EVERETT — Chris Rodriguez was used to working on a team, in all kinds of weather.
Rodriguez, 38, of Everett, served six years with the U.S. Marine Corps. His time in the military left him with health challenges that limited his career options.
Then he joined a crew on the Washington Conservation Corps, which partners with the publicly funded Snohomish Conservation District. Derek Hann, a design engineer with the district, noticed that Rodriguez and another veteran excelled at the work.
The focus is on eco-friendly projects that retain and filter stormwater, such as rain gardens and rain barrels. In some cases, local governments or private property owners pay for the materials, and the crews provide labor.
“It’s a lot of digging,” Hann said. “It’s a lot of earth work. It’s a lot of pipe work.”
It took Hann a couple of years to turn his idea into action. He helped the district launch a Veteran Conservation Corps crew through the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.
The crew members are interns with monthly stipends starting at $1,600. The funding comes from district revenues, including those related to stormwater projects, grants, and significant support from The Boeing Co.
The work experience is beneficial, but the veterans also get to see the real-time results of their labor, said Rodriguez, a crew supervisor. He cited as examples saplings growing and salmon spawning.
The program alleviates the sense that some veterans have of being left behind in civilian life, he said.
“It’s the best therapy you can get …,” he said. “Everything we’re learning here is something we can take and build upon. I’ve learned all the math I can use in the world now unless I become an engineer.”
The world is moving toward a greener future, Rodriguez said. He thinks about gardens and stormwater, and the way that lives also get reorganized and change from season to season. Homeowners who’ve hired the vet crew later send him pictures to keep in touch, along with invitations to barbecues.
Assistant crew lead Taylor Pesce, 33, of Lake Stevens, also served in the Marines. On Oct. 11, the team helped install rain barrels at Experience Momentum, a physical therapy business in Lynnwood.
“It’s the kind of work I like to do, outside, work that has a purpose, something that has a function to it,” Pesce said.
Since leaving the military, Pesce earned an associate’s degree in environmental science at Everett Community College. He has been considering a career in education. The district invited him to participate in outreach efforts in classrooms, as part of his internship.
“It just worked out perfectly,” he said.
Are you a veteran interested in conservation? For internship information, contact Kim Pham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rain gardens, along with rain barrels, can filter pollutants, reduce flooding and improve landscapes. They also can be good for wildlife and property values, according to the Snohomish Conversation District. Help is available to make it happen. For more information, call 425-335-5634.