The NYA Work Program Today - 1938

Today there are hundreds of different types of NYA projects. Standards have evolved by which State directors evaluate their programs. First, the work must be real work. Second, it should add to the employability of young people by giving them experience in work routine, and, wherever possible, definite job experience in fields in which they are interested and capable. Third, the work should be of genuine benefit to the community—preferably to the youth of the community.

During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1938, $35,800,000 of Federal money has been spent on the NYA work program. Of this amount, 75 per cent, has gone for actual wages to youth; [Note 1] the remaining 25 per cent, has been spent for supervision and materials.

Although the NYA may be the sole sponsor of its own projects, most of them today are co-sponsored by public or quasi-public agencies. A sampling of 130 representative work projects discloses 73 different co-sponsoring agencies. [Note 2]

Co-sponsors help to plan work projects, contribute money for materials, often pay for supervision, and generally advise and assist in the maintenance of the projects.

At the start of the work program, some sponsors were skeptical of the efficiency of relief youth labor. Now it seems conclusive that most NYA boys and girls have proved themselves willing and capable workers, and that, within the limits of sponsors' abilities to contribute to the program, there is excellent co-operation with State and local agencies. Up to December 1, 1937, these co-sponsors furnished funds amounting to more than $3,500,000 for materials and supervision for NYA projects.

Because the work program is decentralized under State administrations, which further decentralize their own programs according to the needs of youth and communities, projects cannot be classified rigidly. In a sampling of 150 projects, 169 different work activities were engaged in by youth. [Note 3]

We tried to see as much as we could of NYA in action during three months. Obviously, it was impossible to visit every State or to cover every community in which NYA functions in the States we did visit. We have selected for description specific projects which illustrate the range of the NYA work program in its present development.

Boys Can Build

Construction is the dominant trend in the work program; two years ago it played only a minor role. It is specifically required that NYA shall undertake no construction work which would be provided for out of State or local budgets, so that displacement of adult workers by youth labor is avoided.

The construction program has the roots of its growth in small jobs done for public agencies. They were the proving ground. Thousands of these small jobs continue to be done wherever they are needed, but NYA today engages also in a wide range of larger construction work.

From a wealth of examples we have chosen some that illustrate the evolution of the building program, starting with minor work, progressing into repair and remodeling of buildings, and culminating in the construction of schoolhouses, community centers, and other good-sized buildings.

New York: Nineteen hundred NYA boys are working as youth laborers in the dramatic development of New York City's public parks under Commissioner Robert Moses. Each boy works five 8-hour days a month under WPA superintendents and NYA foremen, who are responsible to the City Department of Parks.

The first job to which NYA youth were assigned in New York City was at Owls Head Park, a 38-acre private estate that had been deeded to the city. Crews of youth spread 8500 cubic yards of top-soil, planted 3000 pounds of clover and grass seed, laid 30,000 square feet of sod, put in two acres of riprapping, laid 8,750 linear feet of drainage and water lines, set 60 man-holes and catch-basins in brick and cement, and built several miles of concrete, flagstone, and Colprovia paths and walks.

Now in Van Cortlandt Park, Inwood Park, and Prospect Park youth are doing even more extensive construction and landscaping work, assisting in the building of retaining walls, stone fireplaces, culverts, and fences.

Colorado: The city and county of Denver own 1789 acres of land, situated about five miles outside the present city limits. The city is expanding in this direction. There were not adequate funds either to develop this land or to halt severe wind and soil erosion.

The city and county agreed to sponsor a NYA project to conserve and develop this park area. In this instance, sponsorship includes the furnishing of transportation for NYA workers, materials for their work, and pay for supervisors. NYA hires one expert chief supervisor.

Ninety boys are working part-time in developing this park. About 80 of them are Mexican and Spanish-American youth whose only work experience has been in the beet fields of Colorado.

As we drove through this large area of neglected land, we saw groups of boys building roads, culverts, and curbing; others were busy planting, transplanting, and caring for trees and shrubbery; many were shaping grounds to halt soil erosion; some were building fireplaces for picnic and camp use. In a workshop situated on the project, boys were building picnic tables, incinerators, and other park equipment.

One group of boys with a supervisor was off in the mountains cutting timber to be dressed and used in the shop. After every day's work, the boys gather in the shop, on their own time, and the supervisor conducts an informal hour of study and discussion of the actual work they have been doing that day.

When a boy is assigned to this project, he is given a chance to do many different kinds of work so that he may find what his aptitudes and interests are. Then he may concentrate on types of work for which he is most suited.

The community will have a park which otherwise would not have been developed, and many boys are getting a start in landscaping, conservation, road construction, and the fundamentals of carpentry and cement and brick masonry.

South Dakota: Working under the supervision of the City Engineer of Redfield, South Dakota, 14 NYA boys have landscaped the new artificial lake built for this town by WPA. These NYA boys also built a 200-foot boardwalk, a 16-foot pier, two rafts, two diving towers, a safety line of buoys made from barrels, and a guard rail and seats for spectators. The city of Redfield sponsored the work and furnished $500 for materials.

West Virginia: Two years ago it was estimated that about 3000 of the 5000 rural schools in this State had unusable playgrounds. We saw many of these schools, built in pockets on the hillsides; children stepped from schoolrooms into seas of mud.

Out-of-school NYA boys already have put more than 1000 of these playgrounds in good condition. Usually this work calls for grading, filling, drainage, and the building of stone retaining walls. A large number of school bus shelters have also been built in this State.

We saw school athletic grounds that had either been entirely constructed or materially improved by NYA work. At the Parkersburg Junior High School athletic field, NYA boys have built an 8-foot brick wall, 197 feet long, with two brick ticket booths.

Here they also dug a one-quarter-mile track, put in a 14-inch stone base with a 5-inch cinder top, and built a steel rail around the track. In addition 240 yards of cement curbing and a press box in the stadium were completed when we visited this project.

Plans for further work here include the building of shops and vocational classrooms for industrial and trade training in the space under the stadium, and the construction of a garage for 25 school busses.

Minnesota: About 1000 NYA boys in this State, under the sponsorship of the State Highway Department, are developing roadside parks with recreational facilities for Minnesota's own people and for the large number of summer tourists who flock to its lakes and woods. In some of these developments, log cabins for campers are built on public property.

One roadside park that we visited at Stillwater extends for two miles along the St. Croix River. Groups of NYA boys had changed a mass of weeds and general debris into an area that hikers and motorists can enjoy for many years. First, the land was cleared, graded, and planted with grass and shrubbery.

Then the boys built side roads with cement curbing and stone-walled overlooks giving motorists and pedestrians long vistas up and down the river. We saw trails and paths, stone steps leading to the river, a stone and log bridge across a creek, stone fireplaces and ovens, picnic tables and benches—all built by NYA youth.

One fireplace was encircled by a stone council ring, seating 40 to 50 people. We were told that many Minnesota NYA-built parks have these council rings, and that they are popular with girls' and boys' clubs as well as with adults who gather around the fire for cooking, singing, story-telling, and games.

The State Highway Department furnishes all materials, equipment, and supervision for this NYA roadside park work. In the winter months the boys do the masonry under portable shelters which they have built for themselves and for which they have made stoves from discarded metal oil barrels.

Economically these roadside parks are valuable to a State that considers summer tourist trade an important source of income. The boys who build the parks secure sound experience in roadmaking, landscaping, carpentry, masonry, and the operation of roadbuilding machinery.

Rhode Island: Last summer, 30 NYA boys, working part- time, undertook to put the Pawtucket Boys' Club building in good shape. This club serves underprivileged children of the community. Mr. Phillip G. Geiger, Director of the Club, submitted a list itemizing 93 different jobs done by the NYA youth in their thorough renovation of the building and its equipment. [Note 4]

North Dakota: In the drought-stricken western part of this State, NYA boys and girls have repaired and renovated school buildings. Because of very limited school funds, this work could not have been done otherwise.

Last summer in Antelope four boys and one girl shingled the roof of the rural school, calcimined the walls, washed and repaired windows, cleaned the chimney and stovepipes, scrubbed and waxed the floors, repaired and varnished desks and woodwork, renovated outbuildings, slated blackboards, and painted the exterior.

Kansas: At Topeka, we saw 17 powdered blue-shale tennis courts constructed by NYA boys under the sponsorship of the City School Board, which furnished $2,733.33 for materials.

To build these courts, boys, under a skilled supervisor, leveled and terraced the ground, laid water pipes and connections, erected 350 yards of fencing, quarried, crushed, sifted, and spread the shale. They also built backstops, an upkeep house, and a stone drinking fountain.

NYA girls made the tennis nets. These courts are open to the general public at all times. We were told that the only similar courts in Kansas are at Fort Leavenworth, where each cost $1,500. The unit cost for each NYA court at Topeka, including all materials, labor, and supervision, was $1,076.

In many sections of Kansas, there are few camping facilities for children or adults, and, consequently, camping has been an impossible luxury for families who could not afford travel to such distant places as Colorado or the northern lake country. We saw several camping sites that NYA is developing in Kansas for less privileged people.

In Shawnee County, we looked over a 22-acre camp site which the County Commissioners made available to the Organized Boys and Girls Agencies, whose members are the Girl Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, the YWCA, the 4-H Clubs, and the Campfire Girls. This land adjoins a 400-acre area which WPA is making into an artificial lake.

Neither the county nor these organizations had sufficient funds for improvements, but they agreed to co-operate with NYA in a work project on this property. Service clubs such as Kiwanis and Rotary joined in. NYA youth are now clearing this land, building roads, developing recreational facilities, and installing sanitary sewage and water supply systems.

From lumber salvaged from transient camps and from new materials bought by the co-sponsors, these boys are building shower houses, quarters for a camp cook, nurse, and other camp officers, and a lodge, 55 by 52 feet, with a kitchen and storage, dining, and recreational rooms.

Under skilled supervisors, the boys do all the labor, which includes quarrying native limestone for roads, foundations, and fireplaces. They are learning carpentry, masonry, plumbing, roadbuilding, and landscaping; and the county of Shawnee will have a camping area which would not otherwise have been developed for many years.

Louisiana: NYA was offered the abandoned third floor of the old Criminal Court Building on Tulane Avenue, in New Orleans. Space was urgently needed for district offices and for homemaking projects. Mr. A. J. Sarré, State NYA Director, described his first impression of these 25,000 feet of space:

"It looked hopeless. The roof leaked. Plaster had crumbled and was falling off. The place was filthy and unpainted. It hadn't been used for years. But there was a lot of room and the light was good. So we took it and put 110 boys to work, under craft supervisors paid by us."

For three months, working 70 hours a month each, these boys plastered, repaired windows, rewired, put in plumbing, laid new floors, put up new partitions, painted, and put this waste space into first-class condition.

The city furnished most of the materials, and now contributes light, heat, water, and elevator service for the NYA offices, sewing and cooking rooms, library repair shop, bookkeeping and stenographic projects.
In New Orleans, NYA also fell heir to an abandoned police station.

Crews of boys reconditioned the building and installed electricity and plumbing. It is now used as an automobile mechanics' shop, where NYA youth repair publicly owned cars and trucks. On city property in the rear of this building, we saw NYA boys working on a new frame building, 63 by 26 feet, which they will use as a mill shop.

Kentucky: NYA out-of-school boys have repaired, repainted, and generally improved more than 1500 rural schools. We saw more than 20 of them. In Morgan County, Mr. Ova Haney, Superintendent of Schools, told us:

"Some of these school buildings that NYA has repaired never have had a coat of paint and I know lots of them that hadn't been painted or repaired for at least 15 years. Our county is just too poor to do this work, and, if it hadn't been for NYA, it never would have been done."

In this same rural county, at a consolidated school in a small town called Ezel, we saw a science building that 18 NYA boys had remodeled from an old residence. The town people told us how the boys excavated and cemented a basement 10 feet deep and 40 feet square.

The foundation was also rebuilt, and new windows installed. Partitions were removed, plaster repaired, woodwork refinished, and an enclosed porch added. The interior and exterior of the building were painted. Boys also laid the sewer line to the street and built cement sidewalks.

At this school, NYA had in addition constructed a bus garage, swings, teeters, and a combination basketball and tennis court.

"I don't think most of these boys ever even had a hammer in their hands before they started this work," the Superintendent of Schools told us as we left Ezel.

Arizona: During 1936, deaths from tuberculosis in Arizona increased 11.8 per cent. A considerable number of these deaths occurred in families too poor to take advantage of sanitariums or to provide isolation for ill members of the family.

NYA boys are building portable tuberculosis isolation huts for the State Board of Health. They are little seven-by-nine- foot cottages with three-foot screened openings extending around the walls at bed height.
There is room inside for a bed and a small chair and dresser.

The huts are doubly insulated to protect the patient from summer heat. Space is allowed for a small stove for winter use. Canvas curtains protect the patient in rainy weather.

When the Department of Health has a case of tuberculosis in a communicable stage, and when the family cannot provide adequate care for the patient or protection for other members of the family, the hut is hauled to this home and the sick person isolated. In his private hut he can have fresh air and sunshine.
The State Board of Health furnishes the materials for these cottages and NYA supplies the labor. The total average cost of one hut is $146.28.

Similar tuberculosis isolation huts are built in several other States by NYA boys. In Arkansas, we saw one constructed as a trailer.

Georgia: Every Future Farmers of America club in this State pledged $3.00 for each of its members, who number 6,000, so that a State FFA camp might be developed. With this money, a 150-acre camp site was purchased on Jackson Lake in central Georgia.

Under the sponsorship and direction of the State Division of Vocational Education, 125 NYA boys are clearing the land, much of which is jungle-like in undergrowth, and quarrying native granite, which they are using to erect a large recreation building and a dining hall with kitchens and storage rooms. These boys have completed five cabins, each housing 12 to 20 occupants, and a seven-room house for the camp director.

Florida: At Campbellton, the Negro school burned down. The children were herded into a small church and all eight grades were taught in one poorly lighted, badly ventilated room. The County Board of Public Instruction could not supply funds for a new school, but agreed to furnish $650 for materials and supervision, provided NYA youth would undertake the construction work.

Final plans were made for two frame buildings, each 20 by 60 feet, with limestone flues and foundations. On January 1, 1937, 32 part-time NYA workers began the job, and it was finished in three and one-half months. Besides actually constructing the buildings, the boys installed blackboards, made 78 school desks, 4 benches, and 10 tables.

The total NYA cost for this work was $800. So, for less than $1,500, the Negro children of Campbellton have an adequate school, and 32 NYA boys have learned some of the fundamentals of construction work and cabinetmaking.

Colorado: In five Colorado communities, youth are not only constructing buildings but are also making the adobe or sun-dried earthen bricks that are used for the walls. The chief advantage of adobe is its cheapness; in addition it has good insulating qualities against both heat and cold and is fire- resistant.
This is the production record of seven NYA boys in their first seven days of adobe brick construction:

  • First day — 370 bricks [Note 5]
  • Second day — 740 bricks
  • Third day — 1,040 bricks
  • Fourth day — 1,000 bricks
  • Fifth day — 1,300 bricks
  • Sixth day — 1,250 bricks
  • Seventh day — 1,000 bricks

In Gunnison, a small mountain town, NYA boys are finishing an adobe Community and Youth Center to provide educational, social, and recreational facilities for children, youth, and adults of the town and the surrounding country.

The building (120 by 60 feet in dimension, with 12,520 square feet of floor space) contains a large general assembly room; classrooms for community education, home hygiene, and health courses; recreational rooms, including a pool room, a ping-pong room, and game rooms; club rooms for girls and boys; a modem kitchen; a banquet hall for all community gatherings, with space for dancing and other forms of community recreation; a county library room; and office space for the director of the community hall. Any group in the county may engage the social rooms at no cost.

In workshops, NYA boys have made most of the furniture and equipment for this center. The town of Gunnison contributed the land and more than $18,000 for construction and equipment materials. Mayor John P. McDonough has appointed a committee of Gunnison citizens to serve as the directing agency of the center. The town of Gunnison has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the building as well as for the organization and administration of a well- rounded community program.

Utah: On February 1, 1938, 100 NYA boys in the town of Sandy started to construct a $150,000 Industrial Arts Trade Building which public-school youth and out-of-school NYA boys and girls will use. This concrete and steel building, one and one-half stories high, 312 feet long by 69 feet wide, will house trade shops and home economics units, class and discussion rooms, a library, and social rooms. The Jordan School District of Utah is furnishing materials and craft supervision.

West Virginia: The first large NYA construction project we saw was a community center, 70 by 135 feet, in New Haven, an unincorporated village of about 700 people on the bank of the Ohio River.
"Did NYA boys build this whole thing?" we asked, as we looked at the glazed hollow tile and brick exterior.
"Yes, except possibly for one part," we were told. "You see, when the boys began to pour the concrete floors, we had a rush job on. Seventy-five men who lived around here, most of them farmers, turned up to give the boys a hand. Working with the boys, it didn't take them long."

Boys were finishing the interior as we went through the building. About one-half of the basement space houses lockers, showers, and dressing rooms. The other half has been scientifically planned as storage quarters for a farmers' co-operative; the rent that the co-operative has agreed to pay will cover the major cost of upkeep for the building.

On the first floor, an auditorium with a collapsible stage may be used also as a gymnasium. Here, too, is a kitchen, storage rooms, and a large, light workshop. On the second floor we saw the space for a community library, a social room, and for girls' homemaking activities.

This building is planned for the use of the entire community. Youth may work, study, and play here; adult education classes, social groups, and community organizations will have access to these facilities.
The people of the village and countryside seemed to be enthusiastic about this center. The co-sponsors are the Municipal Council and the Men's Civic Club of New Haven (this lively village has both). They have contributed over $16,000 in materials and supervision.

We met and talked with one of the members of the Men's Civic Club, Dr. Roscoe Floyd Bryan. He gave $5000 of his own money for materials. We asked how Dr. Bryan had first become interested in NYA. We were told that he had watched a group of project boys at work improving a school building and grounds ten miles away and had decided that something practical and effective was being done for young people by giving them work and training.

"Do you think this NYA work has meant something here?" we asked Dr. Bryan. "It's the greatest single thing that's happened to this part of the country," he answered. "See that house over there?"
He pointed to a small frame building in the distance.

"Three brothers from that home have been sentenced to life in the State Penitentiary. Why, this whole NYA building won't cost what the State's going to spend on those three boys. I tell you, it used to be so around here that you couldn't leave your car for a second without having the gas and tires stolen. Petty thieving was everywhere. We just haven't had any of it since we started this NYA building. Boys need to be busy."

About 100 different boys have worked part-time on this building. When inexperienced boys came on the job, they were asked what they would like to learn. Some knew and others did not. They were given a chance to do a variety of work and, when they discovered their aptitudes, they were encouraged to develop them.

We heard of several boys who left this project for private employment. One had a construction job at $175 a month, another at $160, and a third at $140. Two had become carpenters' helpers; and four others had found good jobs on construction work. Without the experience and training they received in building this community center, they could not have obtained these jobs.

End Notes

Note 1: This is in accordance with official regulation, which states: "At least seventy-five per cent, of the funds allocated to the State for NYA work projects shall be expended for the wages of young people certified as eligible for relief." NYA Bulletin No. 11.

Note 2: For list, sec Appendix II.

Note 3: For list of these various activities, see Appendix III.

Note 4: For list of these specific jobs, typical of many NYA projects, see Appendix IV.

Note 5: Each about 50 pounds in weight.

Betty and Ernest K. Lindley, "The NYA Work Program Today." in A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, New York: The Viking Press, 1938, pp. 23-37.

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