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."

 

 

 

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.”

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Jesse Roehm



 

Jesse Roehm understood at a very young age what it means to be a good environmental steward. Through many small acts, his family conveyed to him the importance of protecting nature and maintaining a small carbon footprint. He remembers helping his father cover their windows in shrink wrap every fall to reduce the amount of energy they consumed to heat their house in a suburb of Indianapolis. He remembers how he and his brother never watched TV or played videogames; they much preferred to spend their days tramping through the woods, digging in the dirt and fishing in the creek. As Jesse got a little older, the concept of environmental stewardship gained further clarity through his participation in the Boy Scouts. His Eagle Scout project involved spreading awareness about invasive species by writing for the newspaper, handing out information at community events, and leading an eradication project at a local park.

Jesse’s upbringing helped him appreciate the importance of community involvement and activism, but he feels that he started to lose sight of some of his values while he was in college. When he graduated from Indiana State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and international studies, Jesse decided he was ready to make some changes in his life. He wanted to find himself and reconnect with his beliefs, so he decided to devote a year to service.

“I’m not exactly sure how I initially heard about AmeriCorps. I was loosely considering doing the Peace Corps, but through research I found out that there were also domestic Corps. I thought that would be a better fit for me because I didn’t really think I was ready to commit two-and-a-half years to go abroad and leave family and friends,” said Jesse. “I knew I was interested in AmeriCorps, but there weren’t a whole lot of AmeriCorps options in Indiana and I had wanted to move out to Colorado just to kind of get away. I had spent my whole life in Indiana and I was looking to make a fresh start.”

As someone who loves to go skiing and backpacking, Jesse was lured by Colorado’s mountains. He already had several good friends in Colorado, so he knew that if he went there he would have a place to stay until he got on his feet. It wasn’t long after Jesse arrived in Denver that he found Mile High Youth Corps; an organization that focuses on community building, energy conservation and wilderness land management. MHYC seemed like a perfect fit for Jesse, so he soon dove headfirst into a 10-month-long AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation Program. He spent that first spring with the Corps installing water saving measures in low-income homes.

“I stared poverty in the face and made real and tangible changes,” said Jesse. “I began to relearn the concept of community and feel a sense of belonging to a greater cause.”

Through his commitment to helping others and making a difference, Jesse proved to be a natural leader. He was elected by his peers to Leadership Council; the Corpsmember-led governing body of Mile High. He served as the voice of his crew, enacted policy changes based on Corpsmember input and organized agency-wide events.



Once the summer came around, Jesse was promoted to Assistant Crew Leader. Around the same time, he and his peers transitioned to land conservation work for the summer and fall months.

“I think definitely what stood out to me during that first year with the Corps was the work that I did on land conservation,” said Jesse. “For roughly six months I was part of a chainsaw crew. I worked with the same Crew Leader and some of the same crewmembers and we had a very successful two seasons together in terms of how cohesive we were as a group. I’m really proud of our accomplishments.”

At the end of Jesse’s ten-month term, he was hired by MHYC as an Alumni Mentor for a 1,700 hour term. The Mentor position allowed him to assist with Corpsmember hiring and recruitment, support program development, and serve as a liaison between Corpsmembers and staff. Jesse also assumed the responsibility of coordinating and facilitating MHYC’s first Crew Leader training, and he helped plan MHYC’s first Career Day: an event that gives Corpsmembers the opportunity to learn more about MHYC staff and ask questions about current job market trends in the conservation field. Because of Jesse’s leadership and organizational skills, both of these events were a great success. 

Though Jesse was instrumental in implementing organization-wide policies and events that touched many people in the MHYC community, some of his most meaningful experiences came from simply working with Corpsmembers and other young people in the program.

“As an Alumni Mentor, I provided leadership, support and training for Corpsmembers in our Energy, Water and Land programs,” said Jesse. “My role was to connect with Corpsmembers on an individual level, ensure that they were engaging in meaningful service opportunities and educational experiences and provide on-going suggestions for improvements in our programming. At its simplest, I maintained and promoted a positive corps culture across the agency”

 Throughout his time with MHYC, Jesse has, according to his supervisors, “displayed a commitment to high quality work that is difficult to match. He gives 100 percent every day and motivates his peers through challenging times.” These claims are easily backed up by the Corpsmembers that Jesse has mentored and inspired over the past couple years.

 “I feel lucky to have Jesse as a mentor,” said one Corpsmember “I think he truly believes in the influence that Mile High and AmeriCorps can have on young adults, and this belief comes through in his overwhelming concern and compassion towards every single Corpsmember. He has been a key agent in helping me to always see the bigger picture and to understand truly what service means. Jesse has made a huge impact on me and how I have come to view my own term of service.”

Another Corpsmember commented, “At the end of every day I would see Jesse getting back from the day’s work site where he had been cutting down trees for forest thinning.  He would always have a smile on his face even though he would crawl out of the van dirtier than anyone else in the van; a strong testament to his ability to work hard all hours of the day while constantly being upbeat and positive.  Every day that he comes to work he goes above and beyond what is required of him.  His positivity and work ethic are infectious.”

After 3,400 hours with Mile High, Jesse became a staff member in late 2012. As a Program Specialist for the Corps’ Conservation Program, Jesse now leads the AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation crew that he was a part of in 2011. He is excited to have the opportunity to create an AmeriCorps experience for his Corpsmembers that was as valuable as his own.

“I am thrilled to be able to continue promoting individual learning, leadership and personal growth among Corpsmembers,” said Jesse.

While working full-time at Mile High Youth Corps, Jesse plans to use his AmeriCorps Education Awards to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Colorado, Denver. Ultimately, he hopes to work in a managerial role at a Denver area non-profit focused on community development. Though he might not stay at Mile High forever, Jesse will forever be changed by his time with the Corps.

“At the end of my two years in AmeriCorps, the biggest change is who I see in the mirror. I am proud of who I am. My AmeriCorps experience kindled a passion for service inside me. I learned the value of community, hard work and integrity and now live in service to those values. I would like to thank Mile High Youth Corps for providing me with the tools to make a difference in my own life and the lives of others.”

 

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Raghda Raphael



Raghda and her fiance

Raghda Raphael’s story is one of triumph over tragedy. She was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1988 and immigrated to the United States in 2010. Though Raghda came to America as a refugee, her life in Iraq was once filled with happiness. As a child, she had many friends and lived comfortably with her family in her grandfather’s big house. She was fortunate to attend good schools and received excellent grades. Sadly, life for Raghda and her family changed once the initial hopefulness following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein faded and insurgents took power of Baghdad. Raghda was soon surrounded by the threat of car bombs, roadside bombs, and assassinations.

“All of the Iraqi people were feeling horror,” said Raghda. “We felt unsafe, fear, uncertainty, and confusion because of the unexpected events we were facing in our lives.”

In 2008, Raghda’s uncle, a 35-year-old father of six, was kidnapped by armed men and held prisoner. His captors contacted Raghda’s cell phone numerous times and demanded ransom money. Her family was ready to pay, but after a few days the insurgents decided they no longer wanted money – they wanted Raghda.

“I hung up the telephone and never spoke to the captors again.  I chose to live and for that my uncle probably died,” said Raghda. “To this day, we have had no contact with our uncle.  We do not know what happened to him.  All of us in the family feel very sad.”



 

Raghda was so shocked and saddened by this incident that she could not concentrate on school and failed the high school exit exam. A year later, when she attempted the exam again, she passed and was accepted to the University of Baghdad. She studied hard in school and she and her friends tried to lead normal lives, but every day was full of uncertainty. One day, Raghda and her peers were in a car that was attacked by insurgents. Bullets broke the back window of the car and blew out the tires. Iraq was not safe. Raghda and her family moved to Beirut, Lebanon in 2009.

“As happy as my family was to take this step, it was also the hardest decision we ever made in our lives because we were leaving our own country, home and friends, knowing it would be the toughest challenge to date,” said Raghda. “…The good thing was we knew we would not be [in Lebanon] for a long time; it was a waiting station for us.”

In October 2010, the family boarded a plane for America. Raghda was relieved to find safety in their new home of San Diego, but she felt isolated by her limited understanding of English. Things changed, however, when she followed in her brother’s footsteps and joined Urban Corps of San Diego (UCSD).

Raghda’s teachers at Urban Corps recognized her intelligence and encouraged her to practice her English. About a year-and-a-half after joining the Corps, Raghda passed the California High School Exit Exam and received an American high school diploma in November 2012. Through the help of her teachers, Raghda’s English has become so strong that she now acts as a translator and tutor for Arabic-speaking Corpsmembers, and she has spoken about the Corps experience at various events as a UCSD Ambassador.

“Raghda exemplifies the Corps ideals of service, perseverance and determination,” said Geneva Karwoski, one of Raghda’s supervisor’s at UCSD. “…Raghda is motivated to succeed in every aspect of her life. As a student, worker, and peer she has fostered a sense of community among Urban Corps’ diverse group of Corpsmembers. She is fearless about befriending people from cultures outside her own, and has inspired many of her peers to follow suit. Her strong sense of character and commitment to the guiding principles of the Corps has made her an unparalleled leader and mentor for other Corpsmembers.”

While attending classes and working towards her diploma at Urban Corps, Raghda also worked with the Corps’ Fire Fuel Reduction Program and the UCSD Recycling Buyback Center. Raghda says that the experience of building trails, thinning forests, and sorting recyclables has helped her build a strong appreciation of the natural world. As a cashier in the Buyback Center, she feels proud to be able to play a part in helping divert recyclables from the landfill. Raghda has inspired the rest of her family members to become more conscious about their recycling habits.

In addition to her work at Urban Corps, Raghda helps support her family by working as a restaurant manager in the evenings. She also recently enrolled in college and has been busy planning her wedding. Her dream is to eventually earn her master’s degree and become a math teacher for underprivileged youth. Math has always been Raghda’s passion:

“My teacher in Iraq used to tell me, ‘You are smart in math; you should be a math teacher!’ Then when I came to Urban Corps, my teacher there told me the same thing!” said Raghda. “I really enjoyed the time I spent working with other students as a tutor and mentor, and it is my dream to encourage that interest in other young women too.  I have recently learned that many young people are not meeting the appropriate math proficiency levels and that such deficiencies will have a great effect on their future career opportunities.  I hope to one day be a part of the solution to this problem and make math a fun and enjoyable experience for those that struggle with it.”

Coming to America was a turbulent experience for Raghda. It was difficult for her to adjust and immerse herself in a new culture, but, as she explains, the welcoming environment and supportive staff at Urban Corps helped her feel like she had finally found a safe, comfortable home.

“Urban Corps helped me realize my potential and gave me the tools I needed to succeed in a new country.  Without the Corps I would not be where I am today. I am grateful for the opportunity, and for all the people that have made a difference in my life. I look forward to the day when I can do the same for another young person.”

 

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Brandon Penny


During his third week at Civicorps Learning Academy in Oakland, CA, Brandon Penny wrote a poem in which he stated, “Just because I don’t have my high school diploma doesn’t mean I am not smart.”

It has always been evident that Brandon is smart and inquisitive, but school was never his thing. Brandon dropped out of high school during his senior year after he failed the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) and couldn’t receive his diploma on time. Failing the test left Brandon frustrated and discouraged; the previous four years of school seemed like a waste of time.

Brandon didn’t have a job to fall back on after he left school. Without classes or work to keep him busy, he started thinking about the future. He knew it was his own responsibility to get back on track, but he didn’t have much initiative and he didn’t know where to turn. Then Brandon’s uncle told him about Civicorps. From the description his uncle provided, Brandon thought the Corps would simply pay him to go back to school and finish his graduation requirements. He was later upset to discover that becoming a Corpsmember also meant having to work. Soon after joining the program, however, Brandon embraced the Corps model and began making real progress.

“I learned I needed guidance and, most importantly, I learned to seek it,” said Brandon. “Once I started to understand the Corps and myself, I learned that I could perform at a high level and be accountable. I knew that if I wanted something, I had to earn it.”

Brandon worked with a number of organizations during his time as a Corpsmember. He gained valuable job experience as he helped complete environmental projects sponsored by the California Department of Transportation, the East Bay Regional Park District, the East Bay Water and Utilities District, and the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. Brandon became skilled at using weed whackers, hedge trimmers, and chainsaws. He also developed a working understanding of basic landscaping and land management techniques.

“My favorite crew work was with the Alameda County Flood Control District (ACFC),” said Brandon. “I loved jumping in creeks, bucking down the pile, cutting down trees and trimming ivy.”

After about eleven months, Brandon’s supervisors promoted him to a Crew Leader position. This added level of responsibility gave Brandon the motivation and confidence he needed to finish his graduation requirements and begin planning for bigger and better things. He ended up earning perfect attendance awards for six consecutive months.

Upon graduating in December 2010, Brandon requested to be moved to the Corps’ recycling department. Jobs in the recycling department require a more specialized skill set and demand a higher level of responsibility, but that was exactly what Brandon needed. He didn't want to be seen as “just another lazy kid”; he wanted to set an example for his peers and be a model Crew Leader. After four months of working on the recycling center sorting belt, Brandon was promoted again and became an equipment operator. It was encouraging to be trusted with using forklifts and front loaders, but Brandon was determined to gain even more responsibility by becoming a truck driver; the highest position in the recycling department.

“Once I was promoted I knew that I wanted to become a truck driver.  Now that I reflect on the Corps’ impact on me, I have learned to always stay humble and keep striving to reach my goals,” said Brandon “It took me about six months to get promoted to become a truck driver…Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I had to prove to my supervisors that I was ready for the big step forward.  I really had to stand out from all of my peers. I knew I had to earn the trust of my supervisors. I had to come to work every day and be on time. I made sure if I said I was going to do something, I did it.”

Now that Brandon has his Class B driver’s license, he can consider a career as a commercial truck driver. If he does decide to pursue a new job, he’ll be able to advertise his many hours behind the wheel of the Civicorps recycling truck. His morning collection routes can sometimes span the entire Bay Area; one morning he might pick up recyclables in the Berkeley hills, while the next day he might need to drive the truck to Pinole, over 45 miles away. No matter where his route takes him, however, Brandon tries to finish early so he can return to the recycling center and help with whatever tasks still need to be completed. He’s more than willing to take a shift on the sorting belt or the front loader if one of his peers needs assistance.

Brandon is conscious of things he can do to help maintain a supportive atmosphere at Civicorps. His actions prove that he is committed to always being a positive influence on his peers. He first displayed this commitment within a few days of starting at the Learning Academy. A fellow student started to get agitated when he pressed Brandon about an assignment, but Brandon maintained his cool and managed to avoid a physical confrontation. He reminded his classmate that they were both at the Corps to learn and should support each other in their academics.

Another instance in which Brandon looked out for his peers also happened in school. He decided that something needed to be done about how the math instructor consistently struggled to maintain control of the class. Brandon observed that his fellow students had trouble understanding the instructor’s foreign accent, so he offered to be a teacher’s assistant and help field questions from the class. Brandon’s assistance allowed the teacher to do his job and helped the students understand the course content. No other teachers or administrators were aware of this arrangement; Brandon helped the instructor without being asked and without any outside organization. He simply saw a problem and did what he could to fix it.

Brandon is currently enrolled at Merritt College where he is working towards an AA degree. He hopes to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in landscaping and maybe even open his own landscaping business. For now, Brandon sees himself continuing to work in truck driving and waste management. Wherever his future takes him, Brandon says he wants to make sure he always has time to be an active member of his community. 

“The most important thing I would like to be is a mentor in my community,” said Brandon. “I want to help the youth do positive things in life, like finishing high school, going to college, and moving out of the hood, just like I did. There are so many things that I want to do in the future, from being a professional truck driver, to getting married, to starting my own business, but most of all I want to be a role model. To reach my pinnacles in life, I have to take it one step at a time. I want to thank Civicorps for all the experience I have gained.  I received my diploma, became a Crew Leader and became a commercial driver…Without Civicorps I don’t know where I would be.”

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Sarah Huff


 

Sarah Huff enrolled at Shasta College in California after she graduated from high school in 2007. She wasn’t sure what kind of career she wanted to pursue and tried to keep an open mind about the future, but she didn’t feel inspired by any of her classes. Sarah completed most of her general course requirements after four semesters, yet she was no closer to declaring a major. It was time to try something new.

Around this time, Sarah came across a brochure advertising the California Conservation Corps (CCC). Across the front of the handout was the Corps’ official motto: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions…and more!” Sarah had never imagined herself taking a job that required long hours of exhausting physical labor, but she was looking for a change and the Corps would certainly present many new experiences. Within just two months of attending a CCC information session, Sarah joined the Corps and became a member of the Weaverville CCC expansion crew.

Sarah had always enjoyed being outside and she had recently discovered a love for backpacking, but before becoming a Corpsmember she had only ever worked in a book store and an office. Despite her inexperience, Sarah immediately stood out as a model Corpsmember. She was a quick learner and she willingly took on new responsibilities. Her hard work contributed immensely to the success of the newly-formed Weaverville crew. She endured the sometimes harsh conditions of working in the back country with a positive attitude, swapping jokes and riddles with her fellow Corpsmembers to keep up morale on long hikes and in bad weather.
 


 

It wasn’t long before Sarah was promoted to a Crew Leader position. She was so respected by her supervisors that she became one of only nine Corpsmembers statewide selected to represent the CCC in Australia for a two month exchange program with Conservation Volunteers Australia. While abroad, Sarah worked in flood recovery, tree planting and invasive species removal.

“It was a really good experience - I met a lot of neat people. For us it was basically like a paid vacation, but it was really cool to know that we were helping change peoples’ lives,” said Sarah. “They were so grateful to have us. It was less than a year after they’d had these big floods and they were still trying to get back on their feet. So it was really great to not only get to see a new country, but know that you made a difference while you were there.”

When Sarah returned from Australia she was promoted again and became a Crewleader II with the Redding CCC’s Type II Fire Crew. As the only woman on the crew, Sarah at first felt like she needed to prove she was tough and could keep up with the guys. However, she is such a skilled firefighter and leader that it didn’t take much effort for her to quickly earn the respect of the rest of the team.

In addition to her work with the Corps, Sarah volunteered her time at many community events in order to earn her AmeriCorps Education Awards. Sarah spent many hours helping with the Annual Salmon Festival, the local Children’s Festival, and various service learning projects. She went above and beyond the call of duty and even came into work on her days off to help her supervisors buy food and prepare camps for “spike” operations. A “spike” is when a crew camps near a project site and the Corpsmembers work ten hour shifts for eight days in a row, often in remote locations without conveniences like running water, electricity, or cell phone reception. 

As one of Sarah’s supervisors said, “Sarah has a very positive effect on her peers. She is a great role model who ‘leads by example’ and shows others what they are capable of.” Sarah became known for her ability to motivate other Corpsmembers and for the way she relentlessly encouraged her peers to volunteer, work towards their Class B Driver’s licenses, and apply for jobs. During her term of service Sarah herself was able to earn her Class B license, move out of her parents’ house, and finally find a direction for her future. 

Sarah was offered a number of jobs with the CCC, but after over two years of hard work she decided she was ready to go back to school. With the help of her AmeriCorps scholarship money, Sarah became a full-time student at American River College in January 2013. Her goal is to earn an associate’s degree in Environmental Conservation and then transfer to a school in the California State University system to complete a bachelor’s degree. Sarah is thankful that her time in the Corps helped her realize a passion for working outdoors. She hopes to eventually find a job in which she can use the skills she gained in the Corps. She has been researching positions with Corps and with agencies like the Park Service and the Forest Service.

“While in the CCC I've been a trail worker, a cook, a firefighter, a Crew Leader, a student and a teacher. I've done landscaping, fuel reduction, fence repair, habitat restoration and rock work. I’ve worked harder than I thought I could and been more exhausted than I thought possible. I've watched people come and go and made some great friends. Most importantly, I've made a difference.” 

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Alex Hreha


 

Alex Hreha admits that during middle school and high school he was “a below average student at an above average weight.” He lacked self-confidence and didn’t have much motivation for school or any kind of physical activity.

Near the end of his junior year of high school, Alex started looking ahead to another uneventful summer of mowing his grandparents’ lawn. Then a friend told him about how she spent the previous summer as a member of an environmental conservation program for youth. She talked about how she got paid to work outdoors in beautiful natural settings, but she described the work as back-breaking and exhausting. Nonetheless, Alex was intrigued by the idea of having a real job. He filled out an application and was soon officially a member of the Sedona Youth Conservation Corps, a program operated by Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC).

Alex was initially apprehensive about what would be required of him as a Corpsmember. He was understandably concerned about spending long hours doing physical labor in the Arizona heat. Alex didn’t have to speculate about the Corps experience for long, however; they put him right to work.  It was 105 degrees on his first day and his crew was assigned to smash cement blocks that were buried in the ground next to an asphalt parking lot. Alex says he woke up the next morning with “blisters growing out of blisters,” but it felt good to come home tired after a day of productive work. He quickly discovered that he had a passion for conservation. He thrived during the next six weeks of the program, which involved doing trail maintenance, rock work, and fence construction.



 

By the time school started again, Alex had lost over 25 pounds and gained a completely new outlook on life. Though he had never been a stellar student before, Alex produced excellent grades throughout his senior year. He also started an exercise routine and continued to lose weight. By graduation he had lost over 50 pounds and participated in five half-marathons. He decided to continue this positive lifestyle by joining a six-month-long CREC adult program. 

Alex was the youngest person on the adult crew, but he stood out as an excellent leader. The next six months simply reinforced his desire to work in conservation. Alex loved having the opportunity to travel throughout the state and help protect the natural beauty of such places as Walnut Canyon, Aravaipa Canyon, The Coronado Mountain Range, and the Sedona and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests.

“One of my most memorable moments of the six-month term was during an intense surprise thunder storm. We were cutting trail tread into the dirt on an exposed ridge as the rain became heavier and heavier. Pretty soon it was like trying to walk in chocolate pudding, and the lightning was getting closer,” said Alex. “We continued our work and were counting the seconds between each lightning strike, when, all of a sudden, we were blinded and deafened by a massive lightning strike. A pine tree about 100 feet away took a powerful hit; it felt as if someone had shined a flashlight in my eyes and screamed in my ears. Countless moments like these engrave my memory, and my love for conservation work continues to grow.”

During a project at Walnut Canyon, Alex wandered into the visitor center and came across a black and white photograph from the 1930s that pictured the Civilian Conservation Corps members who built the stone staircases that encircle the canyon.

“I felt a deep connection inside myself and realized all the strenuous work I had completed would remain for centuries,” said Alex.

At the end of the term, Alex used his hard-earned money to move to Prescott, AZ. He enrolled in a community college with the help of his AmeriCorps Education Awards and soon received his Emergency Medical Technician certificate. During the semester, he also completed his first full marathon. Alex was staying active and learning new things, but he missed the outdoors. Shortly after receiving his EMT certification, Alex was accepted for a position as a CREC Youth Conservation Corps Mentor.

Alex had hoped to receive such a position ever since his service in CREC’s Sedona Youth Conservation Corps. He wanted the opportunity to lead new Corpsmembers and hopefully help them realize the same benefits he gained from his experience with a youth crew. Looking after a group of teenagers was a new challenge for Alex, but the two months of the program were ultimately very rewarding. There were a number of occasions throughout the summer when Alex was able to put his EMT training to use. At one point he was able to help a Corpsmember with a scratched cornea, and on another occasion he diagnosed and assisted a Corpsmember who was suffering from hyponatremia; a condition of excess heat, too much water, and not enough electrolytes.

“These terrifying moments challenged me and strengthened my overall character, and after a very successful summer I felt I had a very positive impact on my young crew,” said Alex.

Even after a summer of leading Corpsmembers through desert monsoons, working in 110 degree heat, and volunteering at an animal shelter walking 150 pound pit bulls, Alex was not done with his service at CREC. He was hired as Assistant Crew Leader of the Verde Watershed Restoration Coalition; a new invasive species removal crew. Alex was eight years younger than some of the adults on the crew, but he jumped at the opportunity to continue building his leadership skills. The three-month-long program gave Alex a chance to also learn new skills in forestry; on his fourth day of chainsaw orientation he was able to cut down a 100 foot tall Ponderosa Pine.

After the end of the program in December 2012, Alex took another 3-month-long position with CREC so he could continue to gain experience. He plans to apply for an additional 3 months of service in March 2013, and then lead another Youth Conservation Corps crew during the summer. His goal is to eventually use the rest of his AmeriCorps Education Awards to go back to school and get the credentials he needs to pursue a career in emergency medical response.

“My story would not exist without The Corps Network, and all the outstanding people involved in making programs like CREC possible. CREC and all the other wonderful corps programs provide great opportunities and memories for people across the country, and it is an amazing honor to represent all their hard work and effort. Theodore Roosevelt once said ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.’ I feel a great sense of pride knowing there are tens of thousands of Corpmembers like me across the country putting all their effort into great causes. Together we make a positive impact.”

 

 

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Luis Gaeta



 

Luis Gaeta admits that there was a time when he had trouble prioritizing and could barely stomach the idea of having to finish all four years of high school. He rarely went to class during his junior year and subsequently dropped out. Though the prospect of no longer attending classes initially came as a relief, it didn’t take long for Luis to discover that the working world can be a harsh place for a young man without marketable skills or a high school diploma. He worked in retail, had a job as a referee at a paintball facility, and also worked as a security guard, but he still struggled to make ends meet. Additionally, his housing situation was unstable and his car constantly broke down. Maintaining such a hectic pace was difficult, but Luis had to keep up; he and his girlfriend were expecting a child.

“With all of the different schedules and expectations, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed and discouraged,” said Luis.

Luis knew his lack of a diploma held him back from a more comfortable lifestyle. He started to attend adult school in the evenings, but then his girlfriend’s uncle mentioned something about EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC): a program that, as it was explained to him, would teach him construction skills and basically pay him to finish up his graduation requirements. Luis couldn’t pass up the opportunity. He applied for a Corpsmember position and impressed staff members when, during his intake interview, he said he wanted to be the kind of Corpsmember that steps forward and looks out for the crew. Luis was accepted to the program and soon proved that he is a man of his word.

Luis completed 14 credits towards his high school diploma within just two weeks with the Corps. He knew he was finally in the right place and doing the right thing for his future. It wasn’t long before he earned his diploma, having already earned two Student of the Month Awards and an honor roll award along the way.

In addition to gaining high school credits with LCC, Luis gained practical job skills in a variety of fields. He ultimately received training in all five of LCC’s programs: Construction, grounds maintenance, recycling, green building maintenance, and fatherhood preparedness. Among other accomplishments, he earned his class C driver’s license, first aid/CPR certification, and forklift operation certification.

“Along with my academic failures, I hadn’t had much work experience outside of the retail and customer service field,” said Luis. “I came into the program hoping to learn some construction skills. I was willing to take anything that was given to me…To my surprise, my first day out I was already on the roof installing the sheeting with my peers. This just blew my mind because I am the type of guy that has a passion for this kind of hands on labor. It came to the point that I, above the rest, showed an interest to learn any and all new things.”

After serving as a Corpsmember for a little over a year, Luis was offered a position as an LCC Senior Corpsmember. In this role, Luis – who now has a baby girl – became a peer mentor with the Corps’ Proving Our Parenting Skills (POPS) program. POPS helps fathers, ranging in age from 16 to 30, learn how to become confident parents and responsible figures in the lives of their children and partners. Participants in POPS must complete a comprehensive fatherhood curriculum, anger management classes, and relationship-building classes with their child’s mother. The fathers can also take advantage of POPS family activities, such as “Daddy Days,” that provide opportunities for children and fathers to interact through Zumba classes, reading nights, cooking classes, and other family-friendly activities. POPS Participants also have access to free diapers, children’s clothing, and picture books. Luis’s job as a Senior Corpsmember mainly involved handling the POPS outreach and social media efforts, but he also had the responsibility of acting as a role model for fellow young fathers working their way through the program.

“I enjoyed trying to help these young guys want to be fathers. They already wanted [to be, so that made it enjoyable],” said Luis. “It was in this program that I was exposed to the media for my role as a father. I started doing interviews on the KSEE 24 news station. Then I went on to being interviewed for a few other channels and an article.”

While assisting with the POPS program, Luis also helped facilitate LCC’s seven-week Emergency Preparedness certification course. He worked alongside Josh Christopherson, a fellow with Mission Continues; a program that helps veterans extend their service into civilian life. Josh and Luis ultimately led over sixty Corpsmembers through the Preparedness course.

 “Luis was my right hand man,” said Josh. “He did an excellent job as a role model and leader throughout the summer.”

Luis had a wide range of experiences during his time with the Corps, but he particularly appreciated receiving exposure to the construction trades. Through building Habitat for Humanity homes and completing vocational coursework through LCC, Luis found he was drawn to electrical occupations. The LCC staff took notice and encouraged this interest.

“My supervisor, Craig Henry, saw this and pushed my knowledge beyond its limits,” said Luis. “While most other Corpsmembers were outside shoveling dirt or leveling the ground, I was inside installing outlets, luminaries, and switches. I loved learning about all the electrical components of construction.”

Building off his interest in the electrical trades, Luis is using the AmeriCorps Education Awards he earned through his service with LCC to attend Fresno City College in pursuit of an associate’s degree in electronic systems technology. Even with his parenting responsibilities and a full-time job with the Corps, Luis maintained a 3.67 GPA during his first semester. He hopes to eventually transfer to California State University, Fresno to receive his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. 

“Although I had many obstacles thrown at me, I had a will power that couldn’t be overcome by any complications. I have a drive to get somewhere and be something big. I allowed my weaknesses to become the reasons why I became strong. Having all these obstacles gave me the desire for something better in my life [and the lives of my family members],” said Luis. “…I would like to mentor the future generations with my knowledge and experiences. I want to give back to the Corps what they gave to me. If this doesn’t work out, I am looking forward to getting an entry-level job in the electrical industry. I would like to get into a company that will take me from the bottom and build up my foundation of electrical knowledge to the most it can be…I know with the skills and experiences I’ve accumulated at the Corps, I will be there in no time.”

 

A former Corpsmember starts his own conservation group

 

Where are they now? - Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year,
Diony Gamoso


Diony working on Peralta Creek

Diony Gamoso, formerly of Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay), 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 Diony and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2005 National Conference.

Diony Gamoso has always loved nature and animals. He studied wildlife biology in college and spent the first four or five years after graduation working as a wildlife field biologist. He then accepted a 3-month-long internship doing habitat restoration in San Francisco through the San Francisco Natural Areas program. Around this time, Diony was also working intermittently for the Student Conservation Association. A friend took notice of Diony’s interest in environmental preservation and suggested he might find value in working for the Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay, CCNB). Diony checked online and noticed that the Corps was hiring Crew Leaders. He decided to give the program a try.

“I thought I’d be there for maybe a year or even just six months so I could get some valuable experience under my belt and then move on,” said Diony. “I was thinking at the time that this would just be a steppingstone. But then I ended up staying there for about three years.”

During his first year with CCNB, Diony worked in the field doing flood control, fire fuel reduction, irrigation, and various other land management projects. He made it clear to his supervisors from the very beginning that his main interests were in habitat restoration and environmental education. To give Diony some teaching experience, the Corps offered him a position with Project Regeneration; CCNB’s summer youth program for Marin County high school kids. Diony organized educational field trips and led program participants in service learning projects. Diony went back to being a Crew Leader at the end of the summer, but his supervisors wanted to help him in fulfilling his ambition to become a teacher. He was soon promoted to Education Department Assistant.

“I felt like the culture of the Corps was to find opportunities for people. Any time there was a new project that came along, or a new position they thought I might be interested in, the Corps would say, ‘Hey, you should apply to this!’” said Diony. “Basically they just kept on opening up new opportunities for me within the Corps and I really felt useful and needed, so I stuck around.”

Diony spent the rest of his time with the Corps in the Education Department. As a field teacher he taught CCNB crews about watershed, habitats, fire ecology – basically any of the science related to their field work. Diony also helped in the classroom teaching English as a Second Language to Latino students and tutoring Corpsmembers in math, science, and reading. During his last six months with CCNB, Diony was simultaneously enrolled at Dominican University to get his California teaching credential in secondary school science. He left the Corps in 2006 to focus on his studies. After receiving his teaching credential, Diony spent a little over a year teaching physical science and biology at Berkeley High School. However, he soon decided that as much as he valued education, he was happiest in the field.

For the past three years, Diony has worked seasonally as a biological science technician doing habitat restoration in the Presidio park of San Francisco. He took the job because he felt it would give him more experience in conservation while also providing plenty of time for him to pursue other projects. Diony has taken advantage of this extra time to reestablish a creek group in his neighborhood in Oakland. The group was established about a decade ago, but interest soon faded. Diony can take credit for reviving Friends of Peralta Creek and turning it into the growing organization that it is today. Friends of Peralta Creek has organized field trips for over 300 youth and has engaged between 50 – 100 adult volunteers in events and creek restoration projects.

“The focus is on bringing native plants back to the Peralta Creek watershed. But combined with that is education about watersheds in general and how we can protect the creeks from being polluted, and how we’re connected to the ocean through the creek,” said Diony. “…I became interested in this kind of education as I worked in the environmental field. I think I realized just how disconnected so many people are from the nature that’s around them. So I guess I had a desire to make a difference and get kids involved in learning about all this nature that’s right there.”          

Diony says the skills he learned at CCNB are definitely still relevant to his work in the Presidio and with Friends of Peralta Creek. It was at CCNB that he learned how to build willow walls and brush mattresses. Diony still teaches youth and volunteers about these erosion control mechanisms and still uses them in his work today. Diony was recently offered a year-round, fulltime job doing habitat restoration in the Presidio for the next two years.    

Diony is confident he would’ve found his way into conservation even if he had never found CCNB, but he says he is grateful that the Corps helped expand his horizons and gave him a place to get hands-on experience in the work he now does for a living.          

“The Corps changed my perspective a lot about people with different backgrounds...it helped me connect with a lot of people who I might not normally associate with in my regular social circles,” said Diony. “I loved the sense of community there. I would say there was a certain kind of love in the Corps – not necessarily like a warm and fuzzy kind of love, but in the sense that everyone really cared for each other and went the extra mile to help each other out.”

To youth considering joining a Corps, Diony says:     

“a) Good idea! I got so much out of it and I think that practical work experience is so important….I felt that the Corps was a great place for getting some solid job skills. It’s just very good, practical experience…and b) My words of wisdom would be that you should let people know what it is that you hope to get out of your Corps experience and where you’re trying to go next. My experience with the Corps was that as soon as they found out what my goals were, every opportunity that arose that was related to what I was interested in, they would offer it to me. I was very thankful for that.”

 

 

"A desire to do things that benefit more than just me" -- Patricia Bohnwagner's Corps Experience

Where are they now? - Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year,
Patricia Bohnwagner

Patricia Bohnwagner, formerly of Urban Corps of San Diego, 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 Patricia and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2005 National Conference.

Patricia Bohnwagner learned about Urban Corps of San Diego from an advertisement she found in the PennySaver. The ad included a long list of skills that a young person could gain by becoming a Corpsmember. Patricia had her high school diploma, but she was unsure what she wanted to do with her future. Maybe working for Urban Corps would give her some direction. Patricia started at Urban Corps in November 2002…and she ended up staying there for the next seven years.

Patricia was a Corpsmember when she first joined Urban Corps, but she was eventually promoted to Supervisor. She ended up working in nearly every department at the Corps. She led a crew in repainting walls and buildings for the Graffiti 

Department. She helped find new clients for the Corps’ Recycling Department. Patricia also planted trees in the Urban Forestry Department, and she helped find employment for Corpsmembers as a Supervisor for the Corps’ internship program. At one point, as Supervisor for the Corps’ educational program, Patricia taught elementary school children about power line safety and the benefits of trees. This experience helped her overcome a fear of public speaking. Looking back at her years with the Corps, she was hard-pressed to come up with a favorite project or assignment. “Really, everything I did there seemed to make a positive difference in some way,” said Patricia. “…I still drive by areas where I have helped plant trees, worked during a community clean up event, or removed graffiti and I feel proud of what I’ve done.”

It was Patricia’s positive experience with Urban Corps that helped her make the decision to stay in San Diego for as long as she has. She is originally from Massachusetts, but she moved to California to live with her sister and help take care of her nephew. Both her sister and brother-in-law were in the Navy; Patricia first came to California when her brother-in-law was deployed and her sister was left to care for her nephew alone.

As Patricia says, she and her sister “had a rollercoaster of a relationship” when they were younger. Patricia was at one point kicked out of the house for six months. It was only with the help of friends that she was able to avoid homelessness. When her sister decided to leave the Navy and move back east, Patricia stayed in California to see where her job with the Corps could take her. She had to sleep on friends’ couches after her sister moved, but she saved enough money to eventually get a shared apartment and buy her first car.

 “Thank goodness I’ve always had a great support system of friends,” said Patricia.

Now that it’s been over three years since she worked for the Corps, Patricia can look back at the experience and say that it helped change her outlook. It helped her decide what she wanted to do with her life.

“One thing that has stuck with me through the years is a desire to do things that benefit more than just me. A sense of serving and doing what I can to make the community better, or doing what I can to help other people,” she said. “I also gained so much knowledge about the environment and basic work skills that have helped me immeasurably through the years. It was hard work, but the skills, knowledge and experience I gained during my time at Urban Corps have undoubtedly had a major, positive influence on where I am in life today.”

That sense of wanting to give back helped inspire Patricia to become an EMT. She currently serves as a medic in the California Army National Guard (CAARNG). Her primary job is as a United States Postal Carrier. As part of the Guard, Patricia teaches a Combat Lifesaver course for troops preparing to deploy. She herself served as a medic in Iraq for a year.

Patricia is in the process of switching over to the Army Reserves. She will soon have the opportunity to be sent to a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) program in Texas. After completing the program, she hopes to return to California and get her associate’s degree as a Registered Nurse. She currently has over 30 college credits, but it’s been difficult for her to maintain a regular school schedule with her long work hours and the deployment to Iraq. After earning her associate’s degree, Patricia should only be three or four semesters away from a bachelor’s degree. Patricia’s goal is to complete her bachelor’s degree and find employment as a nurse within the next six years.

Patricia saved enough money during her deployment to move her mom out to California and furnish a new apartment for the two of them. She is currently living comfortably with her mom and a recently adopted shelter dog. She is fairly confident that her time in the Corps played a big part in getting her where she is today.

“[If I hadn’t joined the Corps] I can’t say I’d be on a horrible path or anything, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had as many successes as I have. I would probably be working at a meaningless job and perhaps wouldn’t have joined the military,” said Patricia. “I would for sure be a lot further from my goals than I am now, and wouldn’t have realized all this potential in myself, since that was due to my time in the Corps and the great staff that worked there.”

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

“With anything in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Only you can make the choice to either better yourself and your situation, or just accept what comes your way. BE PROACTIVE! Do your best at everything you do and do the right thing, and you won’t have as many regrets or disappointments. And don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t go the way you want or as quickly as you want. Life happens and it’s hard to move up, but it can be done. Stick to it and never give up. Stay positive and don’t let anyone bring you down or tell you that you can’t do something.”

 

 

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