Leading by Inspiration: Earth Conservation Corps' Charismatic Young President Is Passionate about Helping Young People Connect to the Environment and That Enthusiasm Is Rubbing Off

By Clattenburg, William | American Forests, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Leading by Inspiration: Earth Conservation Corps' Charismatic Young President Is Passionate about Helping Young People Connect to the Environment and That Enthusiasm Is Rubbing Off


Clattenburg, William, American Forests


Living alongside a river that has been polluted and neglected over the course of many years, it is impossible for the young men and women in Southeast Washington, DC, not to see an image of their own struggle within its waves and within the natural environment that has undergone simultaneous abuses.

Decisions upstream and in other parts of the city have placed severe limitations on human and environmental living conditions. But instead of resigning themselves to limitations, many urban youth are actively working to change their lives and their environment through programs offered by the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC). The ECC is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 as a White House domestic policy initiative. Its mission is "to reclaim two of the country's most threatened resources: the environment and our disadvantaged young people."

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With projects like bald eagle habitat restoration, invasive plant removal, shoreline repair, and construction along the planned 20 miles of the Anacostia Riverwalk--all combined with GED training and job placement--the ECC gives participants tools to improve the natural environment, the built environment, and their family and social environments. The success rate is 85 percent for young men and women enrolled in the program. Since 1989, more than 800 Corps members have graduated.

The program's recent success rests in part on the charismatic leadership of president and CEO Glen O'Gilvie. Like many of the young people whom he now works with, O'Gilvie, 31, learned early on about crime and frustration.

"I started out as a young person growing up in an urban, pretty low income community on Staten Island, New York City," he says, "realizing the regular woes an urban person is faced with and trying to be as straight and narrow as possible. Fortunately, my parents put a lot of emphasis on placing a strong foundation and laying great values."

O'Gilvie says that his father pushed him into college before he even knew what he wanted to study. He initially picked business management but shifted his major to sociology after the first semester. The turning point for his professional goals came outside the classroom.

"I took on a lot of different jobs to support myself being there. There was a time I took one job, which I thought was a no-brainer, at a local group home for court-involved youth." While there, he says, a "light bulb" went off. "I realized that this was it, this was what I wanted to do."

His first job out of school allowed him to expand on that passion. O'Gilvie joined the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, a social justice organization in D.C. dedicated to carrying on Kennedy's vision and ideals. As national coordinator, he led the RFK Fellows Program, which trains and places college-age students in nonprofit organizations that serve urban communities. O'Gilvie decided to focus on DC and San Francisco.

"The San Francisco portion had a lot of involvement in environmental issues," he says. "Neighborhoods there were going through the environmental justice era, and low-income communities were becoming more aware of issues such as cancer. I began to do a lot of research and reading."

He moved on from the RFK Memorial to The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region's Youth Development Initiative, where he worked as programs officer. …

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