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 2020, the Future Leaders Program was able to run, but adapted to the conditions of the pandemic in order to best serve our youth while keeping them safe. We reduced our operating numbers to a maximum of 9 participants per site, effectively cutting our numbers in half, in order to best accomodate increased distancing measures in order to keep participants safe. We also unfortunately had to forego our usual field trips to partner sites, but that doesn't mean we didn't get to engage in a number of learning activities! This year, for the first time ever, the Future Leaders engaged in two virtual tours of Salem Maritime National Historic Site focusing on the portrayal and legacy of Northern slavery in Salem. The Future Leaders took the latest virtual tour of the site, recently developed by Park Service interpretive staff, followed by a discussion, then subsequently took the original tour and had a second discussion to compare and contrast the two. While we weren't able to take our regular trip to the Massachusetts State House this year, State Senator Joan Lovely and State Representative Paul Tucker and their staff were gracious enough to meet and converse with the Future Leaders over Zoom, explaining the legislative process both in general and as it relates to the current conditions imposed by COVID-19, as well as taking the time to answer questions from the youth pertaining to how they can be more civically engaged, specifics of the day-to-day operations of the government, and policies affecting them as youth such as the current school schedule in the midst of the pandemic. Projects in Salem this year included working to rebuild and reinforce the wharf, repair and protect much of the historic woodwork, and maintain the grounds for visitors. In Saugus, participants worked to repair and maintain the exterior of the Saugus Iron Works Museum, built and repaired fencing, performed daily maintenance on the bellows and other ironworking equipment, and maintained the grounds on a daily basis. 

“You have the opportunity to develop work ethic and responsibility. Getting to be an apprentice blacksmith has been spectacular, and has definitely helped me get a better sense of what goes on in our National Parks. Not only did I get to learn the basics of a fascinating trade, but I got to hone my skills of teaching by doing demonstrations for and interacting with the public.” Ryan D., age 18.

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 well underway! Check back here at the end of the summer for an update on all the projects we're undertaking, or come and see for yourself!