Read our interview with Carl Colonius, former Executive Director and one of the founders of RMYC.

What inspired the creation of RMYC?

I was 24 years old, riding my bike thru the Presidio in San Francisco on my daily trip to an internship at a law firm in Berkeley.  My ride took me past youth from the San Francisco Conservation Corps loading tools into vans in the rain. I was curious, and one day on my way home, I stopped into their office to get an idea of what was going on. The SFCC Executive Director, Ann Cochrane happened to be walking thru the office, and she quickly  explained their mission. Disenfranchised youth working to improve their communities and learn skills thru the process. It really blew me away, and it got filed away in my head. 

Carl Colonius and Seth Miller.
Two of our founders from
“back in the day.”

I left California that winter to teach skiing, ending up in Taos, where the snow was deep.  That’s the winter I met Steve and Seth, and we started having conversations about doing something more than ski instruction.  That conversation grew into a series of conversations between the founders: myself, Steven Patrick, Seth Miller,  Dan Lobato, Michael Wilner, Seana Lowe, Stephanie Daw were all a part of the original group of thinkers. Steve and Seth were in Taos running an organization started by a college friends of theirs,  the New Mexico Pueblo Soccer Start. NMPSS started soccer clubs for Pueblo youth in the eight northern Pueblos. Thru soccer, they worked to build healthy active kids, build bonds between Pueblos, and teach civic engagement and teamwork. Ultimately, we amended that 501 c 3’s bylaws to create the organization Southern Rocky Mountain Service Corps.  That was a mouthful, and within a year, we amended again to Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.

What have been your proudest and most rewarding moments with RMYC?

Seeing the organization’s steady growth is the most rewarding. It took off almost from year one. We got a grant from the NM Youth Conservation Corps that paid for the first crew. No pay for us yet, but we could pay the crew.  Everything else came from small donations from families and individuals. We worked out a living room, then out of a small office, then we got a larger office. I was awarded a 3 year fellowship with Youth Service America’s Fund for Social Entrepreneurs which gave us $12,000 living stipend, which we split.  That fellowship was about organizational development: branding, financial management, strategic planning. At about the same time, Steve Patrick got a Rockefeller fellowship to study social justice. The scholarship immersed him in a dynamic group of folks, and took him around the country so he could learn about social inequality, disenfranchised populations, which became a big part of the mission of RMYC. That first year, we got a contract with NM DOH to run an after-school program, scored another YCC grant, and we got a grant from Owen Lopez of the McCune Charitable Foundation, and RMYC took off.   All of us were writing grants, presenting the organization around the region, and pumping up the volume. We wanted to give youth an opportunity that they didn’t have. We were all good enough friends to make it work despite the flat management structure. We learned how to share the responsibilities of running an organization even though we bumped heads every now and then.

Another super proud moment for me was having one of my daughters run an RMYC crew.  This was after I left the Corps, and she became a Crew Supe. I was visiting her on a project site, and worked with the crew for a day.  After busting butt all day to impress her and her crew, I was hiking back to my vehicle when a couple of hikers asked me who those folks in the uniforms were who were restoring that historic site.  I busted out the RMYC mission, and suggested these folks go thank the crew for their service. They asked me if I was in charge, and I said no, that young lady is…

What would you like to see for RMYC in the next 25 years?

Who knew that when we started RMYC, it would be so solid 25 years later?  For me, I’d like to see the Corps’ programming continue to expand but also to deepen. I hope it will expand, not for the sake of getting bigger, but to provide opportunities in other New Mexico communities.  I also hope programs get deeper, for instance, it would be great if RMYC could get back into after school programming – that was a very successful model and met a huge need among schools, parents, and students.  But we lost a funding stream, and couldn’t afford to keep it going. Lack of resources should never halt a program if it’s working.

What should the community know about RMYC?

RMYC is not just about building trails.  I am super proud to bump into graduates and alum all over the place. For 20 years I welcomed every new crew during orientation, and went to every graduation. I’m a pretty recognizable guy, and I get waves and ‘what’s up’ pretty regularly. I apologize for not remembering everybody, but here’s the cool thing – that’s because there are thousands of RMYC alum. 

January 29, 2020