Future Leaders (Youth Jobs Program)

Essex Heritage has built a strong summer youth employment and training program through a unique partnership with the National Park Service. The program is directed towards youth ages 14-20 years. The teens are hired to work at the two national park sites in Salem and Saugus and since 2015 the program has been expanded to include Bakers Island Light Station as well as many of our partners such as Appleton Farms in Ipswich—a working farm owned and operated by The Trustees of Reservations, the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, and Camp Dennison in Georgetown.

Essex Heritage hires the youth for 8 -12 weeks and they work under the guidance and of NPS staff and a central supervisor from Essex Heritage. On site and at the parks, they acquire skills in historic preservation, building maintenance, natural resource management, interpretation and visitor operations. The Future Leaders also gain valuable trade experience in carpentry, electricity, shipwrighting, signmaking, and gilding. For many of these students this is their first job experience, so they are also given assistance on how to prepare for work, work-place expectations, discipline, proactivity, resume preparation, and career development. The impact on these students’ lives has been substantial, and several have returned to work at the park during the fall and also in subsequent summers. Our Future Leaders truly embody the concept of thinking globally and acting locally.


In 2021, the Future Leaders program was able to operate in a much revived capacity, once again including field trips and in-person trainings. In Salem, youth reclaimed mixed fill from tide zone on the west side of the wharf and relocated it to low/washed out areas on the wharf, put in erosion cloth, used larger stones to fill gaps and wood sills where required to slow erosion, reclaimed large stones from the tidal zone on the east side of the wharf and relocated it to fill and support low areas and gaps in the east side wall, reclaimed chink stones from the tidal zone below the stone wharf sides, cleaned any growth, and placed the stones into the wall as chink stones. While working on the Wharf, the Future Leaders underwent an invasive species recognition training with Gavin Gardner focusing on the pepperweed which grows along the waterfront. During this, Gavin also provided an overview of the threat that rising sea levels and the increasing severity of storms are posing to natural and cultural resource management and history preservation, particularly pertaining to Salem Maritime and its historic structures. After this, Salem youth began the painting of the Narbonne House fence. Youth cleared the area of weeks and vines that were growing up the fence, then sanded and scraped, working their way from the Hawkes House side toward the Narbonne House. Salem youth assisted Emily Murphy and Gavin Gardner in transferring artifacts from the Custom House to the Bonded Warehouse, also known as the Public Stores. After the move was completed, Emily Murphy spoke with the youth about the museum field and her experience in both museum work and as an archivist. The youth had the impromptu opportunity to experience this firsthand upon the discovery of a subterranean brick chamber behind the Derby House. Park archaeologists were brought in to oversee and lead the excavation of the chamber, allowing the Future Leaders to observe and take part. As a result, the Salem youth were introduced to and gained hands-on experience in the process of carrying out a dig, sieving the soil, and filing and recording what was discovered. The chamber was determined to be a 19th Century septic tank, but the youth were excited to have taken part nonetheless. Salem youth were given the opportunity to gain experience in event management and public speaking/visitor services by taking part in the August 6th fireworks and addressing the participants of the Park for Every Classroom program. During their experiences, the youth were also able to talk to staff about how history is presented and how the park is working to update their programming and tours to better represent everyone involved. Finally, the Salem youth finished their summer by creating signage for Bakers Island, with each participant taking part in the process of cutting, sanding, resizing, painting, and finishing each sign.

In Saugus, the youth started the summer by mulching the green spaces toward the front of the park. Saugus youth then began to undertake the “East Banks Project,” which entailed taking down the tarp and structure, moving all boards and items to the dumpster and other areas, filling the dumpster with any items that needed to be thrown out, evening out dirt and laying loam and seed to grow after the repaving of that end of the park. The Saugus crew undertook invasive species removal similarly to Salem, though on a much broader scale, carrying out invasive species removal every monday. The major project for Saugus this year was the refinishing of the Saugus Iron Works Museum. Under the supervision of staff from the Maintenance division, Future Leaders scrubbed and stripped the old finish and buildup of dirt from the museum exterior, and applied a protective mixture of linseed oil and pine tar. This was applied to the entirety of the siding. In order to do this, the Future Leaders also underwent scaffolding training with Asa Brown. Future Leaders also applied sealant to the deck of the museum and the fence.

Both sites undertook daily maintenance of the resources and facilities on a daily basis. At both sites this included cleaning and restocking restrooms, general cleaning and housekeeping, picking up trash around the site, and weeding throughout the site. In Saugus this also included the cleaning and maintenance of the historic structures and the bellows. 

Both sites also took part in cross-site/whole-program field trips and trainings focusing on climate sustainability. Future Leaders traveled to Crane’s Beach, Ipswich, in order to undergo a one-day workshop with The Trustees of Reservations about the importance of sand and dunes as coastal climate defense. The youth learned about dune ecology and inspected various layers of sand under a microscope. After this, the Future Leaders measured the grade of the beach from the dunes to the shoreline in order to determine the status of erosion. Future Leaders were able to interact with Park for Every Classroom participants in Salem, and had limited interactions with them in Saugus as a result of inclement weather. Salem youth were able to work with Salem Sound Coastwatch over the course of several days to take part in their efforts to refurbish and update their cigarette butt disposal bins around Salem as well as tending to their “rain gardens” at Winter Island and Collins Cove, which act as filters to remove debris from the rain water runoff before entering the ocean. While the majority of the Saugus crew was kept home as a result of Covid exposure, reducing the overall number of Saugus participants, available Future Leaders were also able to meet with representatives of State Senator Joan Lovely’s and State Representative Paul Tucker’s offices as well as with State Representative Sally Kerans. The Future Leaders were able to give a brief tour of Salem Maritime and Derby Wharf and ask questions about policies that affect them, such as Covid-related school policies and paid family medical leave. Those remaining Future Leaders were also able to undergo a sail training aboard the Schooner Adventure in Gloucester, in which they learned about the history of fishing in Massachusetts and the boats and equipment used, basic seamanship and knot tying, and careers in the maritime industry. There were two cross-site visits from Salem to Saugus for Future Leaders to socialize with and get to know their colleagues from both sites in order to foster a sense of community.

Through this job, I have gained knowledge, confidence, and a voice. To achieve such qualities at a job tends to be unheard of at my age, yet I have had nothing less than this exact experience. It is not only a unique summer job, but it is an essential  program that has aided in the growth and development of so many young people, such as myself, in social, political, historical, and environmental settings.” Marina D., age 18, Saugus.

Read about the impact Future Leaders has made in the community here!

Future Leaders Help to Preserve Salem's History

Future Leaders Push Through in the Face of Budget Cuts

The 2021 program is now wrapped up! Check back here in 2022 for an update on all the projects we'll undertaking and to get more information on how to apply!