Service work. “Through work, these youth not only earn money, they prepare themselves for life through self-development, self-reliance and by developing a sense of opportunity.”

Pasha relayed the story of one young Tacoma man, short on self-confidence, who had dropped out of high school. “He was heading in the wrong direction, but we took him in and he joined the work crew,” Pasha said. “Over time, he became a crew leader, and eventually became a member of our staff. The young man decided to go back to school, enroll in college and explore his options for a career in the Forest Service.”

With a strong record of success in the National Forest, the YLCC program was expanded to the Port of Tacoma in spring 2007.

The Port’s Maintenance Department, with support from Port Environmental and Community Affairs staff, partnered with the Tacoma Urban League to bring at-risk youth into the Port area to do conservation work, including maintenance and beautification within the Port’s habitat areas.

Work focused on Gog-le-hi-te Wetland, stormwater conveyances and terminal security buffer zones such as Rhone-Poulenc Habitat Area. The crew spent much of the spring and summer clearing litter, removing invasive plant species and planting native vegetation.

“The partnership between the Port of Tacoma and the Urban League is a relationship that will grow in the future,” said Louis P. Cooper Jr., the Port’s Director Maintenance.

Port Commissioner Clare Petrich added, “This is an outstanding example of how our Port can become more involved in the community we serve while achieving the mutually beneficial goals of improving the environment and improving the opportunities of a hard-working group of young adults. We applaud everyone making this partnership a reality.”

“Much of the credit for the success of the program must go to our labor union, ILWU Local 22 and its leadership. I also want to recognize former Lead Foreman Pat Honan, who supported the project and helped gain the support of Port leadership,” said Cooper, also noting his appreciation for the project management of Interim Lead Foreman Charlie Stevens and Senior Shop Steward Dave Fjeld.

For more information on the Tacoma Urban League and its Youth Leadership Conservation Corps program, visit http://www.tacomaurbanleague.org .