The sore muscles and sunburn from wetland tree-planting that I volunteered for on that first day was quickly forgotten as the experiences I shared with these amazing students continued throughout the week of August 1-5, 2011, at the Creston National Fish Hatchery Tribal YCC Program of the Salish Kootenai in northwest Montana.

“Hey, Ms. Danno, do you want to try it?” asked the crew leader.

I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, no. I don’t want to try it for the very first time in my life—in front of a dozen teenagers whom I had just met!” But out loud I said, “Sure,” proud of myself for sounding so confident. “Just show me what to do,” I said, even with a sound of happy anticipation in my voice. I should have been an actress.

The “dozen teenagers” were a group of Tribal Youth Conservation Career (YCC) students and the “it” was an auger (used for digging holes). Thank goodness, I both recognized the tool and its function. If I would have asked, “What is it?” any dignity of my matronly presence, (complete with blue hair band and jewelry to match my blue U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shirt, my designer sunglasses, and painted fingernails), would have been history faster than you could say “auger.”

The Creston National Fish Hatchery Tribal YCC Program was just completing its second year. It exemplifies a model program of employing youth in meaningful jobs on tribal lands and communities. Just a week prior to my visit, in July 2011, the Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe celebrated the crew.

Throughout the week, I had a chance to sit down with each of the students, discuss the highlights of their YCC summer experience, and ask each one if he or she may consider pursuing a career in conservation. Several had their college plans all lined up, many of whom wanted to be biologists or work with youth in an outdoor setting. This was music to my ears since one purpose of my visit was to provide them information and discuss careers in conservation.

The sore muscles and sunburn from wetland tree-planting that first day was quickly forgotten as the experiences I shared with these amazing students continued throughout the week. The culmination was the YCC crew recognition ceremony at the end of the week. It was heartwarming to see these hard-working, goal-oriented students recognized and appreciated by the numerous local leaders, mentors, Service leaders, and staff —all there to support the students and to express their gratitude.

Mostly due to the humbleness of these amazing youth and somewhat because of the unparalleled natural beauty of northwest Montana, I had just finished one of the most awesome weeks of my life!