An Operation Fresh Start Member Shares his Journey from Foster Care to College

From Operation Fresh Start - March 2013 Newsletter 

By Dominique

Before OFS - while I was at a foster home in Oregon - I had a foster brother who was enrolled and witnessed many great things OFS did in and for his life. At the time, I didn't know much about Fresh Start except that I could earn an H.S.E.D. (High School Equivalency Diploma) while also building affordable housing in the community. 

Since then, OFS has put me in a position to better my life. I have completed some pre- college classes, earned tuition money, and learned a lot about housing construction and conservation work. OFS has also given me opportunities to network in my community. I'm most thankful that Fresh Start has allowed me to build upon life skills that I already possess. I thank OFS for having patience and taking a chance on me to become greater. When I leave OFS, I will be moving on to bigger and better things. Starting this fall, I plan on attending and completing MATC (Madison Area Technical College). My ultimate goal is to end up doing something I thoroughly enjoy and love. In the mean time, I will work at obtaining a great job. After I get the job, I hope to get my own apartment and vehicle so I can do my own thing.

Fresh Start has influenced me in a very positive way. The staff are great people who help guide the lives of troubled youth who are willing to try. Without the help of Operation Fresh Start my path would have been a lot more rocky and gloomy.

How Sequoia Community Corps helped Marcos Molina build a better life for his wife and children


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2008 Corpsmember of the Year,
Marcos Molina


Marcos receiving his award at The Corps Network 2008 National Conference in Washington, DC.
 

Marcos Molina, a former Corpsmember with the Tulare County Youth Corps (now the Sequoia Community Corps), won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 for his commitment to service and self change. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Marcos and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2008 National Conference.

Marcos Molina is very honest about where he might be today if he had never joined the Sequoia Community Corps.

“I’d probably be in jail or dead,” he said.

Marcos heard about the Corps (which was then called the Tulare County Youth Corps) from a cousin. It was 2007 and Marcos was unemployed and involved in the court system. He and his wife and their two young daughters lived in a single room in his mother’s house. Marcos had dropped out of high school, but having a young family to support motivated him to get an education and turn things around. Marcos was quick to sign up for the Corps when he found out that the program offered a chance to work while also earning high school credits.

“In high school I was a troublemaker. I was hanging out with the wrong people and the wrong crowd. And when I came to the Corps I was around different kinds of people and it was a whole different story. I just decided that I was tired of that no good life,” said Marcos.

Adjusting to the culture and the expectations at the Corps wasn’t easy for Marcos. Many of his supervisors were concerned he wouldn’t make it through the program. It was with the personal attention and support of one particular supervisor that Marcos was able to not only finish the program, but excel.

“My attitude was a big problem. Especially my attitude towards other people,” said Marcos. “I wasn’t really used to working with a supervisor and other Corpsmembers. Where I had worked before it was always ‘just a job’ and I was like ‘boom, boom – get it done.’ But then at the Corps there were different rules you had to follow, you had to have a good attitude, and there were attendance rules. They were teaching us the right way to do our jobs and handle problems.”

Marcos’s dedication paid off. He became an Assistant Crew Leader and was eventually promoted to Crew Leader. Marcos was not particularly interested in construction work when he came to the Corps, but through his time as a Corpsmember he learned every aspect of concrete work, chain link fence installation, landscape maintenance, and heavy equipment operation. He even became a Certified Construction Trades Trainer and taught new Corpsmembers how to operate heavy equipment.

These days, Marcos is a Supervisor with the Corps in the Weatherization program. With his various professional certifications, Marcos is qualified to train new Corpsmembers how to safely install energy efficient appliances, install new doors and windows, and generally make sure homes are as weathertight as possible.

“When they made me a supervisor, that really helped me out a lot – moneywise and all around. Then I could do more things with my family that I couldn’t do before because of the money,” said Marcos. “Now, since I was a Corpsmember too, I know how to approach the Corpsmembers because they’re in the same shoes that I was in. I know how to help them out. If they have any questions I’ll try to help.”

Marcos sees a little bit of himself in the Corpsmembers he trains. He realizes that many of them join the Corps without construction experience or knowledge of tools. It’s a good feeling for him to be able to take them under his wing and pass on the skills he learned at the Corps. Marcos maintains contact with the Corps’ mentors and supervisors who took the time to help him when he was a new Corpsmember.

“Some of them taught me a lot of the knowledge that I know now. I like to keep in touch just to get some words of wisdom every now and then,” said Marcos.

While with the Corps, Marcos earned his high school diploma, obtained his driver’s license, and bought his own car and apartment. Today, Marcos has a mortgage on his own home and multiple cars. He has considered going to college, but for now his main concern is making sure his family is provided for and comfortable. Marcos is very conscious about setting a good example for his daughters. He sometimes volunteers at their school and always makes time for family activities.

To young Corpsmembers and to youth thinking about joining a Service and Conservation Corps, Marcos says:

“The sky is the limit. That’s how I see it. There’s no stopping point, you should always try and reach for better things for yourself. So keep your head up and don’t let anything keep you down. If you put hard work into what you want to do, you’ll get it done…You can get stuff done no matter where you’re from or what your situation is.”

Representing Native American Youth: How Philan Tree works to improve opportunities for young people in her community

 

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, 
Philandrian Tree

Philandrian Tree, a former member of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 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 Philan and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2012 National Conference.

Philan Tree’s association with The Corps Network did not end after she received her Corpsmember of the Year award at our National Conference last February. Along with Ladine Daniels, a fellow 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, Philan was nominated by The Corps Network to be one of the 14 founding members 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. The council members have diverse backgrounds, but they are united by how they have all had transformative experiences with youth programs like Year Up, Public Allies, Youth Leadership Institute, and YouthBuild, USA. The Corps Network is proud to have Philan and Ladine as our representatives on the council.

“So far it’s been a really good experience,” said Philan. “Just working with the different council members…I’ve been able to learn a lot about what other programs are out there. I’ve been learning about the different issues the council members face because they’re from different parts of the country. Then, from there, we came together to make recommendations to bring to elected officials and appointed officials in the government. It was interesting to work together to make those recommendations. Overall it’s been a really good learning experience.”

The Council’s purpose is to inform policymakers about the challenges faced by low-income youth and to offer suggestions for what can be done to ensure all young Americans have access to opportunities. As a member of the Council, Philan has had the chance to visit the White House and meet with a number of top officials. “We met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, we met the president of the Ludacris Foundation…It’s also been great to work regularly with Dorothy Stoneman, the president and founder of YouthBuild USA,” said Philan. “We’ve had a lot of access to good people that can give you a lot of insight into how programs operate. I feel like I’ve learned a lot… A lot of the meetings that we’ve had with the Departments, they’ve really been very welcoming and very receptive to our ideas and recommendations.”

The council members were chosen for their diverse backgrounds. Some of them have experienced homelessness. Some of them have struggled through drug addictions. Some have spent time in prison. Each council member brings their personal experiences to the table. Philan acts as the voice of rural and Native American youth.            

Before joining the National Council of Young Leaders, Philan already had experience working on behalf of Native American peoples. When she was in college at Northern Arizona University, she and a colleague drafted a grant proposal for a home weatherization program that could help residents of Coconino County’s Native American reservations. Someone from the University’s AmeriCorps office was so impressed by the proposal that she referred Philan and her colleague to the City of Flagstaff Budget Manager as well as the Senior Program Manager at Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). The Corps quickly offered AmeriCorps mentorship positions to Philan and her partner so they could access the resources they needed to make their plan a reality.

As a Corpsmember, Philan was instrumental in securing Memorandums of Understanding between Coconino County and two chapters of the Navajo Nation; the Leupp Chapter and the Tonalea Chapter. Because of these MOUs, CREC was able to employ 17 Navajo Nation AmeriCorps members to work directly with their chapters to install energy efficiency measures in homes in underserved Native American communities. Philan also procured a Resolution of Support from the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation allowing for CREC’s Energy Conservation Corps (ECC) to provide home weatherization to many families on the Navajo Nation lands of Coconino County.

As a result of Philan’s leadership, over 200 homes received much needed repairs and upgrades. Philan used her Navajo language skills to help inform elderly reservation residents about services they otherwise might not have known about. She led CREC’s first fully Navajo crews in translating informational materials and developing phrases to help explain weatherization techniques. Philan personally helped many residents fill out their applications for the weatherization program.

“I just really appreciated all of the support that everyone gave me back home. A lot of the chapters supported me, a lot of the people in the community really supported me. If it wasn’t for all that support, a lot of what we did wouldn’t have happened,” said Philan. “It was important to show them [reservation residents] that they can have a say in how programs are delivered. They would give suggestions and they would give feedback on how we should go about delivering these services and their ideas were well received. Often they were right and we would implement what they said. They had more of a direct say in how they wanted the services to work for them.”

After leaving the Corps, Philan took an internship with a local elected official on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. She then moved to her current position providing communications and government relations support for the Navajo and Hopi tribes in her district.

“I work with the local governments on the reservations as well as their communities. I’m the point of contact for them when they have questions. I’m working on both sides to see when the county can provide a service or provide assistance, and then figuring out when we have to refer tribes out to another agency or program,” said Philan. “There’s just a lot of government-to-government relationship building between the county offices and the local leaders…A lot of my work is just finding the best ways to get services out to the residents on the reservations.”

Philan hopes to continue in this line of work. She wants to see more services reach Native American communities. She wants to see more support for Native American students. When she’s not at work or involved with the National Council of Young Leaders, Philan makes time to chair a grant advisory committee that works on behalf of Native students in the local school district.

Philan feels that her experience as a Corpsmember with CREC helped prepare her for what she’s doing now and what she wants to do in the future.

“Now I have experience with what programs work and why they work. When I look at other projects and opportunities coming in, I know what questions to ask. I got some good supervisory experience,” said Philan.

To other young people thinking about joining a Corps, Philan says:

“Just look around at the different types of Corps because they’re not all the same. And think about where you want to be. The overall experience can be really fun if you take advantage of it and utilize all the opportunities.”

"I went through what they went through and I became someone different" - a former Corpsmember helps young offenders get back on their feet


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year,
Andrew McKee 


Andrew and his crew of NYC Justice Corps members take a break from their work on a community center to pose for a picture

Andrew McKee, formerly a Corpsmember with Phipps CDC/NYC Justice Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 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 Andrew and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Giving back to the community is very important to Andrew McKee. He is especially dedicated to helping youth with criminal backgrounds make positive changes in their lives. Andrew has firsthand experience with just how challenging life can be for a young man with a record.

Andrew was convicted of a felony and served time at Riker’s Island; New York City’s main jail complex. When he was released from jail on probation, Andrew worried that the stigma of a conviction would keep him from finding gainful employment. He was still in his early 20s and had his whole life ahead of him, but his self-esteem was damaged by the thought that his employability might always be in question. Things turned around for Andrew when his probation officer referred him to NYC Justice Corps – a job corps that helps youth previously involved in the justice system build important life skills and gain work experience through addressing community needs.

Andrew served in the Corps for six months, from January 2010 – June 2010. Looking back on the experience he says what stands out in his memory was his participation in renovating the basement of Labor Bathgate Daycare Center in the Bronx. With decaying, water-stained walls and broken ceiling tiles, the basement was unsafe for the children. Andrew and his fellow crewmembers completed all the necessary repairs and beautified the basement with paint and child-appropriate decorations.

 “It was satisfying to just interact with my fellow cohort members and actually gain some work experience. I’d had jobs before, but nothing like that. Just the whole experience of working together with my peers and doing something positive - that stands out to me,” said Andrew. “Every chance I get or when I go past there I like to check up on the work I did. It’s been almost three years and I still take pride in it.”

While with the Corps, Andrew was placed in a prestigious internship with the New York City Department of Probation. He spent three months serving as an assistant to the Commissioner’s Office, visiting courts in all five of New York City’s boroughs to collect data from juvenile probationers. The information Andrew gathered, as well as his personal insights into the justice system, guided decisions made by Andrew’s superiors about what kinds of reforms were needed in the juvenile probation system.

After graduating from the Justice Corps, Andrew got a job handling internships and doing clerical work for New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development. However, after two years in this position, Andrew realized that the place where he really wanted to work was the Justice Corps.

“I felt like I could use my experience there,” said Andrew. “Having been a Corpsmember and actually coming from the same place that these guys, these new Corpsmembers, are coming from…I wanted to just give my own testimony and feedback and show them that they can do something with their lives. I’ve been there and I sat in the exact same seats that they sit in. I went through what they went through and I became someone different.”

Andrew took a job with the Corps as a Site Supervisor. Every day he leads a group of about 8 to 12 youth, ages 18 – 24, in a community benefit project similar to the daycare renovation project he helped complete when he was a Corpsmember. Most of the skills Andrew teaches his crews are skills he learned with the Corps over two years ago.

“My job entails supervising our participants on a worksite. I do their time sheets [and] I teach them how to do carpentry…I’m just teaching them basic skills like how to do plastering or floor tiling - it depends on what the job is. These guys are beginners and I’m just helping them get their work experience.”

In addition to working with the Corps, Andrew is enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College. He says he has taken a wide array of classes with plans to receive an associate’s degree by the end of 2013. He hopes to then get his bachelor’s degree.

When he’s not at work or school, Andrew likes to indulge in his favorite hobby: photography.

“Yes. I definitely still do photography. I try to make it a part of my free time any chance I get,” said Andrew. “I take pictures of pretty much everything. Anything I see that interests me I’ll take a photo of it. I also have a strong interest in studio photography.”

Andrew hopes to soon turn his hobby into a profession. He wants to open his own photography studio and do freelance work on the side. While his money would come from putting together packages and taking pictures in his studio, Andrew would also love to send photos to publications or use his camera to document red carpet events.

Completing his degrees and starting a photography business are Andrew’s two main goals, but right now he is happy to help young offenders get back on their feet. To youth thinking about joining a Corps, particularly a civic justice corps, Andrew says:

“If you really want to change then you should take the program seriously. There’s not a lot of opportunities out there that provide these resources and services. A program like this that offers work experience and internships - there are just a whole lot of doors that can be opened for you, especially when you’re young and you’re in this population, 18 – 24-year-olds. You have to take advantage of this opportunity and take it seriously.”

 

"Little things that the Conservation Corps changes about you that make a big difference" - Kenny Mai, Corpsmember of the Year 2009


Where are they now? - Catching up 2009 Corpsmember of the Year,

Kenny Mai

Kenneth Mai, a former member of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2009 for his commitment to service and self change. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Kenny and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2009 national conference.

Kenny Mai admits that he was once headed down a bad path. He was affiliated with a gang when he was a teenager and experimented with drugs and alcohol. He faced homelessness and an unstable family life. Kenny, who moved to Los Angeles from Belize when he was 13, also dropped out of high school due to his frustrations as a non-native English speaker. Fortunately, he was able to turn things around with the help of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC).

Kenny joined LACC in 2007 after hearing about the program from a friend. By this point Kenny had already participated in Job Corps and earned his GED. However, he still saw room for self-improvement and needed to break ties with his gang background. LACC’s program, which offers youth the chance to go back to school while also gaining work experience and earning a little money, seemed too good to pass up. While he was with LACC, Kenny became competent in carpentry, roofing, plumbing, irrigation and drywall installation. In addition to job skills, Kenny also learned important life skills.

“They taught me really everything that I know now. They’re the ones that took me out of the streets. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had,” said Kenny. “The most important thing I learned was to be a leader and I got work skills. They taught me how to be on time. A lot of the training they gave me I’m still using today.”

These days, Kenny works for the Koreatown Youth and Community Center. With KYCC, Kenny has planted trees, removed graffiti from public places, and participated in community cleanups and landscaping projects. Kenny is also currently contracted through KYCC with Southern California Edison’s Energy Conservation Program. Kenny works in an Edison warehouse driving forklifts and managing inventory, but he mainly helps organize crews that go out and provide free retrofitting services to Edison customers.

Kenny left the Los Angeles Conservation Corps in 2009 and went straight to KYCC, but he says that his experience with LACC still impacts his day-to-day life.

“It’s funny because me and my coworker always talk about this. There are little things that the Conservation Corps changes about you that make a big difference,” said Kenny. “Now I can’t litter! I always find a trashcan because I’ve done the work of cleaning up trash. I’ve gone from not worrying about it to seeing how littering is a real problem and I’m adding to it. Now I’m more conservative. It used to be ‘whatever,’ but now I’m thinking ‘save the planet.’ Now I’ve got to worry about my kids.”

Looking back at his time with LACC, Kenny is most proud of a tree planting project he participated in near his home. The Corps’ goal was to plant 500 trees in a single day, but they ended up planting 600. Kenny says the trees are still standing and it’s a great feeling to walk past them.

Kenny is also proud of his time as president of the Conservation Corps’ Leadership Council. He says his presidency was an important learning experience that taught him leadership skills he uses today. During his presidency, Kenny managed to change how the council is run and organized.

“When I started, they were paying the Corpsmembers to be in the council – giving them a stipend. But I said, I don’t think the leaders should be getting paid to be leaders. I didn’t think they should get the stipend – if they want to be in the council, they should join out of their own will,” said Kenny. “Before that, there were like six people in the council all getting the stipend, and when I came in there was like 18 people in the council just a month later and they weren’t getting paid. That was really cool. They inspired me and I inspired them.”

Through his position on the Leadership Council, Kenny became an important recruiter for LACC. He reached out to youth who were dealing with many of the same issues he had experienced before joining the Corps.

“I got to get a lot of Corpsmembers off the street and keep them in the programs. Because when they saw me doing it, they could say ‘if he can do it, I can do it,’” said Kenny. “I would tell them about how they can learn to be a leader, and they can learn work skills, and they can do their community service part. They can have mentors there. What we go through in the street, it was the same for the people that work [at LACC]. Many of the staff were Corpsmembers, so what you’ve been through – they’ve been through.”

Kenny is busy with KYCC and Southern California Edison, but he still finds time to volunteer. Recently, he has helped construct a new community garden near his home. He hopes to eventually go back to school to earn a business degree – he has thought about one day opening his own small business, perhaps a carwash. Kenny also still hopes to work with LACC, the organization that he feels changed his life.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I wouldn’t have these work skills,” said Kenny. “I’d probably be in jail, to tell you the truth. I wouldn’t be working. I would be in the streets with a gang or something if I didn’t get into the Conservation Corps.”

Kenny is now 26-years-old. He has one son and a second son on the way.

Corpsmember Success Story: "William Got Serious" - American YouthWorks


Adapted from a post on the American YouthWorks website: July 12, 2012 - Rachel Matvy

In 2009, after dropping out of school, William came to American YouthWorks’s public charter high school, the Service Learning Academy. William, who was 18-years-old at this point, was of an age when many young people would already have graduated.  Through the Service Learning Academy’s self-paced program, he completed his high school credits in two years. However, William had difficulty passing the State test. While he studied, he joined AYW’s award-winning green construction program, which is designed to create pathways out of poverty for at-risk youth. He gained job skills and earned a small living stipend while he prepared for the test. In addition to job skills, William learned to give back to his community by building energy efficient homes for low-income home buyers.

It is important to note that American YouthWorks continued to serve William even though he had “aged out” of the school.  This meant that American YouthWorks no longer received State funding to serve him.  Through AYW programs, William earned his diploma and industry recognized job training certifications.   He ate breakfast and lunch every day in the AYW cafeteria and his son was cared for in the on campus child development facility.  All of this was provided at no cost to William or his family.  

William started at American YouthWorks in a place of uncertainty, and on June 30th, William will walk across the stage with his fellow students!  He’s graduating with job skills and is currently working with the City of Austin as an intern.  William is achieving his dream: to have a viable means to support his wife and son.

It is through generous gifts from donors that American YouthWorks is able to provide these types of desperately needed services to at-risk youth in Austin so that there will be more success stories like William’s.

Corpsmember Success Story: Luis Cruz

 

From the October 2012 edition of Corps Conection - the Sequoia Community Corps Newsletter 
 
Luis Cruz has been an outstanding member of the Sequoia Community Corps for five years. After a friend told him about the Corps, Luis joined to learn valuable job skills.  Luis has learned how to complete projects such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC repair and more. 
 
One of Luis’ most memorable experiences as a member of the Corps is assisting a disabled Porterville resident.  She was unable to find work and wasn’t comfortable in her home.  Luis helped install new windows, doors and a stove.  The resident was extremely grateful and Luis was very happy to help someone that really needed it.
 
After he completes the Corps, Luis hopes to use his skills to help people and to find employment in the construction industry.

Corpsmembers Complete Park Upgrades

From the October 2012 edition of Corps Connection - the Sequoia Community Corps Newsletter 

In August, the Sequoia Community Corps completed work on 1800 square feet of concrete sidewalk for Mulcahy Park in the City of Tulare.  The sidewalk was six feet wide and 300 feet long.  The project, contracted by the City of Tulare, took one supervisor and four Corpsmembers eight working days to complete.
 
The new sidewalk is part of the City of Tulare’s new Mulcahy Park.  When complete, the park will have sports fields, lighted walking trails, shade arbors and covered play areas for young children.
 
The concrete sidewalk installed by the Sequoia Community Corps will provide an easy and safe way for area residents to pass from the south end of the park to the north.  It will also be included in the walking path that totals 1/2 mile.
 
Congratulations to the City of Tulare on this exciting project!

Corps in Kansas City Teaches Youth to Care for Their Environment

Father John Wandless named his program the Urban Ranger Corps based on the philosophy that the participants "all live in the urban core and care for the environment around them — the yards and homes of their neighborhoods — like forest or park rangers." This summer 58 Urban Rangers have spent seven weeks cleaning up trash and old tire strewn lots, shoring up or tearing down sagging porches and rebuilding them as decks or patios; patching and caulking holes in exterior walls and painting houses, building fences, mowing yards and trimming or cutting down overgrown trees and bushes. Work was completed for low-income homeowners, with particular focus on eldery persons and single parent households. The 32-hour work week and 4-hour weekly workshop sessions give the teens work experience and training and earn them a bi-weekly check that pays them up to $2,400 for the summer, for many of the young men, their first paycheck. Fund raising helps purchase equipment and tools and pays their wages. Read more here in an article by Marty Denzer of the Catholic Key Reporter.

San Francisco Conservation Corps completes work in Buena Vista

After three months of hard and rewarding work, San Francisco Conservation Corps Corpsmembers have completed the Buena Vista Project. SFCC partnered with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department's Capital Division to identify and area of erosion and safety concern in the oldest park in San Francisco, the Buena Vista. Their work included deconstruction and re-building of stairways and retaining walls. See a slide show about their work here.

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