Powerful Speeches Delivered at YouthBuild's 25th Annual AmeriCorps Conference of Young Leaders

A YouthBuild member shows off his moves at a Talent Show. 

Earlier this week I was very excited to attend a segment of YouthBuild's Conference of Young Leaders. For the uninitiated, YouthBuild is a series of youth development programs that "work to unleash the intelligence and positive energy of low-income youth to rebuild their communities and their lives."

Numerous partners of YouthBuild, including The Corps Network, were invited to watch as nearly 30 Youthbuild members competed for 8 elected positions on Youthbuild's Youth Leadership Council. Candidates gave short 2 minute speeches highlighting their backgrounds, the role YouthBuild had played in improving their lives, and why they wanted to be on the Council. 115 delegates from around the country attend the Conference, and so the audience was filled with supportive peers and mentors. Some YouthBuild members are even part of Service and Conservation Corps where YouthBuild programs also operate. And while the time each candidate had to speak was short, I found that there was an incredible amount of passion, authenticity, and inspirational messages interwoven in what they each had to say.

Here are some of the great quotes that I wrote down among all of the speeches (and my apologies if some of these I recorded with some minor variations! Rapid fire inspiration is sometimes hard to record quickly when spewing forth like a river busting through a dam):

"We want to show this country we aren't losers. We're leaders. We're not menaces. We're ministers."

"You are who you are based upon your actions not how you look."

"This is your chance to make a difference in your life."

"Without Youthbuild there's so much I could be into that's not positive."

"Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean construction jobs are just for men."

"Service means a lot to me and it's a big part of who I am."

"YouthBuild took me out of a dangerous river where I wasn't building bridges for future generations."

"I'm already a member of the Youth Leadership Council even if there isn't an official spot for me."

"I promise to lead myself to the top leaving no one behind."

"I want to be that domino effect where one person helps another and it keeps going."

"One of my biggest dreams is to build my mom's first home from the ground up."

"If the rural [community] doesn't speak up, our problems won't get fixed."

"In this world we are all atoms, full of energy."

"As Frederick Douglas said, 'without struggles comes no progress.'"

"A lot of people say you can't turn a prostitute and drug dealer into a housewive, but here I am... I feel like I committed adultry because I'm married and I'm also in love with YouthBuild."

"No dejes para maniana lo que puedas hacer hoy / Leave not for tommorow what you can finish today."

"Education is a great equalizer."

I express my congratulations to all of the candidates for having the courage to run and tell their deeply personal stories to what was essentially a large room of strangers. I also am glad I did not have to vote, as there were clearly many, many worthy candidates for those 8 spots on the youth council. Thanks also to YouthBuild for the invitation to participate in this inspirational event!

Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture pays a visit to Southwest Conservation Corps' Los Valles office

Colorado Commissioer of Agriculture John Salazar visits with staff members at Southwest Conservation Corps's Los Valles office to learn about AmeriCorps

Editor's Note: John Salazar, Commissioner of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, recently visited Southwest Conservation Corps's Salida, CO office as part of a program to raise awareness about the importance of AmeriCorps programs in rural communities. Before he was appointed Commissioner by Governor John Hickenlooper, Salazar served as a United States Representative for Colorado's 3rd District from 2005 - 2011. Commissioner Salazar is the older brother of Ken Salazar, United States Secretary of the Interior, who spoke at The Corps Network's annual award ceremony on Capitol Hill in February. 


Originally Published in The Mountain Mail of Salido, Colorado - story by Casey Kelly 

With the focus on improving rural economies, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar toured Southwest Conservation Corps’ Los Valles office in Salida Friday.

The visit was part of Serve Colorado’s “Honorary Member for a Day” program to highlight the impact of AmeriCorps programs in Colorado communities.

“As First Lady Michelle Obama has tried to push farm-to-table and fighting childhood obesity, we want to see if there is a place for the Colorado Department of Agriculture to help,” Salazar said.

Robin Lewis, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member serving with Southwest Conservation Corps, discussed efforts to increase access to fresh local food, like the school district garden, and future plans for more farm-to-table projects.

“We have a great pool of young people that we want to connect to the community,” Lewis said.

While touring the Los Valles office, Lewis showed Salazar the garden tended by the corps’ crew members. She said last season the crew grew 200 pounds of zucchini, Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, broccoli and other vegetables to feed themselves.

Program Director Julie Mach said the harvests were bountiful enough that the crews sold some of the extra produce to local farmers’ markets later in the season.

“The idea is to make the program self-sustaining,” she said.

Mach said the conservations corps hosts about 50 AmeriCorps members each year, who come to Salida to work on environmental conservation projects on public lands.

Lewis also coordinates a agriculture-focused program known as AgriCorps, which she said brings 60 young people in the summer and fall to do community service projects.

“These programs can coexist with big agriculture operations,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the Department of Agriculture has limited funding, but does have access to some federal grants.

Carlo Boyd, with Buena Vista Home & Garden, attended the meeting with Salazar and talked with the commissioner about affordable housing, water and ideas to mobilize young people.

Concerning water, Salazar said he’d like to shift the conversation to focus on conservation.

“I’m a farmer and rancher, and we use conservation measures. We only use as much water as the crop consumes,” he said. “Let’s start talking about the water we have and figure out a way to plan around that availability. The technology is here.”

Mach brought up conservation projects Southwest Conservation Corps has been involved in to promote conservation, such as replacing old showerheads, toilets and other appliances with water-efficient alternatives.

“It’s not as much about reinventing the wheel as it is using the technology that exists now to be more efficient,” she said.


How a Former Corpsmember Helps Current Corpsmembers: Mike Bridges' rise from Corpsmember to Supervisor

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,
Michael Bridges

Mike receiving his award at The Corps Network 2006 National Conference in Washington, DC

Michael Bridges, formerly a Corpsmember with Conservation Corps of Long Beach, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Mike and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2006 National Conference.

Michael Bridges followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined Conservation Corps of Long Beach in 2003. Mike had recently dropped out of high school and thought that becoming a Corpsmember would be a good way to get back on track.  

“I saw how it was changing the lives of some of the Corpsmembers and I realized really quickly that it was a second chance for me to get things going in own my life,” said Mike.

Mike progressed quickly at CCLB, ultimately moving through eight levels of the program. He served as a member of the Corps Council, was awarded seven Outstanding Achievement Awards, and earned more than $5,000 through the AmeriCorps Education Awards Program and the CCLB scholarship fund. Mike was so respected by his peers that they nominated him to speak at the CCLB graduation.

Though he had sometimes struggled in the traditional school system and subsequently dropped out, Mike felt that attending classes through CCLB was a positive and rewarding experience. He obtained his high school diploma within just one year of joining the Corps.

“There were fewer students than in a regular high school so we got a lot more attention than we would from the teachers in a traditional school. We got a lot more one-on-one attention,” said Mike.

Within a few years of receiving his diploma, Mike was promoted to a Supervisor position with CCLB. He’s been with the Corps ever since.

“What’s kept me here is that I’ve kind of grown into my position,” said Mike. “I like working with young people and trying to make a difference in their lives. I’m just trying to help give them that second chance that somebody once gave me. So I’m basically just returning the favor.”

As a Supervisor, Mike teaches new Corpsmebers some of the skills he learned from his own Supervisors when he was a Corpsmember. Among other projects, Mike has led his crews in landscaping, habitat restoration, stream cleaning, and litter and weed abatement efforts.

“None of my days are average working with young people, but basically I a) Ensure my Corpsmembers are safe when working in the field, and b) Ensure that they do the project properly,” said Mike. “I educate them and teach them not only the various skills that we use out in the field, but I also educate them in how to conduct themselves as young adults should. So it’s basically the whole gambit…I teach them work skills, but also work habits, like how to be responsible and how to become a productive employee.”

Though he was an extremely successful Corpsmember, Mike says that he has achieved his greatest accomplishments with CCLB as a Supervisor. For Mike, it is very gratifying to see his Corpsmembers get promoted within the Corps or move on to a post-secondary education opportunity.

“Training new people and actually having them succeed and receive additional promotions…that’s a great feeling, that’s what makes me feel the most accomplished,” said Mike.

Having been a Corpsmember himself, Mike feels like he’s in a good position to understand what his crewmembers might be experiencing. Still, being a Supervisor is very different from being a Corpsmember.

“When I was just a Corpsmember, I was more worried about just getting my life back on track and doing the assignment in front of me. Now, as a Supervisor, I have to show a lot of leadership and focus on changing the lives of the Corpsmembers and actually educating them,” said Mike. “I almost feel like a parent when I’m around my Corpsmembers…They have a lot of things going on in their lives and in some cases I have to step in and be the parent for a Corpsmember. So I’m in more of a role model position versus when I was concerned just with myself and my own future back when I was a Corpsmember.”

Mike’s busy schedule has prevented him from finding the time to use the scholarship money he received as a Corpsmember, but he plans to eventually earn some kind of higher degree. He knows he wants to continue working in conservation and hopefully earn positions with greater levels of responsibility. For the foreseeable future he is very content to stay with Conservation Corps Long Beach.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Mike says:

“Just don’t lose sight of your goal and the reason why you came into the Corps. Don’t worry about what other people might be telling you – just stay out of the drama. Keep sight of your goal of getting your high school diploma and take advantage of the second chance that you’ve been offered. Just keep focused.”

How AmeriCorps helped Ladine Daniels find personal success

Sadly, Ladine "JR" Daniels passed away in his sleep in early November 2014. JR was a loved and respected member of the Corps community. He will be greatly missed. Click to read our tribute to JR.

Content below originally published in February 2013 

JR, formerly a Corpsmember with the Sustainability Institute, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about JR and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2012 national conference.

Where does Ladine “JR” Daniels see himself in the future?

For starters, he plans to have his weatherization business, IMSEI (IM Southeastern Independence), off the ground within the next two years. He hopes his future is full of opportunities to learn new and better ways he can help people in his community save money and the environment. Unrelated to growing his business, his main goal is to become known in his community as someone who works to expand opportunities for youth.

“I want to become a mentor to kids who are heading down the path that I went down,” said JR. “I want to let them know that it’s not worth it.”

Earlier in his life, JR was convicted of a felony and served time in jail. He was content to accept his jail sentence so he could have a clear slate and start over again once he was released. However, after completing his sentence in 2009, JR realized that starting over again wasn’t so easy for a young man with a record.

With the help of his church in Charleston, South Carolina, JR connected with Pastor Larry Bratton, who at the time was in charge of a nonprofit called BDB (Breaking Down Barriers). BDB, which helps community members overcome barriers to employment or services, helped JR find his first stable job after his release. However, Larry Bratton left BDB to become the Social Justice Advocate for The Sustainability Institute; a Charleston-based nonprofit that offers weatherization services to local residents and trains young people to become home performance professionals. JR eventually joined The Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps as an AmeriCorps member.

JR spent six months in the Energy Conservation Corps, gaining hands-on experience in home weatherization techniques. He was a standout Corpsmember from the beginning, offering guidance and friendship to younger Corpsmembers. His success led to a job offer from Carolina Green Energy Systems, an energy retrofit company in Charleston.  JR enjoyed his job with Carolina Green, but he was interested in starting his own weatherization business. He ended up leaving the company to avoid a conflict of interest.

As JR works with his partners to get IMSEI weatherization company up and running, he continues to work for the Sustainability Institute. He is currently a Crew Leader, but he will soon be hired as a fulltime Supervisor. On top of administrative duties, his main responsibility is to manage and organize crews. He trains Corpsmembers in weatherization techniques and helps run harassment training, OSHA safety training, and a financial literacy class.

On top of building his business and working at the Sustainability Institute, JR is also trying to reestablish Breaking Down Barriers, the organization that helped him find employment when he got out of jail.

"Our focus is not just youth, it’s for anyone who has any type of barrier. Like if you need help with painting your home but you’re not financially able to, that’s a barrier. If you’re a single mom and you need help finding a home, that’s a barrier. If you’re an ex-convict, that alone is a barrier,” said JR. “We want to provide training to whoever needs it, but we also to want to provide services. For instance, I might be hot off the street and I need a job. We’ll teach you how to paint. Then we have someone who needs their house painted but doesn’t have money to paint it. We can kill two birds with one stone.”

In addition to JR’s work schedule and his involvement with Breaking Down Barriers, he volunteers with the NAACP, ushers at his church, and helps out at a recreational park near the Sustainability Institute. He also serves with Philan Tree, a fellow 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, as a member of the National Council of Young Leaders. The Council, formed in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, is comprised of low-income young adults from across the country.  JR helps represent the voice of young people who have been involved in the justice system.

“My whole thing with the justice system is that it’s pretty hard to find second chances, even when what you did was so long ago,” he said. “Why should something I did six years ago – knowing that I’m not the same man I used to be, knowing that a lot of things have changed over these years – why should that hold me back from finding a job that I’m totally qualified for?”

Through the National Council of Young Leaders, JR has met with such public figures as Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Ronnie Cho, the White House Liaison to Young Americans. JR is very grateful for his experience with the Sustainability Institute and AmeriCorps. Without these organizations he feels he would have never had so many opportunities and he would not be as successful as he is today.

“I’ve had all types of people calling who want to do an interview with me…from Charleston, from the Aspen Institute in New York, from people in DC – this is all because of AmeriCorps. I understand I had to put in hard work, but with the opportunities that AmeriCorps gave me it was easy for me to just fly with it,” said JR. “All of it has been a blessing to me. The way the Sustainability Institute gives me support and puts their trust in me, the way they fight for me is really amazing. Any type of help I need – like I needed an apartment. I was staying with my mom when I got out of jail in 2009 up until the fall of last year. They helped me find a place of my own. They meet all my needs. They’re not your average employers.”

It’s not just the people at The Sustainability Institute that JR appreciates; he is also grateful that his AmeriCorps experience exposed him to the weatherization business.

“I just love this work. The smile I put on a homeowners face when the electric bill comes and they’re saving a couple hundred dollars. Knowing that I had something to do with that is really powerful,” said JR. 

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, JR says:

“I think the thing I would need to tell them is to make sacrifices. Starting off, you won’t even make as much money as you’d make at McDonald’s, but the experience, the training, the career development that you get in AmeriCorps will pay off in the long run…I would tell someone trying to join that it’s one hundred percent worth it. I would show them the change it makes. I would take them to the neighborhoods that I used to hang out in and show them the people I used to hang around with and I’d even take them to jail and show them where they’re headed if they continue with the life they’re living now. Then I’d show how I’ve been able to improve. I’d show them all the awards, all the committees I’m on. With just a little time – not even two years – I’ve gotten my own place, I’ve been nominated to be on councils, I was a 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, I travel a lot and I don’t even have to pay a dime for it. I just think that AmeriCorps is a very good thing that made a huge difference in my life, and I think it could do the same thing for them, too."




Providing Relief – What Corps Have Done to Assist in Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts


Washington Conservation Corps members remove damaged household items from a flooded home

Hurricane Sandy took lives, destroyed homes and businesses, and left millions of people without power. As the storm bore down on the Northeast coast during the last days of October, Corps across the country were already mobilizing to help with the relief effort. Corpsmembers have played a significant role in helping communities in New York, New Jersey and 5 other states recover and rebuild.

Some Corps worked through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and FEMA, while others organized independent of the federal response. Some Corps worked in shelters, while others cleared debris. Some Corps travelled thousands of miles to assist in the relief efforts, while other Corps worked in their own backyards.

Find out which Corps have been involved in Sandy recovery, read about what they’ve done to help, and see pictures from the field:

Corps Involved in recovery efforts 

Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa Corpsmembers “mucking out” a home damaged by flood water

What are some of the things Corps have done?

  • Operated emergency shelters throughout New York City: managed volunteers, monitored and assisted residents, cared for children and pets, maintained the facilities
  • Cleared debris
  • Cut down damaged trees and limbs
  • “Mucking out” - removing water and water damaged items and building materials from homes and businesses affected by flooding
  • Solicited donations of food and emergency supplies from individuals and businesses not hit as hard by the storm
  • Operated distribution centers and packaged emergency supplies for Sandy victims in need of food, water, blankets, clothing, toiletries, and other necessities
  • Canvassed neighborhoods to find people in need and spread information about repair work
  • Restored parks damaged by high winds 

NYRP clearing a downed tree in New York City 

AmeriCorps NCCC/FEMA Corps members assisting with water distribution in Far Rockaway, NY.

Get more pictures and more information on the recovery efforts and Corpsmember experiences

Student Conservation Association (SCA) Corpsmember in New Jersey

Southwest Conservation Corps members working with FDNY

Utah Conservation Corps members surrounded by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy 

Green City Force Corpsmembers and staff serving food 

Montana Conservation Corps members organize supplies at a distribution center

New Jersey Youth Corps clearing a downed tree







The Story of how a Former AmeriCorps Member Became a Pink Bunny

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year,
Kayje Booker

Kayje Booker, a former member of the Washington Service Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2005 for her commitment to service. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Kayje and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2005 National Conference.

Kayje Booker, one of The Corps Network’s 2005 Corpsmembers of the Year, is now a bunny. A Pink Bunny, that is. Kayje works for the organization Forward Montana, leading the Pink Bunny Army – a statewide organization of voter registration volunteers who dress in pink t-shirts and bunny ears in an effort to engage youth in the political process. 

“At Forward Montana we believe very strongly in costume-based democracy,” said Kayje. “The Pink Bunnies register people to vote, specifically focusing on young people. For a lot of them it’s their first time registering to vote and the thought has been that your first time participating in democracy should be fun and special. Instead of just having a random person come up to you with a clipboard and tell you that you should register to vote, this is a more exciting way to do it.”

Kayje is proud to report that the Pink Bunnies managed to register over 11,400 Montana voters for the 2012 election. She says her army of floppy-eared volunteers is now well recognized: people in Montana seem to know to seek out the Bunnies if they need to register to vote.

Though she started her position with Forward Montana fairly recently, Kayje is hardly a stranger to getting youth more involved in their communities. Her first efforts to promote civic engagement were part of her experience as an AmeriCorps member with Washington Service Corps. Kayje joined the Corps in 2002. She had recently graduated from college and spent a few months working a series of odd jobs in Montana. AmeriCorps seemed like it would provide more meaningful work than a job at a pizza place or a coffee shop. What really pushed Kayje to join, however, was a phone call with a project coordinator from Washington Service Corps.

“She heard I hadn’t decided what I was going to do yet. She had me get on the phone and we talked. She basically sold me on it. She told me about how I would be creating a new program and she got me really excited about the potential of what we could do,” said Kayje.

That new project was an afterschool program for the Westway neighborhood of Federal Way Washington. Kayje and another Corpsmember ended up building the program entirely from scratch; a particularly impressive feat when you consider all the components the program needed to include. It had to serve children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and it needed to have some kind of civic engagement component. It was a tall order, but, with the help of dedicated community members, Kayje and her AmeriCorps partner were able to make the afterschool program such a success that it still operates today. They managed to get computers and internet donated. They collected a small library. They even organized a block party that attracted large crowds and involved a bicycle giveaway for Westway children. Kayje says that the bike raffle was one of the most memorable experiences of her time in AmeriCorps.

“There was this little girl who was so sweet who came from a pretty rough home and she had seen the bicycles all week and she was so excited about them,” said Kayje. “We had a raffle for the bicycles and what she didn’t know was that we held one in reserve – the one she had been eyeing all week. So instead of raffling that one off we presented it to her at the end and she was just so excited and couldn’t believe her luck. That was a really wonderful moment of seeing how something so simple could give somebody so much joy.”

Creating a civic engagement project that could be interesting and manageable for kindergarteners as well as sixth graders wasn’t easy, but Kayje and her partner eventually found success in getting the afterschool program involved in building a community garden and cleaning up litter. After completing her term in Westway, Kayje became a Team Leader with Washington Service Corps and helped AmeriCorps programs across Washington institute similar civic engagement projects. The next year, from 2004 – 2005, Kayje was an AmeriCorps VISTA with Washington Service Corps.

“The biggest thing I did as a VISTA was trying to figure out housing for AmeriCorps members,” said Kayje. “We were getting a lot of feedback in Washington Service Corps that finding a place to live was actually one of the biggest hurdles for people who wanted to do AmeriCorps. So I found this guy who had this huge house and we created an AmeriCorps house in Seattle. I did a bunch of surveying of members to figure out exactly what the issues were and I created some resources. We started a kind of Craigslist website so [AmeriCorps members] could find roommates. I also put together a list of all the factors they might want to consider when choosing a place to live.”

After her term as a VISTA, Kayje went straight to graduate school at University of California, Berkeley. She earned her master’s degree in Range Management and a PhD in Environmental Science and Policy Management. She spent a few months as a freelance consultant for an international development organization, but she eventually found her way back to working in civic engagement and youth outreach at Forward Montana.

“I would like to continue working with the organization I’m working with now. I’d like to continue to get people engaged and involved in the political process,” said Kayje. “I’d like to at some point have maybe more of an energy or environmental focus within that, but I am very happy with where I am now and I’d like to continue to work in this aspect of helping other people make a difference.”

To young people thinking about joining a service and conservation corps, Kayje says:

“It’s one of the most intense experiences that you’ll ever have in terms of highs and lows, but it’s all worth it in the end…One big thing I think AmeriCorps did for me was show me how you can live on very little and still have a full life. When I did it we were making $800 a month…I think it [was] a very valuable experience that everybody should have at some point to give them empathy for people that are in that situation and to show them that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good life.”



Write Letters of Support for National Service Funding

From our partners at Save Service in America

National service enjoys strong support from many different sectors of American civic and economic life. Unfortunately, however, most elected officials are simply unaware that so many different constituencies are united in their support for service.

That is why Save Service in America, a campaign of Voices for National Service and ServiceNation, is circulating several letters of support and collecting signatures from key community leaders. It is crucial that we document the breadth of  support CNCS programs have earned, so we  are ready to share it with Washington decisionmakers when the budget  debates resume.

To show your support, sign on to a support letter today. If you have any questions, please contact us at info@voicesforservice.org or 202-742-7374. Find your constituency group on this page to be directed to the appropriate letter and full instructions.

How a Summer Job Turned into a Life of Service and Conservation - Afton McKusick

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,

Afton McKusick

Afton McKusick, a former member of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 for her commitment to service and environmental conservation. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Afton and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2006 National Conference.

Afton McKusick “caught the Corps bug” when she was a teenager, and she seems happy to have never been able to shake it. She started at the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC) in 2001 as an AmeriCorps Corpsmember, and over the course of nine years she was an Assistant Crew Leader, a Crew Leader, an Assistant Field Coordinator and a staff member at CREC. Today, Afton continues her affiliation with Corps as an employee of American Conservation Experience (ACE). And to think, all of this commitment to service and conservation started in a high school chemistry class.

“I was a junior in high school and [CREC] had just started their first Youth Conservation Corps and they were looking for people. So they were going around to all the high schools to advertise it,” said Afton. “I thought that working outside would be a much better job than working at Burger King or flipping burgers somewhere else.”

Afton has always loved the landscape and natural beauty of her home state of Arizona. When she was growing up she spent a lot of time outdoors and she has fond memories of going hunting with her parents. It wasn’t until joining CREC, however, that Afton thought about how a love of the outdoors could translate into a career. 

For Afton, it wasn’t just the chance to spend time outside that made her Corps experience so fulfilling. What really made her stick with the CREC was the sense of accomplishment she got from her work and the ability to spend time with like-minded people.

“You build a trail and you can see what you’ve done for all the people that are going to recreate there. I really loved that and it gave me a sense of ‘Hey – I’m really doing something good. I’m one person and this is a small crew, but look at what we’ve done together,’” said Afton. “I think AmeriCorps attracts a certain kind of person who is really enthusiastic and motivated and those are the kinds of people that I like to be around so that we can actually accomplish something.”

Afton, who is now 28, says that being a Crew Leader was the most rewarding experience she had with CREC. It was exciting to introduce Corpsmembers to the outdoors, teach them new skills and watch them grow. Seeing people she had trained apply their new skills and knowledge in subsequent jobs was very satisfying.

Overlapping with her years at CREC, Afton worked her way through school. She began at a community college where she earned an associate’s degree in environmental science. She then transferred to Northern Arizona University where she spent two years studying forestry. At this point, after six years of school, Afton decided to put down the books for a bit and work for the National Forest Service. She enjoyed working on a “fuel crew” that managed forest fire threats, but she realized working for the Forest Service was not her calling.

“I really liked it, but I really missed the camaraderie that you get within the Corps,” said Afton.

It was at this point that Afton was offered a job with American Conservation Experience. Her current job title is Chainsaw Coordinator and Trainer. She is responsible for overseeing the entire chainsaw program in the Arizona branch of ACE. She coordinates project logistics, trains new Corpsmembers on chainsaws, and supervises projects to make sure they’re up to her standards.

“Keeping everyone safe who’s running chainsaws is my number one goal!” said Afton. “Who knows what I’ll do when my body finally gives out and I can’t play around with a chainsaw anymore.”

ACE is just beginning an AmeriCorps program, and Afton is excited to be a part of its development.

“I really, really enjoy working with our AmeriCorps members and learning what they want to do with their lives,” said Afton. “We had a Corpsmember who was an architect and he got sick of it and came to ACE as an AmeriCorps member and he has totally changed his direction. Now he wants to be teaching people and working outside. I find that really exciting and I think that’s what AmeriCorps is all about.”

Afton hopes to eventually return to school so she can earn her bachelor’s degree, but for now she is very content with her job.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Afton says:

“Being in a Conservation Corps is definitely a lifestyle. And it’s a very rewarding lifestyle…. I think any Conservation Corps – especially the ones in the Southwest, with all the travelling you do and working in the national parks – you get to see things a normal tourist wouldn’t get to see. I personally think that’s pretty neat. And you’re also helping your community at the same time, which is really rewarding in itself…A lot of people who join AmeriCorps programs really do find friends that last them a lifetime. And at CREC, there are people who meet each other and get married.  I just think it’s a great opportunity to meet people, to expand your horizons, to put yourself in situations that you might not be comfortable with, and learn how to cooperate with people you might not have met otherwise.” 


How an At-Risk Youth became a Service Provider for At-Risk Youth

Where are they now? - Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year, Germain Castellanos

Germain Castellanos, a former member of Youth Conservation Corps - Lake County, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2005 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Germain and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2005 National Conference.

When he became a Corpsmember with Illinois’s Youth Conservation Corps in 2004, Germain Castellanos was an unemployed 21-year-old without a high school diploma or any professional experience. Less than three years after he left the Corps, however, Germain was sitting on the YCC Board of Directors.

To understand how Germain made this inspirational transformation, it’s important to look back at where Germain came from. His teenage years were far from stable; caught up in gang-related violence and drugs, Germain was convicted of a misdemeanor when he was 16. As he grew older Germain decided he wanted to give back to the community he had hurt. He wanted to start a program that could help troubled kids avoid the same issues he faced as a teenager. It was while looking for assistance to launch such a program that Germain stumbled across YCC and subsequently became a YCC AmeriCorps member.

“I was trying to be productive because before then I had been unproductive and just been hanging out with the wrong crowd and not making good decisions and having a negative impact on the community. It wasn’t a good time,” said Germain. “I was an at-risk youth myself, so that’s why I wanted to help young people that didn’t have access to resources the same way that I didn’t have access to resources.”

Germain worked as a Youth Developer during his year with YCC. He conducted life skills workshops, provided his students with basic counseling and case management services, and led teens on conservation projects. Germain reflects on that year as a time of great personal growth. In addition to earning his GED and college credits from DeVry University and the College of Lake County, Germain found stability in his life.

“Looking back, I think it feels like the program helped me more than I helped other people,” said Germain. “I was at a point when I was being developed by other program participants and other AmeriCorps members around me. I would see how they were handling some of their problems and their issues and that helped me solve some of my own issues. It was a really good developmental process for me.”

After leaving YCC Germain continued to work in youth development by spending two and a half years as an Assistant Program Manager with YouthBuild, Lake County – an organization that provides youth with learning opportunities and the chance to gain job skills. In June 2008, Germain left YouthBuild to do what he had set out to do four years earlier: create his own program to assist at-risk youth. He designed the program, applied for grants, and soon established what is now the SHINE Educational Leadership Program at Waukegan High School; the same school Germain was kicked out of when he was a teenager.

Germain is still in charge of the SHINE program. He oversees three staff members, manages a $300,000 budget, and he is responsible for developing programming for the 52 high school seniors that SHINE serves. Germain is always trying to grow the program by attending meetings and making countless speeches that might help bring in more resources.

SHINE's goal is to help low-income high school students transition to college. Germain estimates that well over 90 percent of the 52 students enrolled in the program come from families that have never had anyone go to college. SHINE tries to change that. “We do tutoring, we make sure our students come to school, we make sure they graduate. On a day-to-day basis we have a list of benchmarks that the students need to meet and we’re consistently reiterating to them that they need to fill out college applications and apply for scholarships,” said Germain.

SHINE students also take classes at the local community college once a week to get a feeling for what college is like. In addition to the in-school SHINE program, Germain also partnered with Walgreens to provide pharmacy technician training and job placement for recent high school graduates.

Running two youth development programs and overseeing nearly 200 current and former program participants is just the tip of the iceberg for Germain. He recently finished classes at DePaul University and will receive his bachelor’s in public administration in June 2013. He spent three years on the board of the local library; currently serves on the Lake County Workforce Investment Board’s Youth Council; sits on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Lake County; and of course also sits on YCC’s Board of Directors. He even plans to run for City Clerk in Waukegan.

Germain’s transition from being a recipient of services to a provider of services for at-risk youth earned him the Illinois Governor’s Journey Award in 2008. Remembering where he came from and looking at where he is now helps motivate Germain. It is particularly meaningful to him that he can now serve YCC, the organization that once served him.

“Because I went from a program recipient to a program provider I can help them make their services better with what I know and the knowledge I’ve gained professionally. I’m really involved with them and I do it in part to share my knowledge, but also because I’m reminded every time I walk in that building that I was there and I was on the other side of the table not that long ago. If it wasn’t for the opportunity I got at YCC I’d probably still be on the other side of that table, receiving services.”

Germain lives in Waukegan, Illinois with his wife and daughter.




2012 Election Features Highest Youth Voter Turnout to Date, Brings Other Good News

On Tuesday, young voters proved the predictions and pundits wrong. Instead of turning out to vote in record lows, exit polls indicate that “voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of all those who voted on Tuesday,” constituting their greatest share of the electorate to date. In 2008, young voters represented 18 percent of those Americans who voted.

Peter Levine, director of Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), was quoted by Youth Today as saying, “This voting bloc can no longer be an afterthought to any political party or campaign.”

For The Corps Network and National Service supporters, the 2012 Election also brought additional good news. We congratulate Representative Martin Heinrich of New Mexico on becoming the first AmeriCorps Alum elected to the U.S. Senate. We also express our congratulations to Stefanie Mach, an alumna of Americorps NCCC, who was elected to the Arizona State House of Representatives.

Finally, we would like to congratulate U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) on his re-election and U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono (HI) on her election to the U.S. Senate. In this current Congressional session, Senator Sherrod introduced The Youth Corps Act in the Senate, while Senator-Elect Hirono did so in the House of Representatives. If passed, the legislation would open up an additional funding stream for Service and Conservation Corps through the U.S. Department of Labor.