Where are they now? – Catching up with 2008 Corpsmember of the Year, Linnea Heu


Linnea Heu, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 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 Linnea and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2008 national conference.

Linnea Heu wasn’t always interested in environmentalism. Her decision to join the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) in 2005 after her freshman year of high school was motivated mainly by a desire to return to the island of Kaho’olawe. Linnea knew that first year AmeriCorps interns with YCC had the chance to participate in Kaho’olawe’s “regreening” process. The island sustained serious damage when it was used as a military live-fire training ground during WWII, but now its ecosystem is in recovery. Linnea had once visited Kaho’olawe on a school trip and felt a strong desire to return to this place that is currently only used for native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual purposes.

Now, after more than seven years since that first summer with YCC, Linnea can look back and appreciate how her experience with the Corps helped shape who she is today. Linnea has always been interested in science, but it was her time with YCC that steered her towards environmentalism.

When I was really young I used to think I was going to be a veterinarian or a zoologist. Then I started wanting to study botany and I even thought I might get into agriculture at one point,” said Linnea. “And then it was after my freshman year of high school that I got into [YCC] for the first time and that’s when I started to learn that I wanted to work in environmental sciences and restoration. Botany is still along those lines, but YCC definitely helped to guide me and focus my choices post high school.”

Linnea earned her bachelors’ degree in environmental science in 2012 and is currently a graduate student at University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she is studying how phytoplankton in the ocean is affected by nutrient-rich runoff from the land.

Linnea has never studied marine life before. After her first summer with YCC, during which she had the opportunity to work with numerous organizations and agencies, she returned to YCC for a second summer to work exclusively with the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Lāwa’i. She later returned to the Botanical Gardens after her senior year of high school for another internship that was independent of YCC. Linnea’s background might be with terrestrial plants, but she doesn’t feel like studying phytoplankton is too big of a change.

“It’s different, but it’s not. I’m really just moving on to another part of the same system,” said Linnea. “Everything is all connected and it’s a lot easier to see in an island ecosystem where things are so small and compact. What I’m doing has everything to do with terrestrial restoration because whatever happens upland of the marine systems you’re looking at has a huge impact. All of that groundwater is impacted by whatever is happening on the island. It’s all connected.”

Looking back on her time with YCC, Linnea says the experience that had the greatest impact on her was working in the 10-month-long program between finishing college and starting grad school. She liked being able to get into a routine and become comfortable with her abilities as a researcher. She liked how her supervisors could trust her enough to send her out on her own to collect data. But Linnea definitely still considers her first two summers with YCC to be very formative experiences.

“There are just a lot of good skills I learned and I got an introduction to a lot of things I’d never thought about before in terms of conservation,” she said.

Linnea is not entirely sure what she wants to do when she’s done with grad school, but she knows she wants to get involved in environmental advocacy and resource management. She wants to keep learning and do research that is significant for both the environment and the people of Hawaii.

“As I got older I realized how connected the environment and the culture are,” said Linnea. “I’m very interested in continuing to learn about Hawaiian culture. There’s been a push lately in the sciences locally to integrate cultural components into your research. That’s awesome to see and that’s definitely something I want to do. I think it’s important for scientists to put in context the research they’re doing. Sometimes we remove ourselves from it, but really there are people who are very connected to the resources we’re trying to protect.”

To young people thinking of joining a Corps, Linnea says:

“Be absolutely open to all of the experiences that you’re going to have. If you go into it with a bad mindset, you’re not going to get everything out of it that you could. It is such an opportunity, so you want to be open to the whole experience. Maybe you’re not going to agree with the attitudes or approaches of all of the agencies and organizations you work with, but just keep an open mind and take it all in. The more you take in, the better able you are to develop your own opinions.”


Service and Conservation Corps Contributing to Relief Efforts After Hurricane Sandy

While The Corps Network is concerned and saddened by the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy throughout many areas of the East Coast, we are proud that some of our Corps are already helping to mobilize their Corpsmembers to respond and meet needs in their communities. 

In New York City, several Corps are already attempting to help improve conditions by volunteering, including the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) and Green City Force. On their Facebook page, NYRP wrote: "We've been restoring parks and gardens in NYC's most underserved communities for nearly two decades - and our parks & gardens were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. But we're New Yorkers and this storm only makes us more determined to make NYC a cleaner & greener place to live. For those of us who are fortunate enough to still have our own homes and gardens intact... Sign-up to be a volunteer at www.nyrp.org/volunteer and we'll let you know when it's safe to be back in our parks. In the meantime, help our clean-up efforts at www.nyrp.org/donate."

Green City Force wrote a blog post and said "A few of us went down to the Red Hook Community Farm yesterday, and it has taken quite a hit. A lot of help is needed, and so we are making this a GCF service priority over the next few days." A Corps Staff member also spoke with staff from the Corps, and was pleased to hear that they have made contact with almost all Corpsmembers and were doing ok. Green City Force posted a photo from the farm, and seems to be in good spirits.

A Corps Network staff member also spoke to a staff member with the New Jersey Youth Corps of Camden / The Work Group, and heard that they were doing ok and seemed to escape terrible damage in their part of the state.

More Help on the Way from The Corps Network, FEMA, and AmeriCorps

Working with our partners at FEMA and the Corporation for National and Community Service, numerous other members of The Corps Network are deploying to New York City to help staff shelters. As it currently stands, 400 AmeriCorps members will deploy in the next week to help assist on projects at the shelters and beyond as needed in New York. Given the training of Corps to work independently, and their high levels of training and skill with volunteer management, they are a tremendous resource in times like these. More broadly, 877 AmeriCorps members are currently on the ground in six states, including 41 FEMACorps crews. An additional 900 members are on standby.

Several days ago Washington Conservation Corps wrote on their Facebook page that they "will deploy 40 AmeriCorps members and 8 WCC Crew Supervisors to assist the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. Our teams will be travelling with tools onboard, including chainsaws and other equipment for clearing debris, placing sandbags, and tarping roofs. Corpsmembers will also be assisting in shelter operations, supply distribution, and damage assessments with FEMA staff. Food and lodging will be provided by various non-profit groups, churches and schools."

AmeriCorps St. Louis has already arrived in New York City, with many Corps scheduled to arrive over the weekend and the next few days. While the response will include AmeriCorps partners beyond The Corps Network, from our membership Washington Conservation Corps, Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (Taos), and Montana Conservation Corps are already set for departure. Several additional Corps may be mobilized as well in the coming days in addition to those members of FEMA Corps and AmeriCorps NCCC that will be assisting throughout affected areas.

Mario Colucci, a Regional Program Coordinator for Montana Conservation Corps who will be leading Montana's crew over a deployment of at least 30 days said: "This is an all hands on deck scenario and AmeriCorps members are uniquely suited to provide immediate assistance. They have a level of efficiency and skills that make them a great resource to bring stability and aid to the beleaguered people affected by Hurricane Sandy."

Colucci's thoughts about it being an "all hands on deck scenario" have been echoed by many, and we hope that our Corps will make as much of a difference as they are able.

You can follow updates from AmeriCorps on the National Service by clicking here.

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year Mari Takemoto-Chock

Mari Takemoto-Chock, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 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 Mari and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2011 national conference.

Mari Takemoto-Chock is certainly not one to just sit around. In August 2011, almost immediately after finishing her AmeriCorps VISTA term with KUPU – the organization that runs the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps – Mari flew to New York for her first semester as a graduate student at NYU. She received her master’s degree in the spring of 2013.

Mari’s experiences at KUPU are part of what inspired her to study gender and race in graduate school. During her year with KUPU, Mari was instrumental in creating an Urban Corps to provide job training and life skills education for Honolulu’s under-resourced youth. Mari was struck by how a large proportion of the Corpsmembers at KUPU were Native Hawaiian. What did it mean that they all came from a certain minority group? Mari says her graduate studies have helped her look with a critical lens at questions about race and inequality. After Mari graduates in May 2013, she says she will probably attend law school. She is not entirely sure what she wants to do with a law degree, but she hopes to one day work for an organization like the Legal Aid Society. She says there's also a possibility she will return to Capitol Hill; between college and her AmeriCorps term, Mari worked on energy, environmental, and education issues as part of the legislative staff for a member of the Hawaii delegation. Though Mari is still very much interested in environmental issues, she says her main interest, and what will probably shape her future career, are the issues surrounding at-risk youth. 

Looking back on her time at KUPU, Mari says her experiences not only inspired her studies in graduate school. She says that helping build the Urban Corps provided excellent exposure to how programs are developed, implemented, and maintained.

“I got a really good, broad overview …from funding to developing to implementing and devising policy,” said Mari. “And then also the day-to-day of managing behavior and discipline. I think the thing I took away the most was that broad overview.”

Mari says her Corps experience also helped her think in a whole new way. She feels that if she had not joined the Corps, she would probably still be on Capitol Hill thinking about issues from a political perspective.

Mari maintains close contact with people at KUPU. She goes to the Corps to visit her former coworkers whenever she gets a chance. She also frequently checks the Corps’ Facebook and Twitter pages to stay posted on what kinds of projects they’re working on.

To youth considering joining a Service or Conservation Corps, Mari says:

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for self-reflection and self-development. So I would say to be really open to that. I think just being out in nature is a good opportunity – for some reason it inspires a lot of self-reflection. Not many people get the chance to spend that much time out in nature. So I would say to really take advantage of that.”



Americorps NCCC Alum Used Skills Gained from the Corps to Assist in 9/11 Emergency Response Effort

From the National Service Blog of Serve.gov

On September 11, 2001, AmeriCorps alum Olive Eckstein was in her native New York looking for work. When the planes struck the Twin Towers, Olive dropped what she was doing and headed downtown to the World Trade Center to see what she could do to help.  She felt a deep sense of commitment to her country, responsibility to others in need, and confidence that she could be of assistance – all of which she attributed to her AmeriCorps experience. Having been trained in disaster relief by AmeriCorps, and with prior experience as a paramedic, Eckstein had a skill set that would prove very useful in the rescue efforts. She befriended a group of EMTs at Shea Stadium and traveled with them to what had become known as Ground Zero. They spent the night dousing firefighters' ash-covered eyes with saline and tending to sooty wounds and burns as they tried to make sense of what they were seeing.

Soon, she was stationed at a nearby elementary school that had become a respite site for the firefighters, police officers, and steel workers who labored intensively at Ground Zero. She worked daily shifts serving food, supporting disaster workers, and organizing supplies to help sustain the recovery process.
Eckstein spent the next several weeks foregoing job interviews and social opportunities because she felt a deep obligation to help those in need.

“Volunteering as an AmeriCorps alum at Ground Zero was an incredible opportunity in the face of such a tragedy,” she said. “Just like AmeriCorps continues to do, it impacted my life in many immeasurable ways, and gave me the opportunity to be on the scene and help our nation's heroes in one of our darkest days.”

Now an MD, Dr. Eckstein has continued her path in public service in the medical field, serving as a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow in Houston, Texas.

2008 Project of the Year: Yellowstone River Clean-Up


Winner: Montana Conservation Corps

This summer, the Montana Conservation Corps teamed-up with the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council (YRCDC) and dozens of other groups to pull-off the longest recorded river clean-up in Montana history – and perhaps in the nation. From its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to the Missouri River, the Yellowstone flows 551 miles and is the longest un-damned river in the lower 48 states. Although, the Yellowstone is treasured for its outstanding trout fishing, quieter sections for swimming, and dependable sugar beat and alfalfa crop irrigation, the stewardship of her resources falls short at times. Her shores are littered with trash – even in the most remote stretches of this grand and wild river.

For one week, four MCC MontanaYES program youth crews with 24 teenage participants, ages 14 to 16, and their eight AmeriCorps crew leaders, covered the length of the river to clean-up sixty-four public access points.  Each day, community organizations including scout troops, Lion’s Club members, conservation district staff, and other volunteers joined the teens to help with their efforts, logging a total of 325 volunteer days.  In one week, 18,320 pounds of trash and debris was removed from the banks of the Yellowstone River, including 1500 pounds of steel and 5,056 aluminum cans that were recycled, and 90 tires. Other partners included: nonprofit conservation districts representing communities along the river, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, local service clubs, private landowners, and the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund.

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Lasharee Jones


Two years ago, Lasharee Jones didn't have much hope.  A high school dropout and a single mother, she was struggling to make ends meet.  Then she came to the West Seneca Service Action Corps (now The Service Collaborative of WNY, Inc.).  While serving as an AmeriCorps member for two consecutive terms, Lasharee is achieving her dream.  Making deliveries for the Buffalo Food Bank, building homes through YouthBuild and beautifying local parks, Lasharee is making a difference to those around her.  Now she is about to receive her GED, a feat she had not imagined possible two years ago. Lasharee cannot wait to go to college and build her future. 

--“I don’t just want to feed people and clean a lot, I want to inspire.  I want to teach people through my actions.  I want people to get this message of service and do it too.  There is no point sitting around blaming others for not succeeding.  I’ve been given a gift, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King I want to walk in his footsteps inspiring others.”

(written in 2005)

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Germain Castellanos

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

(Written in 2005)

Before Germain Castellanos made the decision to change his life, he was involved with a local gang and participated in various gang activities including drugs and violence.  This path caused him to get kicked out of school and convicted of a misdemeanor by age 16.  The birth of his daughter served as a wake up call. That’s when Germain joined the Youth Conservation Corps’ NASCC (National Association of Service and Conservation Corps - the former name of The Corps Network) AmeriCorps RuralResponse Program.  Now, after supervising kids who were in the same situation he was once in and volunteering for a wide variety of community, faith-based and political organizations, Germain has received his GED, completed one and half years at DeVry University and started courses at College of Lake County in Illinois.  Germain is on his way to reaching his goals of becoming an attorney and starting a nonprofit program that works with at risk youth. 

-- “This experience has shown me that the world is in dire need of help from people who love to help others.  The YCC AmeriCorps program has helped me come to the realization that I am one of those people.”

(written in 2005)

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Kayje Booker

***Update! Click here to find out what Kayje's been up to since accepting her award.***

Joining the Washington Service CorpsAmeriCorps program changed Kayje Booker’s life.  In the year before, she was working a variety of jobs, mostly in the food industry, and feeling generally dissatisfied and directionless in her work life.  In her first year of AmeriCorps, Kayje had the task of co-creating an after-school program for academically challenged kindergarten through sixth graders, in which she facilitated a civic engagement course.  The following year she implemented a civic engagement curriculum with 500 AmeriCorps members across the state of Washington and assisted Abt Associates with their evaluation of Washington Service Corps.  Underway this year is a complicated project she is developing which includes the creation of a ‘Homes for Service’ initiative in Washington. 

-- "Serving others is now and will forever be a non-negotiable part of my life.  However I spend my days, I must be able to come home at the end and know that my hours accomplished something that made the world a little better for someone else.”  

(written in 2005)

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: James Zmudzinski

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

James dreams of owning an auto mechanic shop. One year ago, this dream seemed to be only that - a dream. Working since age 15, James was struggling to obtain a stable income, lacking his high school diploma and auto mechanic's certificate. He heard about the 5-day orientation the LCC (EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps) led and decided to attend, quickly becoming a vital crew member in the Flood Control Basin Maintenance Program.

Working in 127 degree heat while fighting off snakes, James maintained an extremely positive attitude towards work and his fellow crew members. His supervisor described him as a self-starter. James routinely led the safety meetings for his crew. He made use of the classes offered by LCC and found the financial strategy class of particular interest. In addition to working and taking night classes, James is only 26 credits away from obtaining his high school diploma after completing 47 credits in the past year. He has completed his 900 hour AmeriCorps Education Award and has earned $2,365.50 towards furthering his education. He is currently working towards completing a full-time award to earn an additional $4,725.

All of this hard work reflects his desire to be a good father. He is even using the Individual Development Account to save money for his shop. Expecting his first child, James said his main goal is to "be a person who my son could look up to."

James is grateful for the new start the corps gave him. He said, "I do no know where I would be without the LCC. Before I came to LCC the only light at the end of the tunnel was hope and it was fading quickly. It was the hope that somehow I would be able to earn my high school diploma and an auto technician certificate in order to better support my family, and hope that I would one day be able to live my dream of owning my own shop."

(written in 2006)

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Andrew Zimmer

In the last year, Andrew Zimmer has impressed the Forest Service with the quality and amount of work produced by his crew, fallen in love with Logan Canyon, Utah and developed an unexpected yet clear picture of where his life is heading.

An AmeriCorps crew leader for the Utah Conservation Corps, Andrew showed his crew that anyting is possible. Their assignment was to construct two miles of fencing along a very steep and inaccessible area. This would allow the Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, a rare and declining species, to be protected from the diseases that grazing cattle passed on when drinking from the creek. This project was essential to the survival of the trout population. Andrew, a leader who brings out the best in others around him, took special interest in each crew member to make sure their experience was rewarding and insightful.

Toward the end his term, Andrew was in a bike accident that resulted in paralysis from the chest down. Andrew said that within an hour of his accident, he knew he wanted to work in accessible outdoor recreation. His philosophy about stewardship of our natural resources is that you cannot get sustainable results without the awareness and enthusiasm of people. Andrew has brought this idea and passion to Utah and the UCC. He plans on completing his AmeriCorps term after rehabilitation and continuting to work in the place he loves.