2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Andrew McKee


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

When Andrew McKee left jail on probation, he feared what life would be like: how would he get past the stigma of the conviction? Would he able to turn his life around? Happily, Andrew discovered that he could succeed after he joined the Phipps CDC, NYC Justice Corps.

It was an experience that not only boosted his confidence, but also his employability and his desire to give back to communities. Andrew and his crewmates completed major renovations to a local day care center, a project that Andrew says filled him with a deep sense of pride.

Andrew also became a reliable leader who showed a talent for documenting his team’s success through photography. This hard work and professionalism paid off when he obtained a high profile internship with the NYC Department of Probation, where he served as a special assistant to the Commisioner’s Office.

Once again, because of Andrew’s work ethic and achievements during his internship, he had even more success, securing a job as a full-time Field Supervisor with the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development.

In addition to working, during the night Andrew is also pursuing a liberal arts degree at Borough of Manhattan Community College. In his free time, he’s also making good use of photography hobby as a means to show other young people how they can have a positive impact on their communities. For instance, he has volunteered his time taking photographs for a non-profit organization that helps youth channel positive energy into dance rather than into negative activities. He also photographs young poets and musicians, and was even praised by Carvens Lissaint, an award winning Haitian-American performing artist whom Andrew has met and photographed.

Andrew is now a role model for others and proves that despite one’s past, there is always the potential to change and help make the world a better place.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Oscar Alejandro Marquina


***Update! Click here to read about what Oscar has been up to since he won his award***

(Written in 2011 - some details may have changed)

In 2001 Oscar immigrated to the United States from Venezuela with his family. Seven years later, Oscar had learned to speak English and was serving as one of two original Crew Leaders for the Utah Conservation Corps Bilingual Youth Corps. 

After serving in this position for two summers, he was promoted to Senior Crew Leader in 2010. Oscar was instrumental in the development of this new program which was started in an effort to meet the needs of the growing Latino community in Northern Utah. His background and personal experience enabled him to understand and connect with Latino youth and their families. 

He held parent orientation meetings in Spanish and enabled potential members to complete their applications and conduct their interviews in Spanish or English. As finding transportation is often a challenge for low income youth, Oscar worked with guidance counselors to set up interviews at local high schools to work around this barrier. He also translated UCC materials and training resources into both languages. Oscar has become an incredible role model and mentor for Latino youth in Northern Utah.

He has demonstrated that a young Latino immigrant can learn English, gain valuable works skills, and obtain a college degree. In addition to encouraging Corpsmembers to pursue higher education, Oscar himself will graduate this year from Utah State University with a degree in Environmental Engineering, with hopes of pursuing a Masters degree in the future.

In his free time, Oscar also works with Engineers without Borders, an international program that helps create a more stable and prosperous world by addressing basic human needs such as clean water, power, sanitation, and education. He even led a trail maintenance workshop at the organization’s annual conference last Fall, illustrating that Oscar has become a distinguished ambassador for the work that organizations like the Utah Conservation Corps do.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Mari Takemoto-Chock



***Update! Click here to read about what Mari has been up to since she won her award.***

Mari Takemoto-Chock is from the rural town of Hilo on the eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. A strong student, Mari says that she “successfully managed to out-geek all other geeks in my senior year of high school.”

After graduating, Mari saw how huge the opportunity gap was between students from neighbor islands and students from Oahu. While Mari did go to college, this is not a common occurrence for a young person from Hawaii. The state’s public schools system ranks near the bottom of schools in the nation, and college is not always emphasized by schools. So Mari took it upon herself to help make a difference for other young Hawaiians, for whom opportunities need to be created.

She started by working after college for U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Mazie Hirono from Hawaii’s 2nd district. After getting a taste of high-level policy, Mari was ready to get a more hands-on experience. In 2010, Mari applied to be an Americorps VISTA with KUPU, the organization that operates the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps.

Among her many accomplishments, Mari has helped the Corps to improve their social media communications, helped organize Kupu’s participation in a Christmas parade where they handed out seed envelopes of native Hawaiian plants, and helped raise money for the organization. The bulk of her work, however, has been to plan and create the organization’s new “Urban Corps.” The Corps began its operations in January and will create a job training and life skills education program for Honolulu’s under-resourced youth. Corpsmembers will be trained to install solar panels, complete environmental conservation work, and will also learn about energy efficiency.

Mari says that the “intense, focused, cause-driven experience has been energizing.” She also notes that “work that is personally meaningful can make up for a lot of daily frustrations and disappointments (and there are many when piloting a new project).”

Once she completes her service as an Americorps member, Mari would like to return to Capitol Hill to work on energy, environmental, and education issues as part of the legislative staff for a member of the Hawaii delegation. She also hopes to earn a law degree with a focus on environmental and climate justice. Mari’s passion, success, and desire to help her fellow Hawaiians makes her a leader and role model for others.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: De'Andre Alexander


***Update! Click here to read about what De'Andre has been up to since winning his award.***

(Written in 2011)

De’Andre Alexander says that in the past he was described by others as “cool, but also disloyal, dishonest, and disobedient.” After committing an armed robbery in 2007, De’Andre was arrested and went to jail. “When I was released from jail, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew that the first thing that I had to do was get a job, which is hard to do with a felony on your record. That’s when I came to Operation Fresh Start and applied.”

Since coming to Operation Fresh Start (OFS), De’Andre has become an influential and charismatic force. With his crew, De’Andre has helped construct several new homes in low-income communities as well as work on a number of conservation projects. He is also appreciated for his willingness to help fellow Corpsmembers work through their problems and persevere.

De’Andre is currently serving his 2nd term at OFS and is also enrolled at Madison Area Technical College in the Health Club Technician program. But De’Andre has even bigger plans.

He wants to get his felony expunged so that he can join the military and earn a bachelor’s degree. He also wants to get a teaching license and be a high school gym teacher and possibly a football coach. De’Andre now understands how crucial this formative time can be in a young person’s life.

“I want to help teach kids how to make positive decisions so that they won’t make the same choices I made before I joined OFS. After being here for 16 months, people describe me as honorable, positive, and authentic. Not only have I learned how to work with different people in different situations, but I’ve learned how to control my anger significantly, push myself to the limit, and lead a group to successfully complete a goal. Being a Corpsmember has impacted my life dramatically and shown me the way to success.”

2012 Corpsmember of the Year: Philandrian Tree

***Update! Click here to find out what Philan has been up to since accepting her award.***

During her terms as an AmeriCorps member with the Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC), Philan Tree has accomplished many notable achievements. Philan was instrumental in setting up CREC’s collaborations with several chapters within the Navajo Nation.

Her direct work with these chapter houses resulted in two Memorandums of Understanding between Coconino County and the Leupp Chapter and the Tonalea Chapter. Because of these MOU’s and Philan’s diligent work with these chapters, CREC was able to employ 17 Navajo Nation AmeriCorps members to work directly with their chapters providing energy efficiency measures to the most needed homes in those underserved 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 with great need in Navajo Nation lands of Coconino County.

Philan provided leadership for the first fully Navajo crews that were hired and employed by CREC within the Navajo Nation. Her skills in speaking and writing in Navajo provided access to County services that would have otherwise not been available to some of the elderly Navajo peoples. Led by Philan, these AmeriCorps members spent hours painstakingly translating and developing phrases to explain weatherization techniques and processes in Navajo so the elder residents in the community could understand the benefits and work that these hardworking crews were accomplishing. Philan also spent much of her own time assisting these residents in filling out their applications in order for them to sign up for the weatherization program.

During this timeframe 204 homes were retrofitted within these chapters of the Navajo Nation and Philan’s AmeriCorps members all finished their terms with an additional 45 hours of service to these communities. Simply put, these accomplishments would not have been possible without Philan’s determination, networking savvy, and clear goals for herself and the program.

Philan continues to be a positive influence on her peers and the community. She remains in contact with many of her former crew members encouraging them to continue to make positive changes in their own lives by participating within their local community. She encourages them to be proud of their heritage by respecting traditional ways and teaching others the importance of the Navajo language and encourages her peers and co-workers to speak their native language and to be proud that they are able to speak it. Also during her time as a CREC ECC AmeriCorps member, Philan spent her spare time coordinating volunteers as the chair for the Native American Parent Advocacy Committee. She generated an average of 10 additional volunteers from the Native American Community who help Native American youth to remain in school and to further their education by attending college.

Philan continues to take classes on a part-time basis to complete her Bachelor’s degree at Northern Arizona University and is currently set to graduate in December 2011 with a dual degree in psychology and applied indigenous studies. Philan is also currently working full time at the Coconino County Career Center helping among other tasks to find work for displaced construction workers. She has also been taking care of her father who has been with cancer for the past 6 years.

Despite these challenges and heavy workload, Philan is known for her selflessness, dedication, and can-do attitude. Upon completing her degrees, Philan says that she would like to “create a sustainable program to aide with the housing issues in the Navajo Nation. Currently there are no housing codes on my reservation and I would like to change that for the better.”

Philan also says that from her time with the Corps, “one of my most memorable moments was when the crew and I just finished working on the home of an elderly couple and one of the younger guys told me he wished he would win the lottery and just spend his earnings working on peoples’ homes.”

2012 Corpsmember of the Year: Jessica Johnson

***Update! Click here to find out what Jessica has been up to since she won her award.***

Jessica Johnson arrived at Centennial Job Corps CCC with a high school diploma and a strong drive to achieve new goals in her life.

Jessica says that “participating in the Job Corps program gave me many options that I did not previously have. When I enrolled in May of 2009, I never dreamed that 18 months later I would be a USDA Forest Service employee.”

In addition to obtaining office administration skills in Centennial’s Business and Finance program, Jessica also participated simultaneously in the rigorous physical training that is necessary to become one of Centennial’s firefighters. Well-respected by fire crew bosses and her peers, Jessica was dispatched on every fire call and established a stellar reputation for herself. Consequently, she was accepted to Advanced Fire Management training at Schenck Job Corps CCC in the fall of 2010 and continued to prove that she was a dependable and hard-working employee.

As a result of her consistent and excellent job performance at Schneck, Jessica was recruited to apply for a seasonal firefighter position with the Boise National Forest in the spring of 2011. She recently finished a season of firefighting with an engine crew, and has been able to purchase her own vehicle and start a savings account with some of her income.

Being hired in the Boise area was an additional benefit for Jessica because she has been able to stay near her family. She particularly enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews and helping to care for them. Jessica also values the positive example she helps set for them through her motivation, working out regularly, eating a nutritious diet, and cultivating positive relationships with her friends and family. Jessica would like to continue on her pathway to success by next securing full-time employment with the Forest Service.

2012 Corpsmember of the Year: Maurice Davis

“As a young person, it’s easy to feel directionless and full of self-doubt,” says Maurice Davis. “Often, you don’t put yourself forward, accepting life’s dire circumstances. But when you do take that first step, you are surprised. When you open doors, you find your calling.”

After finishing high school, Maurice had dreams of entering construction work, but he was unable to get a job without experience. Like over 50 percent of young people living in New York City public housing, which counts nearly half a million residents, Maurice was unemployed and fought to maintain hope in an atmosphere of entrenched poverty.

“Instead of discovering ways to improve myself, I accepted my stereotypes,” says Maurice. “I started to believe that I had no potential.” After seeing a flyer in his building, Maurice applied to Green City Force, and was one of 30 selected from nearly 200 applicants to become part of GCF’s Clean Energy Corps.

Corpsmembers perform energy audits and help educate residents about energy efficiency in low-income neighborhoods. While starting a rigorous new training schedule for the Corps that included green job preparation and remedial education, Maurice continued taking care of his disabled mother and bringing his nieces to school each morning. Throughout the program, Maurice was professional and learned to lean on others as they worked towards a common goal: graduation, academic progress, and the satisfaction of completing GCF service projects.

“I’m elevated; I can say I’m on the track for a career, simply because I made an investment in myself. Now, my goal is to rise up in the field of making buildings more energy efficient. I expect to go to college, and to work my way towards a management role.”

Maurice has gained the attention of several interested employers, and in September 2011, Maurice spent a substantial amount of time working on a new park with The Corps Network and Planters Peanuts, work which was in many ways a culmination of his service experience. Maurice, a resident of the neighborhood in which the “Planters Grove” Park was built, committed to being one of two corpsmembers who will provide maintenance and upkeep at the park over the coming year. Maurice will work with a five-person committee of public housing resident volunteers to maintain the park’s diverse gardens. At the dedication of the park, Maurice gave an address talking about his own life and what the park meant to him. Through his address and his continuing commitment to Planters Grove, Maurice has become the face of Green City Force to Lower East Side public housing residents and to the city, state, and federal officials gathered for the opening. Maurice was quoted in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez chose the event to unveil the Civic Corps Jobs Act, an important step forward for the Corps movement.

Through GCF’s EmPower team and his role at Planters Grove, Maurice has discovered a love of working with people that he hopes to incorporate in his career. At a time when AmeriCorps and energy efficiency programs risk defunding, Maurice stands for the ideals of the Clean Energy Corps: an individual with a strong ethic of service, who has found renewed faith in himself, a career path and job related to energy efficiency, and a chance to prove himself as a leader and inspire others through his achievements.

2012 Corpsmember of the Year: Ladine "JR" Daniels

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 2012

After being convicted of a felony earlier in his life, Ladine “JR” Daniels says that “I was having hard time finding something to do with my life, and having been to prison, I was only working jobs that were not going very far.”

Once he joined The Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps, Ladine gained valuable job skills, secured employment, and made headway toward his goal of starting his own business. While in the Energy Conservation Corps, JR served as a leading corpsmember in the weatherization crew. He inspired others when it came to completing the most difficult tasks and often reached out to younger corpsmembers, offering guidance and friendship.

His growth and desire to learn have been two of JR’s keys to success. He eagerly set out to learn as much as possible with job estimating, planning, and small business creation. JR often volunteers with his local NAACP branch doing outreach and mentoring as part of his choice to take care of himself and his family by learning a valuable trade and offering service back to the community.

In addition to his desire to learn and his strong leadership capacities, JR’s skillset became highly developed while in the Corps. He gained a high degree of proficiency with energy performance testing equipment, instructing others and assisting professional energy auditors through The Sustainability Institute operated Charleston WISE and Charleston WISE Impact Programs. With his newly gained abilities and maturity, JR was courted by potential employers well before his service term ended – though he chose to stay with the Corps and finish his service hours in order to receive an educational award.

JR was ultimately hired by Carolina Green Energy Systems (a local and well-established full-service energy retrofit company) with whom he has established himself as one of their leading weatherization technicians. Although he was competing against other potential hires without criminal histories, JR was chosen by his current employer due to his service, success and development with the Corps.

Even with this success, JR has even bigger goals for the future. He says that “I plan to begin my own company doing weatherization services for low-income families that are sponsored by church congregations here in Charleston. I’m hoping that as my business grows I can hire ECC members as they graduate and give them the same opportunity that Carolina Green Energy gave to me.”

2012 Corpsmember of the Year: Mike Bremer

***Update! Click here to find out what Mike has been up to since receiving his award.***

"When I returned from Iraq with the Army Infantry, I felt like I lost all meaning and purpose in life and I had trouble finding meaningful work. My Corps experience gave me new purpose and a valuable new skillset. I received incredible training and experience alongside other veterans who had similar experiences – we were all looking for a new life after war.”

In April of 2010, Mike Bremer joined Southwest Conservation Corps’ Veterans Fire Corps after serving in the U.S. Army Infantry. While in the Corps, Mike worked in 3 different districts of the San Juan National Forest and also for the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management completing fuels mitigation projects, pile burning, and area burns. He received high ratings in chainsaw safety training and wildland fire fighting and behavior classes. His exceptional ability with a chainsaw also ensured that he could become the sawyer for his crew, an integral and coveted position, especially for a first year firefighter. Based on his performance and the strong bonds he made with his fellow Corpsmembers, the staff of Southwest Conservation Corps promoted Mike to crew leader the following spring.

Mike later secured a job with the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and sawyer for the San Juan National Forest. Mike describes it as “the best job I have ever had.”

Beyond his work as a firefighter, Mike is also an advocate for veteran’s issues and an ambassador for Southwest Conservation Corps’ Veterans Fire Corps program. He says that “Service has always been a significant part of my life. My fellow veterans face significant barriers to employment, just as I did. I hope to be able to inspire my comrades to consider the opportunities available through The Corps Network.”

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