Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ new director finds meaningful rewards on life’s path
Ryan Banks went to school at the University of Wisconsin, where he studied to find a job as a middle school teacher, but the path he has followed since graduation has led him to find more than just a job. He has found meaning.
Banks is the mayor in Hayden, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, and he has been selected as Rocky Mountain Youth Corps’ new chief executive officer. He will take over for Gretchen Van De Carr when she steps down after a 30-year career as the group’s founder and leader next February.
“The weight of that responsibility is starting to set in because to fill Gretchen Van De Carr’s shoes is impossible; I’m just honored and grateful for the opportunity to try,” Banks said. “I’m going to do my best. To have her confidence gives me confidence in moving this organization forward. What she has done in 30 years has been incredible, and I really looking forward to working with the team of people we have here.”
The path Banks followed to get here has been full of adventure and opportunity. He was an intern for the Student Conservation Association in Alaska, where he said he got hooked on conservation. He was introduced to Steamboat Springs when he got a job as an assistant crew leader in 2012, the first time he was hired by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
He also worked a stint with the U.S. Forest Service before returning home to Wisconsin, where he ran a program for at-risk youth. His main goal was to help young people get their GEDs and guide them along a path with promise, but the program also built homes from the ground up that were sold to low-income families once completed. In his free time, he coached high school basketball.
Banks said he was happy in Wisconsin, but a few years later, a job running the young adult program opened a path for him to return to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
“I’ve been able to work my way up here,” Banks said. “I started running our young adult program, became the program director and the chief program officer, and I’m now the CEO. … I’ve learned a lot along the way from (Van De Carr), and I’m grateful for that time and for opportunities to really grow as a leader and person.”
The transition is underway, and Van De Carr and Banks will continue working together through Feb. 2 to try to ensure it goes as smooth as possible.
The organization offers four major programs. The Youth Corps program is for people under the age of 18 and last summer it hosted about 320 participants. The Conservation Corps program is for people ages 18-25, and it hosted about 240 participants last summer and fall. The Natural Resource Internship Program provides a career path for participants and helps them find positions with organizations like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
“It’s everything from wildland firefighting to recreation management to fisheries, to timber, to visitor services, to range land inventory. You name it, we have interns placed in almost every single field office and ranger district in Northwest Colorado,” Banks said. “That program has grown by leaps and bounds. We had 113 interns this year. Compared to five years ago, we had like eight.”
The last of the four major programs hosted by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps is the Yampa Valley Science School program, which Banks said almost every middle school student in Routt County is familiar with. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps has hosted that program in September every year for the past 22 years.
“We partner with every school district, home school, charter, you name it,” Banks said. “This year we had about 280 kids come through, and we partnered this year with Yampatika as well.”
Banks’ reason for stepping into this key leadership role with an organization that has a 30-year track record is simple — to keep the bar set high.
“The No. 1 challenge is, and this is pretty obvious, but having Gretchen Van De Carr leave after being the foundation of an organization for 30 years is a really big deal,” Banks said. “My goal is to maintain the high level of programming, fundraising and community engagement that has become normal for us. My goal for the next year or two is to let the dust settle and keep that high bar.”
At the same time, Banks said he also wants to keep an eye on the future and find more opportunities to serve the larger community.
“There are many opportunities for this organization to grow some of our existing programs and to expand into some new areas,” Banks said. “One existing program that we’re looking forward to expanding is our disaster relief program.”
While Banks is looking forward to living up to the expectations and the traditions the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps has built in Steamboat Springs, he also said it’s important to seek out adventure, meaning and ways to serve the community.
“I was looking for a service opportunity — that’s what I love about this organization is the service opportunity it provides for people — and that was what I was looking for as a young person,” Banks said when asked what drew him to the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps when he took a job as a crew leader.
“I was looking for something that was hard and would provide meaning in my life,” he said. “I found it here and I’ve continued to find it ever since.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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