Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, De’Andre Alexander


De'Andre Alexander, a former member of Operation Fresh Start, 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 De'Andre and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 national conference.

De'Andre Alexander, a 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, currently apprentices as an ironworker. After he finishes the 4-year apprenticeship, he wants to take night classes and hopefully earn his bachelor’s degree. He dreams of becoming a firefighter or perhaps working with Operation Fresh Start, the Corps that helped him get back on his feet. As De’Andre says, his life would be very different today had he not found Operation Fresh Start.

“I would probably be working at a restaurant or be in some job that doesn’t have a lot of benefits and I wouldn’t get paid as well as I do now,” said De’Andre. “I wouldn’t say I would be as immature as I was [before], but I’m sure I wouldn’t be as mature as I am now. I definitely wouldn’t have the skills I have now. I’m sure without Operation Fresh Start I would be nowhere.”

De’Andre, who is now 22 years old, joined Operation Fresh Start in June 2009. He had recently been released from jail for an armed robbery he committed in 2007. With a felony on his record, De’Andre found it very difficult to find a job. Operation Fresh Start gave him a chance. While in the program, De’Andre gained carpentry skills, learned how to be a reliable employee, and completed a few college credits. Most importantly, he learned how to manage his anger.

“Not only did they teach me carpentry, but they taught me how to work. They taught me how to act in a workplace,” said De’Andre. “At the time I was still a kid. If I hadn’t gone to Operation Fresh Start I probably would’ve gotten a job, and who knows? I could’ve gotten fired just because I didn’t have that work ethic in me yet. Doing carpentry definitely made me tough as I am now as far as being a hard worker and willing to take on tasks.”

De’Andre says that what made the Operation Fresh Start program such a good fit for him was the caring staff. He feels that many of his teachers in high school were not invested in the students or didn’t push him hard enough. At Operation Fresh Start, De’Andre was motivated by being surrounded by supervisors and instructors who were attentive and obviously passionate about their work.

De’Andre says that Operation Fresh Start helped him become a calmer, more accepting person. Counselors at OFS taught him ways to control his actions and his words, and working in a crew with his fellow Corpsmembers helped De'Andre learn important teamwork skills.

“One thing I learned at Operation Fresh Start was that you have to learn how to work with all types of people,” said De’Andre. “If your coworker is different from you, you can’t change them. You have to learn how to work with them. Working at Operation Fresh Start there were a lot of guys I wouldn’t even have hung out with in high school. Working on the crew I learned that it doesn’t matter who they are. You need to make the best of it and learn more about them. That’s what’s going to make the world an easier place.”

These days De’Andre takes pride in the things he helps build as an ironworker. He says he knows he’ll produce his best work possible if he thinks of his projects as his own buildings. Though De’Andre enjoys his apprenticeship, he sometimes misses carpentry. He continues to volunteer with construction crews at Operation Fresh Start whenever he can. When his schedule permitted, he spent entire days volunteering with OFS. He says he loves getting to meet the new Corpsmembers and offer them advice.

De’Andre’s younger brother is currently enrolled in Operation Fresh Start. He says his brother also sometimes struggles with anger management issues. At one point his brother dropped out of the program. As De’Andre said:

“He didn’t want to go back, but I told him, ‘You got to go back. Without Operation Fresh Start you’re not going to learn the skills you need to survive in the real world.’ And then he decided to go back and I just told him to stay tough, do what your supervisors tell you and keep your head on your shoulders. It’s definitely worth it.”




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


Linnea Heu, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 for her commitment to service and environmental conservation. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Linnea and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2008 national conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mari Takemoto-Chock, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for her commitment to service. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Mari and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2011 national conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, Oscar Alejandro Marquina

Oscar A. Marquina, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his leadership skills and commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Oscar and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Do rivers and lakes need regular health checkups just like people do? Ask Oscar Marquina.

“Basically I am a water doctor,” said Oscar. “I travel around doing different examinations making sure my patients - rivers and lakes - recover their health or stay healthy.”

Oscar, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, is currently interning with the Utah Division of Water Quality. Prior to this internship, he worked as a laboratory technician at the Utah Research Water Lab. Oscar has visited over 40 lakes throughout the state of Utah, collecting water samples and checking various water quality parameters. All this experience and Oscar is still just 23 years old.

Oscar and his family emigrated from Venezuela to the United States in 2001. Seven years later, Oscar was fluent in English and serving as one of two original Crew Leaders for the Utah Conservation Corps’ Bilingual Youth Corps (BYC). With his language skills and his ability to relate with the growing Latino population of Northern Utah, Oscar became instrumental in making the Bilingual Youth Corps a success. He translated informational brochures into Spanish, held orientation meetings in Spanish, and conducted interviews for potential Corpsmembers in both English and Spanish. 

“It wasn’t until I left [the Corps] that I realized I helped in laying the structure for future BYC programs,” said Oscar. “I didn’t think all the minute logistical details we discussed would help in future years. It is definitely a pleasant surprise knowing the heart and effort I had given for a summer program was then duplicated every summer after the first.”

Before joining the Utah Conservation Corps, Oscar loved the outdoors but he had never considered the amount of work that goes into the conservation projects needed to preserve parks and trails. Oscar joined the Corps simply because it seemed like it would be fun to spend his summer vacation in a setting where he could exercise his bilingual skills. Now, however, Oscar feels that the Corps can offer a lot more than just a fun summer job.

“For those who are new to this country, the Bilingual Youth Corps is ideal for many reasons. First it teaches Corpsmembers ownership of their new community through service and travel. To someone who is learning the language, it will speed up the education process by creating unique opportunities and interactions outside the classroom,” said Oscar. “It is also important to allow new immigrants to express themselves in their native tongue which may have been restricted at schools or other jobs simply because of the non-bilingual dynamics of such institutions.”

In preparation for when his internship ends in October 2012, Oscar has been networking, filling out applications and going to interviews. He wants to gain work experience before he eventually returns to school. Oscar graduated from Utah State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, and he is now interested in pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree.

Oscar’s time in the Corps may have ended in 2010, but he is still involved in service opportunities. He recently finished a tutoring position at a Utah high school where he helped students – most of them Latinos or Burmese refugees – with their homework and ACT preparation.

“My goal at the moment is to find a job that allows me to help communities and people,” said Oscar. “I would love to work for a company that allows me to travel and use my Spanish skills.”

Oscar says one of the things he loved most about his experience with the Corps was getting to meet interesting people from all walks of life. He says he feels like each individual BYC member he worked with stands out in his mind. He is still good friends with many of these members; they follow each other on Facebook and get together to hangout. He also stops by the Utah Conservation Corps offices to say hello to the staff whenever he is nearby.

To young people thinking of joining a service or conservation corps, Oscar says:

“If you have not figured out what exact experience you need in life, but you have the heart and drive to volunteer and provide a service to your community, the corps will be a way to seize the day and gain inspiration and illumination for any future endeavors.”


Where are they now? - Catching up with 2010 Corpsmember of the Year, Quintin Williams


Quintin Williams, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2010 for his leadership skills and commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Quintin and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2010 National Conference.

It’s been over three years since Quintin Williams worked as a Crew Leader for the Utah Conservation Corps, but he still gives a lot of credit to UCC for where he is today. In the summers of 2008 and 2009, Quintin worked with UCC’s Disability Inclusive Crew; a program that offers service opportunities to people with a wide array of physical handicaps. Before joining the Corps, Quintin's only experience with the disabled had been with blind people like himself. He felt that his experience with the blind and visually impaired community made him knowledgeable about disabilities, but working with members of the Inclusive Crew completely changed his perspective.

“Working in the crew was very eye-opening for me because I just really had no idea what those people were going through and it actually humbled me quite a bit,” said Quintin, discussing in particular how inspiring it was to work with a Corpsmember who had multiple sclerosis. “I’m always frustrated by how I can’t see so I can’t drive and I have to rely on so many different people to get from point A to point B. But some of the other people on the crew, they might not be able to even get out of bed on their own. You take a lot of things for granted even though you don’t realize you do until you’re put into a different situation. It was amazing.”

These days, Quintin is working for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. He started working there as a proofreader for Braille classroom materials, but now he will be in charge of all the assistive technologies used in USDB classrooms. Quintin will train teachers on the devices their deaf and blind students use, and make sure these devices work properly. He will also be in charge of managing all the software – such as screen reader programs – that are used in USDB sites throughout the state. Quintin says he can definitely see himself in this job for years to come.

Before joining UCC, however, Quintin – who is now 28 – was not sure where his future was headed. He tried finding work, but few employers were willing to give him a chance. When he interviewed for the UCC Inclusive Crew he was excited that they basically accepted him on the spot.

Quintin says the Corps did much more than expose him to people with different disabilities. As he says, “I feel like without the Corps I don’t really know where I would be. It gave me work experience that employers can really see and I gained a lot of friends and professional relationships from it.”

Quintin is proud of the work he accomplished at UCC. He was part of a team that surveyed public lands and created a database documenting the level of accessibility at parks and campgrounds. Quintin says it’s important to realize that people with disabilities love the outdoors, too. While completing the park surveys, he was shocked by how many campgrounds and parks did not even have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. He is happy to know that his team’s efforts resulted in information the National Park Service can actually use to accommodate disabled park-goers.

For now, Quintin plans to continue working for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. He wants to move closer to work, build up a comfortable retirement fund and start a family. He wants to work on his new hobby of golf. Quintin hopes to use his summers off to finish the last few credits he needs to get his associate’s degree, and hopefully work on a bachelor’s degree.

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

“The Corps is kind of like a culture or a lifestyle almost. But I wouldn’t exclude the opportunity to join a Corps based on whether it might not be the same kind of lifestyle that you are currently living or plan on living. It’s only a short term thing, but it can definitely open a lot of doors. Just take the opportunity seriously and work hard at it. Not only is it benefiting you, but it’s benefiting community members – it’s bettering the situation for everybody.”



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

Sarah LaRocque, a former member of Heart of Oregon Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2009 for her commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Sarah and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2009 National Conference

Sarah LaRocque certainly has her hands full. With a 5-year-old daughter in kindergarten, an 18-month-old son, two of her boyfriend’s children coming to stay every other weekend, and a newly adopted English Bulldog, Sarah is busy, but happy.

“I think we could start our own soccer team, here!” she said.

During the summer of 2013, Sarah will celebrate having worked for the same company – Bend Broadband – for five years. She was recruited to join the company through Heart of Oregon, the Corps that helped Sarah get back on her feet after an unstable adolescence that involved family loss, homelessness, and substance abuse.

Sarah heard about Heart of Oregon Corps from her parole officer when she was 22. She had recently finished her probation, given birth to her first child, and achieved sobriety. As a single mother with bills mounting, Sarah needed to find a job. Unfortunately, without much formal education, it proved very difficult to compete for well-paying positions. Joining Heart of Oregon seemed like a good way for her to gain job skills and maintain some of the positive gains she had recently achieved.

“I liked the idea of helping,” said Sarah. “At that time I was doing some bad stuff, so giving back to the community that I had - in a sense - hurt, made me feel really good. It seemed like a great opportunity to give back and show people that I could do something good.”

During her time with Heart of Oregon between 2007 and 2008, Sarah earned her GED, participated in a program that delivered free firewood to the poor and elderly, participated in debris cleanup efforts, and helped build Habitat for Humanity homes. She says these projects helped her learn valuable lessons about the importance of teamwork.

“We had to work a lot on communicating and making sure everyone was communicating together and working as a team,” said Sarah. “I think that’s a skill you can carry with you for your whole life, in any job.”

Sarah, who is now 29, isn’t sure what her life would look like had she not found Heart of Oregon, but she believes that a main reason why she can feel comfortable and happy today is because she had a successful Corps experience.

“I might have been working at McDonald’s or something. Who knows where I would’ve been. But I definitely think that without [Heart of Oregon] I wouldn’t have gotten the job that I got and I don’t think I would have the drive to do what I am doing today,” said Sarah. “I don’t know if I would be doing bad, but I definitely wouldn’t be striving for a better future for my kids the way I am now.”

Sarah says Heart of Oregon helped her learn how to budget and save money. They helped her put aside old regrets and learn how to see herself as a good person again. She is certain her life today would be harder if it weren't for her experience in the Corps.

These days, Sarah is a Senior Customer Care Representative with Bend Broadband. She also finds time to volunteer at her daughter’s school. In a few years, when her children are a little older, she plans to go back to school to earn a degree or professional certificate. For now, her main goal is to become a homeowner within the next year.

“We have a good savings going, so we should be able to own a house and have a place that we can raise our children in,” said Sarah. “I’m trying to just have fun with the kids while they’re young and they still like us!”

To any young people planning on joining a Corps, Sarah would remind them that it is their own choice whether to take the opportunities the Corps presents and run with it, or not take the opportunities seriously and continue to struggle. She says:

“I would just tell them to stick with it. It’s hard sometimes, but you’ll be very proud of yourself in the end. You get through it and, if you take it seriously, the rewards outweigh the struggles that you go through. You can look back on it and say ‘that’s something that I did.’ It can be hard these days to look back on your youth and be proud of something you accomplished.”

Sarah can certainly look back and be proud of what she accomplished with the help of Heart of Oregon Corps.



National Council of Young Leaders

Members of the National Council of Young Leaders at the 2012 Opportunity Nation Summit

From YouthBuild USA

The National Council of Young Leaders is a 14-member body comprised of diverse young men and women from across the United States. These Council Members, who range in age from 18 to 34, provide information and insight to elected officials and policymakers on the issues that affect low-income and disconnected youth from their communities.

Because of their very different backgrounds, each Council Member offers a different and unique take on what services and policies are needed to improve opportunities for disconnected youth. The Council's Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America include policy prescriptions in the areas of education, criminal justice, community development and family. 

The Council was formed in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. The founding partners of the National Council of Young Leaders are:

  • Jobs for the Future
  • Opportunity Nation
  • Public Allies
  • The Corps Network
  • Year Up
  • Youth Leadership Institute 
  • YouthBuild USA

Click here to read bios for each of the Council Members and get more information on the Council's founding partners.

The Corps Network is proud to be represented on the Council by 2012 Corpsmembers of the Year Ladine "JR" Daniels and Philandrian Tree.  

Click the links below to read more Corps Network stories on The National Council of Young Leaders: 



Philan Tree (left) and Ladine "JR'' Daniels (right) - 2012 Corpsmembers of the Year and members of the National Council of Young Leaders. Pictured at the 2012 Opportunity Nation Summit.

The 2011 Friends of National Service Reception


Actor Brandon Routh (third from left), was excited to meet the Corpsmembers of the Year. His best known role to date was as Superman in 2006’s Superman Returns. Corpsmember De’Andre Alexander spoke powerfully at the reception and is on the far right.

The 2011 Friends of National Service Reception was held in the East Hall of Union Station and took on the form of a pep rally as National Service leaders rallied the crowd in opposition to proposed federal budget cuts. 

Numerous speakers voiced their support for Service including Senator Barbara Mikulski, AnnMaura Connolly, President of Voices for National Service, actor Brandon Routh, and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

According to the Washington-based publication known as The Hill, “the most moving speech of the evening was given by De’Andre Alexander, The Corps Network’s Corps Member of the Year, who recounted his journey from the penal system to a life of service.”

Corpsmembers of The Year Represent The Corps Network on New National Council of Young Leaders


The Corps Network is pleased to announce that 2012 Corpsmembers of the Year, Philan Tree of Coconino Rural Environment Corps and Ladine Daniels of Energy Conservation Corps/The Sustainability Institute have been appointed to the National Council of Young Leaders. This new Council made up of representatives from national youth-serving organizations is intended to be a permanent body that will advise the White House, Congress, philanthropists, business leaders, and other policymakers on issues affecting disadvantaged or "opportunity youth" and their communities. The next event for the Council will be participation in the Opportunity Nation Summit in Washington DC on September 19, 2012, where they will be leaders for young people from around the country (including several additional Corpsmembers).
More information about the Summit can be found here.

Dorothy Stoneman, founder and CEO of YouthBuild USA, Inc. (one of our partners in the National Council of Young Leaders) speaks to the role of youth-serving organizations in addressing challenges faced by Opportunity Youth in a recently published article on the Huffington Post called "Solutions are Obvious for a National Emergency".

Additional efforts are being worked on to advance the voice of young people. Read more in this posting by SparkAction.

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Jessica Martinez


Jessica Martinez was paroled out of the Youth Authority system a month before applying to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps.  Her primary goal in the Corps was to obtain her high school diploma, and most importantly not to make the same mistakes that she did in the past.  A year later, Jessica has received her diploma, graduated with high honors and has earned a specialist position as a Recruitment and Training Assistant with LACC.  Through her time with the Corps she has made great strides, including receiving a college scholarship and being elected by her peers to the Leadership Team, over which she now presides as president. 

--“I didn’t realize, until I came to the Corps, that I have choices, which have consequences, and if I make positive choices I can make a better life for myself despite the actions of others.”

(written in 2005)