"Mindful" Corps Experience Helps Young Man Overcome and Like a Phoenix, Fly Toward His Dreams

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Harris Cox will be recognized as a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year at The Corps Network National Conference in February. More stories for our 2015 Award Winners can be found here.

A staff member at Oakland, California’s Civicorps writes that “Harris Cox came to Civicorps at 21 years old with low self esteem and a lack of trust, seeking a community where he could thrive… We watched a young man who struggled with anger, insecurities and pain, blossom into a confident and productive member of our community.”

Pain plays a large part in Harris’s story, but his Civicorps experience helped renew his spirit, and taught him how to use that pain to help others.

“Before I joined the Corps I was moving from pillow to pillow without a stable place to lay my head,” says Harris. “I was mad at the world and myself because I didn’t understand my life. At the age of six I was the victim of a crime that left me with severe burns over my neck, arm, and legs and was in an extensive medically induced coma to deal with the pain and skin grafts that had to be done. After this I felt like society alienated me because of my scars and I had to fight for respect in order to feel normal.

As I grew up I was doing crimes and was in and out of jail.  I was weird about money because it was so hard to survive and I was just trying to feed myself and my family. At first my family consisted of several of my brothers and sisters (all together I have 16 brothers and at least 9 sisters who I have relationships with), and then I had a son to also care for and worry about. The last time I went to jail I was in for three years and I told myself, ‘That’s it.  I have to change. I have to find myself and find that man I wish my dad would’ve been or would’ve shown me.’ What made me want to become a Corpsmember was that all my life drugs had played a huge role in my family and I wanted to show my Grandmother that I could break the pattern, not throw my life away, and allow her to rest in peace. My mom never passed middle school because of drugs. My father didn’t care who or what hurt me because drugs took over… Looking back I can say that not once did either of my parents ever tell me from their hearts that they loved me. The day I cut my son’s umbilical cord, I vouched that every single day I would tell him I love him because I know that is all a child needs to begin. My son is now five years old and I have a one year old daughter and I am proud to say they hear I love them every day.”

During Harris’s time at Civicorps, he earned numerous perfect attendance awards and “hard hitter” awards, which recognize a strong commitment to work. He says that he gained a lot of job skills, and in particular enjoyed learning how to use chainsaws. He cut down trees as part of the conservation work he did with his peers. The impact of seeing the projects before and after they were completed made an impression on Harris. He learned how to work with people from different backgrounds and the valuable lesson that in his own words, “you sometimes just ‘gotta gulp it’ and be one with your job.” But perhaps what made the biggest impact on Harris was an internship he had with a CiviCorps partner called Mindful Impact. It’s an organization that helps adults and young people more intentionally process their emotions to alleviate stress and personal trauma while improving their personal health.

A staff member at Civicorps says that “Harris’s solid foundation of dedication and academic diligence, along with his quiet introspective spirit, naturally steered him toward an internship opportunity with Mindful Impact… Being a burn victim due to an act of hate, he understands trauma at its deepest level… Through his internship Harris gained a greater understanding of how the mind works and how we become reactionary when trauma is triggered. His connection to this knowledge and the benefit he has personally gained from the practice have allowed him to work with students young and old in an authentic manner. He returns to Civicorps regularly to introduce the topic to the new student cohorts and because Corpsmembers respond so well to Harris and his presentation of mindfulness, he was a guest speaker at the Health Summit… He spent time assisting with burn counseling alongside his own burn counselor and it is perhaps these experiences that led him on the path toward becoming a Mindfulness Coach.”

Harris says that “The Corps gave me a mirror and told me that I’m beautiful inside and out.  This happened because teachers kept telling me that there was something positive about me that I didn’t want to see… The one thing I’ll never forget about Civicorps is that they understood my pain and accepted me for who I am. I never had to force myself to fit in nor was I forced to talk about my past and my physical and emotional scars. Everyone waited for me to open up; they waited until I was comfortable to talk about being burned and in a coma for six years. And when I did open up they didn’t judge, they cried with me… Civicorps became my pillow and now I don’t have to keep moving from place to place I just have to keep learning and remember how far I have come and how far I still want to go.”

Harris earned his high school diploma in June and also received three AmeriCorps education awards for his service while enrolled in Civicorps. He currently attends Merritt and Laney Community Colleges with the goal of earning an Associate in Arts degree. He wants to then transfer to a university to continue his education.

Harris also currently volunteers with the Mosaic Project, a nonprofit in Oakland that works with fourth and fifth graders to teach them about diversity and conflict resolution. In other words, it’s a role that plays to Harris’s strengths. Civicorps staff hear highly positive reviews from their counterparts at the Mosaic Project. Harris visits schools to talk to students, but also serves as a recurring volunteer Cabin Leader. He serves as the primary adult leading a group of six to eight students as they have a weeklong experience at the Mosaic Project’s outdoor school.

Harris says that learning about mindfulness “helps victims of trauma understand what they are dealing with and to be more relaxed in order not to have immediate or negative reactions and actions. I teach this method of relaxation to kids.. and I think starting out building these skills at a young age will reduce the percentage of youth going to jail... We talk about behavior and understanding how to help one another with pain and how to heal from pain.”


Harris is currently one of the Civicorps’ Corpmembers featured in an advertising campaign around Oakland that uses posters, and even a large billboard to recruit new young people into the program. One poster features Harris alone, and in large type the poster says “I make Oakland look good.” Now that you know Harris’s story, it’s probably hard to disagree.

Harris says that “I have two passions, one is for flying and I have a dream of getting my pilot’s license, the other is to be a role model for youth. I would like to be some type of social work counselor or juvenile probation officer to help youth stay away from jail or even worse, prison.  I want to keep youth from being exposed to that negative world. I am going to continue in college and hope to get my Masters Degree in psychology so that I can help people at a deeper level. Really, I am inspired to go to college no only for myself but because I have friends who passed and who wanted to go to college so now I feel I need to do it for them. Ultimately, if I don’t get my pilot’s license it will be okay because I know I’ll be flying kids towards their dreams and that will be just fine with me.”

Boiler Plate: 
Meet 2015 Corpsmember of the Year Harris Cox.

Young Woman Catches the "Corps Bug" : A Passion for Service, AmeriCorps to Blame

The following story showcases one of The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners. Graciela Billingsley will be recognized as a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year at The Corps Network National Conference in February. More stories for our 2015 Award Winners can be found here.

Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley is all about service. Citing her parents as an inspiration, she believes that from the day they adopted her and her siblings, a passion for service to others and one’s community was ignited. The gratitude she feels toward her parents’ decision is immense. To explain further, while they were excited to adopt Gracie as a baby, the adoption agency subsequently informed her parents that they had the opportunity to adopt her siblings as well. Ultimately, even though they had not initially planned for it, they chose to do it so that Gracie and all of her siblings could remain together.

Upon graduating from high school in 2012, Gracie decided to take a “gap year” to serve her country before going to college. She heard about AmeriCorps from a relative, and joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). In this first prolonged service experience, Gracie worked on a variety of environmental stewardship and disaster relief projects in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Alabama. It’s safe to say that Gracie caught the “Corps bug.” This past summer, Gracie wanted to continue serving and also try camping, so she joined a crew with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Colorado as an AmeriCorps member. Gracie continued her stewardship by working on hiking trail maintenance and environmental restoration projects in the White River National Forest.

A staff member at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (RMYC) explains that “Gracie began the summer season at RMYC never having camped before. She rose to the challenges of living outside and working with a team in a 24/7 environment and despite her inexperience in camping, grew enormously, showing confidence and initiative around camp and at the worksite. Along the way she demonstrated her commitment to self-growth by asking thoughtful questions, seeking out feedback, and giving constructive criticism to leaders and others. From the beginning she was a leader by example, generously offering her time and effort to others on her team. Her focus was constantly on the crew before herself. Gracie’s philosophy is that as long as she has energy to give, her intention is to keep giving to others… Gracie fulfills the ideal of what it means to be an AmeriCorps member and public servant.”

One of Gracie’s most notable efforts went above and beyond what she signed up for. Following the end of her season, she organized a donation drive in collaboration with a charitable organization, Lift-Up of Routt County. She mobilized her fellow RMYC participants to help secure donations of food and clothing.

Following her time in Colorado, Gracie moved to the Washington, DC area. Putting the Education Awards she earned through AmeriCorps to use, she currently attends Northern Virginia Community College. Gracie plans to earn a degree in Government and International Affairs. She then hopes to join the Peace Corps masters program. Her ultimate goal is to embark on a career as a foreign service officer for the United States.

Gracie also presently serves as the volunteer Social Committee Co-Chair for the Washington DC Chapter of AmeriCorps Alums. “I don’t think enough people know about AmeriCorps and the invaluable effects the organization has on future generations, generations currently and on the Nation as a whole,” says Gracie. “I truly believe in AmeriCorps and want to bring what I learned in my service terms back home and to link up with other community leaders to raise awareness, funds and people to answer the call to service. My goal as a Social Co-Chair is to network with colleges, high schools, elementary schools and non-profits in the DC and surrounding areas to do as many volunteer events, community events and alum events as possible to build strong relations and to represent AmeriCorps the best way possible.”

Gracie cares so much about sharing her experience with others in part because of what it meant to her through both of her Corps experiences: “I am forever grateful for my service terms because these experiences truly shaped my life and gave me the confidence I need to fulfill my dreams. I have learned that my task is not done when the hard day is over or when I have overcome a challenge, rather the true accomplishment is the realization that I am not done because service is a life fulfilling commitment that is unending and needed for all of humanity.”

Boiler Plate: 
Read the story of Graciela “Gracie” Billingsley, a 2015 Corpsmember of the Year.

AmeriCorps NCCC and California Conservation Corps Partner to Build Stronger Corps to Crewleader Pathway

On November 5th, Erin Healy, Programs and Operations Division Chief of the California Conservation Corps (CCC), and Charles L. Davenport Jr., Acting Regional Director of AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region, signed a MOU into effect that allows CCC Crewleaders to be given preferential selection as a Team Leader with NCCC Pacific Region. Crewleaders must have at least 6 months of experience in their position and be able to get a reference from their Center Director to qualify for the preference.

In addition to attending the signing event, U.S. Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-6) wrote in a letter (shown right) that "This partnership is a prime example of how different levels of government can successfully work together toward achieving a common goal." Congresswoman Matsui is a long-time supporter of Corps programs, and was recognized as a Corps Network Congressional Champion in 2008.

You can read more on the partnership in the attached MOU. Both AmeriCorps NCCC and California Conservation Corps are members of The Corps Network.

West Virginia Courtesy Patrol Celebrates 16 Year Anniversary

Story provided by Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia

The West Virginia Courtesy Patrol (WVCP) program, operated by the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, is celebrating its sixteenth year of providing roadside assistance and services to citizens and tourists across the mountain state.  The friendly fleet of roving white trucks is designed to provide employment, training, and educational opportunities while also enhancing safety, rendering aid and assistance to disabled motorists, and addressing road related incidents or accidents.

The WVCP benefits the traveling public who use the state’s interstate highways and corridors for tourism, as well as local, and interstate commerce. Since the program’s inception on November 21, 1998, the overall statistics are as follows: 71.5 million miles logged; 2.9 million phone calls received; 291,050 vehicles assisted; 17,610 stops for debris removal; 8,455 deer, 178 bears and 3,988 other dead animals removed; 14,000 routine procedural checks; 77,533 abandoned vehicles checked; and administered first-aid 131 times and CPR 9 times.

The Courtesy Patrol program first put the state of West Virginia on the map as a result of the 1998 federal legislation known as “Welfare-to-Work”. The WVCP was recognized for its innovative approach to job creation by the United States Department of Labor and helped the state of West Virginia capture millions of dollars in high performance bonuses and matching funds due to its job placement and retention successes. 

The Courtesy Patrol plays a vital role in the state’s Homeland Security initiatives and AMBER Alert, which is a primary tool used in the search, aid and recovery of an abducted child.  Patrol operators are also trained in freeway incident management, defensive driving, First Aid and CPR.  Hours of operation are 16 hours a day (3 pm to 7 am), 7 days a week. 

Boiler Plate: 
The West Virginia Courtesy Patrol (WVCP) program, operated by the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia, is celebrating its sixteenth year of providing roadside assistance and services to citizens and tourists across the mountain state. The friendly fleet of roving white trucks is designed to provide employment, training, and educational opportunities while also enhancing safety, rendering aid and assistance to disabled motorists, and addressing road related incidents or accidents.

A Tribute to Ladine Daniels, Jr.

This week we received the very sad news that our good friend Ladine “JR” Daniels had passed away during his sleep this past weekend. We, and everyone who loved JR, are extremely saddened by this loss.

For those of you who don’t know JR, he lived in Charleston, South Carolina and was an AmeriCorps Corpsmember in the Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps (shown on left in photo above with Sustainability Institute staff members). We first came to know him at The Corps Network when he was selected as a Corpsmember of the Year in 2012. Since that time, JR has continued to work as a staff member for the Sustainability Institute. He has also worked with us and as a member of the National Council of Young Leaders to promote issues he cared deeply about, including the need for re-entry programs for young people who have been incarcerated.


A wake for JR will take place tomorrow evening at 6 pm, and his funeral will be on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Charity Missionary Baptist Church 1544 E. Montague N. Charleston, SC. Flowers may be sent to Hilton’s Mortuary, Inc., 1852 E Montague Ave., North Charleston, SC 29405-5158.

If you would like to send a donation in JR’s honor, please send it to The Sustainability Institute at 113 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC 29401. Memorials and tributes are currently being discussed with JR’s family so that they appropriately honor his memory.

Bryan Cordell, Executive Director of The Sustainability Institute (TSI), wrote the following message about JR to TSI’s Board of Directors:

“Most of you had the privilege of getting to know J.R. at our board and staff retreat or other SI functions. J.R. overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to become a stellar Corps member, program graduate and shining star of our ECC program. For his leadership and dedication to AmeriCorps he was recognized as a 2012 national Corps member of the year. He also served as a member of the National Council of Young Leaders. We celebrated those things that J.R. achieved, but he was so much more than that to all of us. We soon hired J.R. at SI as the ECC team leader and supervisor where he devoted each and every day to helping the young people in our program find renewed hope and success. J.R. didn't see it as a job, he saw his work with us - and his work in the community - as his purpose. And, he was great at it. We had just made the decision last week to promote J.R. to lead and supervise our new Veterans Corps program, a challenge he was ready to take on and without a doubt would have succeeded at.”


We at The Corps Network definitely agree that JR would have excelled in this role, or any that he chose. He was a member of the Marine Corps, and had proven that he was an excellent motivator. One of his friends wrote the following on his Facebook page: “I served with Ladine Jr. Daniels in the Marine Corps. He was always uplifting and kept our little tight knit crew laughing. A phenomenal young man who has accomplished so much. Gone but not forgotten.”

Our friends at Spark Action in collaboration with The National Council of Young Leaders put together a moving tribute video to JR, that features him speaking.



One of the pleasures we have enjoyed at The Corps Network, is seeing how much JR had embraced his role as a spokesperson and become an even more compelling speaker over the past few years.

For instance, you can
 watch his speech at a recent Congressional Briefing with the National Council of Young Leaders. You can also read an updated “where is he now” story about JR from last year, with some fantastic quotes.

We will miss you JR! You are gone but will certainly not be forgotten.

Boiler Plate: 
This week we received the very sad news that our good friend Ladine “JR” Daniels had passed away during his sleep this past weekend. We, and everyone who loved JR, are extremely saddened by this loss.

The North Face and My Morning Jacket Collaborate in Support of 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

Earlier this week, The North Face and the Department of Interior announced a partnership in support of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. 

According to the DOI press release, "The North Face committed $250,000 and also launched a campaign today as a key component of the initiative featuring a new recording of Woody Guthrie’s iconic anthem “This Land is Your Land” by two-time Grammy nominee My Morning Jacket. The song will be available on iTuneswith more than half of each download going to the 21CSC as My Morning Jacket donates their portion of proceeds to the initiative. Monies raised will create jobs for youth and returning veterans through 21CSC projects on public lands across the nation – from Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California to Everglades National Park in Florida.

We think this is very exciting and are also pleased to see all of the attention it has been getting from publications that run the gambit. Here's a run-down of stories from well-known publications so far:

Telling Urbanites to Flee the Cities (The New York Times)

My Morning Jacket covers Woody Guthrie in epic new commercial (USA Today)

My Morning Jacket Records Woody Guthrie Classic For North Face Campaign To Benefit Public Lands (Fast Company)

The North Face and Dept. of Interior Partner to Protect Public Lands (Triple Pundit)

My Morning Jacket's Jim James on 'Magic' of 'This Land Is Your Land' (Rolling Stone)

[Video] U.S. Secretary Of The Interior Sally Jewell (Huffington Post Live)

The advertisement below will debut on Sunday Night Football on November 9th. At the very end you can see the 21CSC logo for a split-second. 

We wish to thank the Department of Interior, The North Face, and My Morning Jacket for their support of getting more young people and veterans out working on America's public lands through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps!

Northwest Youth Corps Partners with 2015 American Trails International Trails Symposium

Next May, the 2015 American Trails International Trails Symposium will take place in Portland, Oregon. Northwest Youth Corps has been helping to work on the Symposium and will represent the Corps Movement at the Symposium as the trails world continues to focus on youth as an integral part of their efforts to build and maintain trail systems, and continue to make them a terrific resource for today's Americans.

You can read more about the Symposium and "Ten Reasons to Attend" on pages 10-13 in the Fall edition of American Trails magazine. 

Sequoia Community Corps Helps Deliver Water to Drought Affected Households

Corpsmembers and Senior Center staff load water in East Porterville (photo originally published in The LA Times).

From Sequoia Community Corps' Newsletter

Partnering with the Tulare County Fire Department, fourteen Corpsmembers and five CSET Senior Services staff helped deliver over 15,500 1-gallon water containers to approximately 300 drought affected households in East Porterville. The community is one of the hardest hit areas after declaration of the drought in Tulare County.

Approximately 500 homes reported being out of water after a survey was conducted in September. With dry wells and cost-prohibitive contracting fees, many families cannot afford to dig deeper wells to compensate for the lack of water.

CSET and other local agencies are coordinating relief efforts to ease the stress and provide support to the East Porterville community. The volunteer efforts of Corpsmembers and Senior Center staff were greatly appreciated, and were highlighted in The LA Times. Visit this link to check out the article!

Boiler Plate: 
Partnering with the Tulare County Fire Department, fourteen Corpsmembers and ve CSET Senior Services staff helped deliver over 15,500 1-gallon water containers to approximately 300 drought affected households in East Porterville. The community is one of the hardest hit areas after declaration of the drought in Tulare County.

SCA Receives Environmental Award

Story provided by SCA

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) was recently presented with the Walden Woods Project’s Environmental Challenge Award by Don Henley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist and founder of the Walden Woods Project and Thoreau Institute.  The presentation took place on stage at a packed Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston moments before a concert by Henley’s band, the Eagles.

“Today, more than ever,” said Henley, “we need to foster the next generation of concerned and committed environmental stewards of our planet.”

Actor Robert Redford, who accepted the Walden Woods Project’s Global Environmental Leadership Award, also pointed to young people as a solution in his keynote address.  “Our youth are our future.  And that’s why I’m here tonight in celebration of these honorees.”

SCA received the Environmental Challenge Award for engaging youth in hands-on conservation service and serving as a model for those who seek effective, constructive and sustainable outcomes.  The award was accepted by SCA Vice President Kevin Hamilton and SCA intern Sophia Bass Werner, who just completed a summer program of mammal and habitat conservation at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

The award sponsors noted that SCA had recently reached the milestone of 75,000 members, and in addition to their immediate impact in preserving parks, forests and refuges in all 50 states, seven out of ten SCA alumni are employed in a conservation-related field.

The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the land, literature, and legacy of Henry David Thoreau through conservation, education, research and advocacy.  Founded 25 years ago, the Project uses the land it has protected in Walden Woods to foster an ethic of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, both cornerstones of Thoreau’s philosophy.

Boiler Plate: 
The Student Conservation Association (SCA) was recently presented with the Walden Woods Project’s Environmental Challenge Award by Don Henley, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist and founder of the Walden Woods Project and Thoreau Institute. The presentation took place on stage at a packed Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston moments before a concert by Henley’s band, the Eagles.

Conservation Legacy Corps' Day of the A Photos Demonstrate Creativity

Although there were certainly a lot of fantastic photos taken recently for the "Day of the A," in promotion of AmeriCorps' 20th Anniversary, we thought that the collection of photos we received from Southwest Conservation Corps and Arizona Conservation Corps were particularly witty. Check them out!

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