YHCC at Tippecanoe River State Park

Sam Denno

School was never Sam Denno’s thing. He dropped out of North Judson High when he was 16. His stint in alternative school ended when the program ran out of funding.

But Sam has a passion for mechanics, and determination to succeed.

It's only 9 a.m., but already blistering hot at Tippecanoe State Park. The 30 Young Hoosiers Conservation Corps workers spending their summer on property have their tasks for the day and are hard at work. Denno is in the maintenance shop repairing a broken weed whacker.

“I’ve been turning wrenches my whole life,” Denno said. “Both my dad and my stepdad have made their living working on cars my whole life. Since I can remember, I’ve been getting my hands dirty.”

Denno’s mechanical skills have been put to use at the park. He’s fixed a number of weed whackers, welded a blade guard on a lawn mower, and performed routine maintenance on a number of park vehicles and pieces of machinery.

Park maintenance technician, Mike Manion, has been impressed by Denno’s work ethic.

“Sam shows a lot of initiative in all he does. No matter what task I give him, he takes on the challenge and gets it done. You can tell he wants to learn new skills,” Manion said.

Dan Konter, assistant property manager, said he's happy to see the program working so well for Denno.

“We approach the YHCC as a learning program. Our goal is to provide these workers with opportunities to learn skills they can use to find employment when the program ends. I tell all the workers, they’ll only get out of the program what they put in. Sam is doing a great job of giving his all and learning as much as he can,” Konter said.

Working for the Department of Natural Resources has become Denno’s primary goal. He’s doing all he can to learn the ins and outs of Tippecanoe State Park, just in case they decide to keep him on at the end of the program.

“Listen,” Denno said, “I knew what I was getting into when I took this job. I mean, I knew it was only going to last 16 weeks. But I told myself I would do my best and at least I would come away with some great experience, a resume builder, and some positive references.”

According to Manion and Konter, Denno has.

He is working on completing his General Equivalency Diploma (G.E.D.). He has already obtained a MIG—metal insert gas—welding certification through Purdue University, and hopes to go for his TIG—Tungsten Inert Gas —and stick-welding certifications, soon. He said these skills could benefit any organization looking to hire a general maintenance worker.

“I thought without a high school diploma, I’d never be able to get hired on by the state. The YHCC program is great, because it gives people like me an opportunity to show that we want to work and that we can be great workers, even though we’ve made a few mistakes in the past,” Denno said.

As Manion calls the YHCC workers together at the end of the day, Denno walks out of the maintenance barn carrying an industrial weed whacker.  He gives the cord a rip, and the machine fires up.

“First pull,” Denno said, with a smile.

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