YHCC at Harmonie State Park

Ashley Conyers

Drew Seitz

 Jon Craig

When Jim Gray, property manager of Harmonie State Park, found out he and his staff were going to have 30 or more Young Hoosiers Conservation Corps workers to supervise this summer, he realized he needed a system of leadership to keep operations on track.

During initial interviews with potential YHCC workers, Gray wanted to find a person with leadership experience to whom he could assign the role of YHCC coordinator. He and his assistant property manager, Chastity Spindler, sought a candidate who could communicate well, and bridge the gap between the full-time park employees and YHCC workers.

“Pretty much, when we found out about this YHCC program, I said to Chastity, “What are we going to do with these kids?’” Gray said.

“I just don’t have enough people to supervise them all. So we sat down and devised a plan to first elect a coordinator, and then develop project leaders. So far, it’s worked great.”

Ashley Conyers grew up in New Harmony. Living so close to the state park formed a special bond with the property. When she found out about the YHCC program, the Ivy Tech student knew what she wanted to have a role, but she didn't expect to do so well in her interview. Gray asked her to take charge of Harmonie's YHCC team.

“Ashley really stood out during the interview process. We liked her background in counseling and criminal justice, but it was her personality and obvious passion for the property that sealed the deal,” Gray said.

Conyers has embraced her job as liaison between full-time employees and YHCC workers. She spends most of her day behind a desk in the park office scheduling projects, answering questions, fielding requests, and keeping tabs on the YHCC workers' locations and tasks. She said that as a member of the YHCC, she thinks her co-workers feel more comfortable speaking with her than they might feel speaking to regular DNR employees.

“I just want to make sure the workers feel heard. They have great ideas, and they need to feel comfortable expressing those ideas,” Conyers said.

A couple of the workers who have been heard, and whose ideas have become projects at the park are Drew Seitz, 23, of Mount Vernon, and Jon Craig, 19, of Poseyville. The two are working as co-team leaders on a special project they created to enhance an area in the park along the bank of the Wabash River. Seitz, an Army veteran who returned from Iraq last February, also emerged early as a leader.

“The structure in the “real world” is a lot looser than the military. I’m used to doing my job as I’m told, as fast and as good as I can,” Seitz said.

That work ethic has rubbed off.

“A big part of being a team leader is serving as a role model. I don’t think anyone is doing a better job than Drew,” Conyers said.

Conyers said she's proud of the YHCC workers and the projects they are completing at Harmonie. 

“The YHCC is helping build confidence in youth who need encouragement,” Conyers said. “And most of them are working right here in their own community, learning to greater appreciate what they have here at home.”

Gray’s plan reaped a leader in Conyers who has been able to create a family atmosphere among a diverse group of YHCC workers. She’s helped others to develop into leaders and made sure every worker has a voice. It's a small example of the larger success of the strategy behind the entire YHCC.