2010 Corpsmember of the Year: Alejandro Lopez

Alejandro Lopez was incarcerated at the age of 15 for a gang-related drive-by shooting. He lost two years of his life behind bars, and feels he could easily have wound up living a sad stereotype: the son of farm workers, with a criminal record, likely to end up back in jail or worse.

Fortunately, EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps recruited from his class of parolees. In the Corps, the once reserved young man blossomed and recovered from past mistakes.

Alejandro began vocational training on an irrigation crew while attending the Corps’ School of Unlimited Learning. The boy with the record became a man with credentials: earning a high school diploma and AmeriCorps Education Awards which took him to Fresno City College.

In 2009 Alejandro was selected for the Division of Juvenile Justice Outstanding Achievement Award for Juvenile Courts – recognition reserved for young ex-offenders who have changed their lives.

Today Alejandro has reached accomplishments his parents hardly dared dream of. He owns his own home, building a stable family for his child. To give back to others living the life he once had, he works at EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, aiming to grow into a supervisory role.

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: Shanice Long

Observers who see Shanice Long advise Corpsmembers on how to master the requirements for the high school diploma, or hear her representing Corpsmembers in second chance appeal, might not suspect that this quiet young woman, who leads by example, came to Oakland’s Civicorps homeless, without a mom or dad, a sixteen year-old 11th grade dropout with 9th grade credits, with just the clothes on her back. 

Shanice Long walked in the door and then, as she says, “my life changed 100 percent.” She joined a crew working 32 hours a week in exhausting heavy trail maintenance. After hours Shanice headed straight to class and worked just as hard on getting her diploma—and so was able to give up the chainsaw and post-hole digger for the computer, working at Civicorps’ Learning Center, where she rapidly mastered a range of software and demonstrated a real gift in helping others achieve. 

Today after work, she still goes to school—but now that means community college, where Shanice is in her second semester, focusing on paralegal studies, using one of her two AmeriCorps scholarships. She just moved into her first apartment, bought a car, and has plans to continue at a four-year college.   

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: Corey Brown

***Update! Click here to find out what Corey has been up to since he won his award.***

Corey Brown’s mother’s severe mental illness made parenting an impossibility. From a young age Corey lived with and cared for his father, who had severe physical disabilities. Corey did everything: buying family groceries, cleaning, and earning money to help pay the bills, without complaint. 

In college, Corey juggled a full course load with a forty to fifty hour work week, while maintaining the family household. “I was miserable, poor, burnt out from all the work and terrified that if I messed up one thing that would be the end of it. I did not have parents or support to rely on. I was alone.”

Then Corey made a dramatic decision. He would move cross-country to live with a mentor in Denver, building a new life for himself. Corey was hired by Mile High Youth Corps.

On the Water Conservation Crew, Corey became a problem-solver and leader, taking on increasing levels of responsibility. The support of the Corps allowed him to share the strengths that he had always relied upon in youth.

Corey plans to dedicate his life to instilling that same confidence in others by eventually earning a Master’s degree in psychology and working as a counselor or social worker.

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: William Brandt

Once a wildly undisciplined youth, William Brandt’s lack of direction was aggravated by substance abuse and a defensive, angry attitude.  He got into trouble with the law.

But when he heard about the Urban Corps of San Diego—and the opportunity to get paid, get trained, and earn a diploma, all at the same time—his goals came quickly into focus.  The Corps staff treated him as a young professional, and William rose to the challenge. 

Today William is a self-possessed young man who represents the Corps in outreach events, is currently studying at the community college, with the aim of getting his associates’ degree in drug and alcohol counseling with an emphasis on social work. 

At the same time, he will be serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the Restoring Youth and Communities program in San Diego, which works within parole and corrections offices, counseling and mentoring youth in the justice system. 

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Christopher Thomas

***Update! Click here to read about what Chris has been up to since he accepted his award.***

 

(Written in 2011)

Despite challenging circumstances, Christopher Thomas overcame adversity to become a leader in the California Conservation Corps (CCC). He and his 3 siblings were raised alone by their mom, who worked 3 jobs and also survived cervical cancer.

In 2005, Chris enlisted in the Marines after working as a youth pastor. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was wounded twice over his four years of service. He received shrapnel in the chest and was stabbed once, leading to a medical discharge. Soon thereafter, he joined the CCC.

Chris became a Crew Leader, admired for his dedication, unassuming nature, and his pursuit of service to others. He and his crew worked on a variety of projects, such as helping to maintain newly planted trees and decrease fire potential by reducing fuels. It was not so easy at first though.

Chris says that “coming from the military, we were all taught to think and act one way. So I just didn’t run into different personalities until I came to the Corps. It was really a culture shock and the fact that I was forced to work with these people really was a smack to the face. But it taught me patience and greatly improved my people skills. No matter where I go in life my time in the Corps will only benefit me. And I no longer feel ‘forced’ but blessed to work with different types of people.”

Chris’s supervisors noticed his nature to go above and beyond. While only required by the CCC to complete 48 hours of volunteer community service, Chris logged nearly 250 hours. For this reason, they nominated him for the Silver Presidential Service Award, which he ultimately received from the Corporation for National Service in September of 2010.

It’s this kind of ethic that Chris’s supervisors believe will ultimately make it easy for him to find a job with one of the agencies or departments he has worked with. He has already interviewed for a position with the Department of Water Resources, but says that “no matter where I end up, I just want to help people, whether that’s my career or not.”

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Tyler Rose


(Written in 2011)

Tyler Rose dropped out of high school his senior year. He was not engaged and only had a short distance left to go. But life was complicated for Tyler, who was also about to become a father.

After getting his GED with YouthBuild USA, a program that also helps young people gain construction skills, Tyler joined the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). As a new member of CREC’s Energy Conservation Corps (ECC), Tyler received additional skills training through Coconino Community College, earning certificates in Workplace Readiness, Introduction to Energy Auditing, Energy Basics, and Construction Safety. While learning how to weatherize and safely seal homes, Tyler also improved his speaking skills by going door to door passing out educational flyers.

These positive experiences helped Tyler realize that he wanted to make a career out of his green construction skills and energy efficiency knowledge. He dedicated himself to the work and spirit of the Conservation Corps. For example, when a major flood hit the Flagstaff area, Tyler volunteered beyond his normal work days to go to resident’s homes and help them lay sand bags to secure their homes from imminent flooding.

Near the end of Tyler’s term, his eagerness to learn and work hard was rewarded. He was promoted to the position of Crew Co-Leader. As a result of his hard work and the recognition that followed, Tyler was able to make connections within the community and secure himself a permanent job as an energy auditor with E-3 Energy, a local green energy company. Tyler says it’s “the best job I’ve ever had.”

Tyler is now working hard to become certified as a Building Performance Institute Certified Building Analyst. Once certified, Tyler will be able to perform building energy audits independently and advance within his current company.

In the long-term Tyler says he would be happy to become the owner of a green energy company or simply advance within the company he currently works for. While he says that being the single father of a 3 year old can be challenging, he’s happy with the progress he’s made on a green career pathway and takes pride in the fact that he’s making the world a better place—one house at a time.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Andrew McKee


***Update! Click here to find out what Andrew has been up to since he won his award.***

When Andrew McKee left jail on probation, he feared what life would be like: how would he get past the stigma of the conviction? Would he able to turn his life around? Happily, Andrew discovered that he could succeed after he joined the Phipps CDC, NYC Justice Corps.

It was an experience that not only boosted his confidence, but also his employability and his desire to give back to communities. Andrew and his crewmates completed major renovations to a local day care center, a project that Andrew says filled him with a deep sense of pride.

Andrew also became a reliable leader who showed a talent for documenting his team’s success through photography. This hard work and professionalism paid off when he obtained a high profile internship with the NYC Department of Probation, where he served as a special assistant to the Commisioner’s Office.

Once again, because of Andrew’s work ethic and achievements during his internship, he had even more success, securing a job as a full-time Field Supervisor with the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development.

In addition to working, during the night Andrew is also pursuing a liberal arts degree at Borough of Manhattan Community College. In his free time, he’s also making good use of photography hobby as a means to show other young people how they can have a positive impact on their communities. For instance, he has volunteered his time taking photographs for a non-profit organization that helps youth channel positive energy into dance rather than into negative activities. He also photographs young poets and musicians, and was even praised by Carvens Lissaint, an award winning Haitian-American performing artist whom Andrew has met and photographed.

Andrew is now a role model for others and proves that despite one’s past, there is always the potential to change and help make the world a better place.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Oscar Alejandro Marquina


***Update! Click here to read about what Oscar has been up to since he won his award***

(Written in 2011 - some details may have changed)

In 2001 Oscar immigrated to the United States from Venezuela with his family. Seven years later, Oscar had learned to speak English and was serving as one of two original Crew Leaders for the Utah Conservation Corps Bilingual Youth Corps. 

After serving in this position for two summers, he was promoted to Senior Crew Leader in 2010. Oscar was instrumental in the development of this new program which was started in an effort to meet the needs of the growing Latino community in Northern Utah. His background and personal experience enabled him to understand and connect with Latino youth and their families. 

He held parent orientation meetings in Spanish and enabled potential members to complete their applications and conduct their interviews in Spanish or English. As finding transportation is often a challenge for low income youth, Oscar worked with guidance counselors to set up interviews at local high schools to work around this barrier. He also translated UCC materials and training resources into both languages. Oscar has become an incredible role model and mentor for Latino youth in Northern Utah.

He has demonstrated that a young Latino immigrant can learn English, gain valuable works skills, and obtain a college degree. In addition to encouraging Corpsmembers to pursue higher education, Oscar himself will graduate this year from Utah State University with a degree in Environmental Engineering, with hopes of pursuing a Masters degree in the future.

In his free time, Oscar also works with Engineers without Borders, an international program that helps create a more stable and prosperous world by addressing basic human needs such as clean water, power, sanitation, and education. He even led a trail maintenance workshop at the organization’s annual conference last Fall, illustrating that Oscar has become a distinguished ambassador for the work that organizations like the Utah Conservation Corps do.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Mari Takemoto-Chock



***Update! Click here to read about what Mari has been up to since she won her award.***

Mari Takemoto-Chock is from the rural town of Hilo on the eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. A strong student, Mari says that she “successfully managed to out-geek all other geeks in my senior year of high school.”

After graduating, Mari saw how huge the opportunity gap was between students from neighbor islands and students from Oahu. While Mari did go to college, this is not a common occurrence for a young person from Hawaii. The state’s public schools system ranks near the bottom of schools in the nation, and college is not always emphasized by schools. So Mari took it upon herself to help make a difference for other young Hawaiians, for whom opportunities need to be created.

She started by working after college for U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Mazie Hirono from Hawaii’s 2nd district. After getting a taste of high-level policy, Mari was ready to get a more hands-on experience. In 2010, Mari applied to be an Americorps VISTA with KUPU, the organization that operates the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps.

Among her many accomplishments, Mari has helped the Corps to improve their social media communications, helped organize Kupu’s participation in a Christmas parade where they handed out seed envelopes of native Hawaiian plants, and helped raise money for the organization. The bulk of her work, however, has been to plan and create the organization’s new “Urban Corps.” The Corps began its operations in January and will create a job training and life skills education program for Honolulu’s under-resourced youth. Corpsmembers will be trained to install solar panels, complete environmental conservation work, and will also learn about energy efficiency.

Mari says that the “intense, focused, cause-driven experience has been energizing.” She also notes that “work that is personally meaningful can make up for a lot of daily frustrations and disappointments (and there are many when piloting a new project).”

Once she completes her service as an Americorps member, Mari would like to return to Capitol Hill to work on energy, environmental, and education issues as part of the legislative staff for a member of the Hawaii delegation. She also hopes to earn a law degree with a focus on environmental and climate justice. Mari’s passion, success, and desire to help her fellow Hawaiians makes her a leader and role model for others.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: De'Andre Alexander


***Update! Click here to read about what De'Andre has been up to since winning his award.***

(Written in 2011)

De’Andre Alexander says that in the past he was described by others as “cool, but also disloyal, dishonest, and disobedient.” After committing an armed robbery in 2007, De’Andre was arrested and went to jail. “When I was released from jail, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew that the first thing that I had to do was get a job, which is hard to do with a felony on your record. That’s when I came to Operation Fresh Start and applied.”

Since coming to Operation Fresh Start (OFS), De’Andre has become an influential and charismatic force. With his crew, De’Andre has helped construct several new homes in low-income communities as well as work on a number of conservation projects. He is also appreciated for his willingness to help fellow Corpsmembers work through their problems and persevere.

De’Andre is currently serving his 2nd term at OFS and is also enrolled at Madison Area Technical College in the Health Club Technician program. But De’Andre has even bigger plans.

He wants to get his felony expunged so that he can join the military and earn a bachelor’s degree. He also wants to get a teaching license and be a high school gym teacher and possibly a football coach. De’Andre now understands how crucial this formative time can be in a young person’s life.

“I want to help teach kids how to make positive decisions so that they won’t make the same choices I made before I joined OFS. After being here for 16 months, people describe me as honorable, positive, and authentic. Not only have I learned how to work with different people in different situations, but I’ve learned how to control my anger significantly, push myself to the limit, and lead a group to successfully complete a goal. Being a Corpsmember has impacted my life dramatically and shown me the way to success.”

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