American YouthWorks rebrands E-Corps as Texas Conservation Corps and announces new disaster response program



Swearing-in Ceremony at the Texas State Capitol for new members of the Texas Conservation Corps (formerly Environmental Corps, or E-Corps)

 

This week the Texas Conservation Corps (TxCC), a service program of American YouthWorks, announced that it will operate emergency response teams. Though based out of Texas, the teams will be prepared to provide relief when disaster strikes in other states. One crew is already in New Jersey helping with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. When the crews are not responding to emergencies, they will work on conservation and disaster mitigation projects throughout the state of Texas.

This new program was made possible through an AmeriCorps grant provided by the One Star Foundation.  The funds will be used to train Corpsmembers in hazardous debris removal, home repair, shelter management, and volunteer management.

The announcement about the disaster response teams was made at a swearing-in ceremony for new Corpsmembers on the South Steps of the Texas Capitol on March 22, 2013. These Corpsmembers will be some of the first young people to serve in the Texas Conservation Corps under its new name. The program operated as E-Corps (Environmental Corps) for the past 17 years. Though the program has a new name, it will continue to provide youth the opportunity to solve real community issues through impactful conservation and disaster relief projects in Texas and adjacent states. American YouthWorks is hosting an event later this month to celebrate the rebranding.

Video: Still a lot to do after Hurricane Sandy - How are Corps helping?

A video by Clodagh McGowan

What is life like today out in the neighborhood of Breezy Point, Queens? This community, located on the far western tip of the Rockaway peninsula, sustained serious damage during Hurricane Sandy. In addition to the devastation caused by the storm surge and high winds, over 100 Breezy Point homes burned to the ground the night Sandy blew into New York City.

Volunteers, including many young men and women from Service and Conservation Corps, have provided millions of dollars worth of free labor to the Sandy Recovery efforts in Far Rockaway. Check out this video by a journalism student at Columbia University about the continued hard work of Corpsmembers and other dedicated volunteers. The video includes an interview with Dakota Deringer, a Corpsmember with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa. Keep up the good work, everyone! 

An AmeriCorps member reflects on Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts

Taken from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa

 

A few years ago, Tara Sloane couldn’t imagine picking up a chainsaw. Yet this fall she spent seven weeks mucking and gutting houses and managing volunteers as a member of the Conservation Corps’ Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of her life.

A 2012 Three Rivers field crew member, Tara stepped into leadership roles she never imagined with behind-the-scenes deployment preparations, financial management and leading cleanup crews ― even though she felt like a novice during her year in the Corps.

“Coming out here, I didn’t even know how a house was constructed or even really where the wires were,” Tara said. “But after a week out here, I was leading crews, making sure all the crewmembers were safe, managing the emotions of the devastated homeowners and keeping their trust to know that I would not ruin their home.”

Tara originally heard about the Corps from a couch surfer friend. “It sounded like an incredible program but definitely not one for me… Chainsaws really weren’t something I could see myself getting into,” Tara said.

 After traveling in Eastern Europe where she worked on organic farms, Tara discovered she liked working outside, getting her hands dirty and being exhausted at the end of a work day. So she applied for a Conservation Corps field crew position.

Early in her Corps term, Tara didn’t have much confidence or see herself as a leader. “I didn’t even know the difference between an elm and an oak,” she said. When she was given the opportunity to join the Hurricane Sandy relief response, Tara didn’t know what to expect. Corps members were told they would working mainly in shelters, but were soon running Team Rubicon’s cleanup operation and training and managing other AmeriCorps volunteers in the Rockaway neighborhood. Men and veterans who had experience working on houses came back again and again to volunteer on her crew. 

The work touched Tara’s life. Her crew worked on the family homes of Vilmarie and Jose, which had sustained incredible damages. While corps members gutted the houses, Tara helped Vilmarie wash, hang and dry an entire garbage bag of family photos. Tara got to know the family through the pictures and stories Vilmarie told her in Spanish. “I felt so connected to them because I was literally hanging photos of her entire life, from holidays to weddings to vacations,” Tara said.

When the gutting work was done and all the pictures were saved, Jose and Vilmarie cried, hugged and said they always had a home there in the Rockaways.

During her second deployment, Tara was reunited with Jose and Vilmarie while canvassing for FEMA. They welcomed her with open arms, showed her their nearly completed house and reminded her she was always welcome in their home.

Tara knows her success in the relief effort came from the basic skills she learned during her time in Conservation Corps. As a crew member she was familiar with working long hours, knowing how to be safe with tools and working with different types of people.

“I loved AmeriCorps… I saw so much growth in myself,” Tara said. “This opportunity gave me a lot of resume builders and I am excited to see how this will translate into my other experiences.”

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.” 

Wendy Spencer on Hurricane Sandy Recovery


Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, with an AmeriCorps member. From Serve.gov
 

From the National Service Blog of Serve.gov

As Hurricane Sandy efforts transition from emergency response to long-term recovery, AmeriCorpsmembers are providing vital leadership in communities up and down the East Coast.

AmeriCorps is skilled and experienced in volunteer management and gutting and mucking operations – and our teams are already having a powerful impact helping hundreds of Sandy survivors put their homes and lives back together.

I witnessed their impact first hand on a return visit to New Jersey and New York last week. From Atlantic City to Union Beach to the Rockaways, I was deeply impressed with the resourcefulness and dedication of our members, who are serving long hours in difficult conditions.

With tens of thousands of homes damaged along the East Coast, there is a large need for volunteers to help displaced residents take the steps necessary to move back into their homes. The tasks involved – removing debris, remediating mold, and gutting and mucking – are labor intensive. This work requires skilled crew leaders and an infrastructure to recruit, train, and supervise volunteers. That's where AmeriCorps comes in.

Ernie Farmer, a crew leader from the Washington Conservation Corps, briefed me on the volunteer operation he leads out of a community center in Brigantine, NJ. Working with state and local officials, an AmeriCorps strike team set up the operation in a matter of days. They reached out to local partners, secured a location, found housing, and established a seven-day-a-week volunteer operation. This includes canvassing door-to-door, creating work order and volunteer tracking systems, securing donated supplies, training volunteers, and sending out crews to gut and muck homes.

One of the crews we met in Atlantic City was led by NECHAMA, the Jewish disaster relief organization. All 11 volunteers were recent graduates of AmeriCorps NCCC – alums eager to get back into the field for hands-on service.

In many sites, AmeriCorps members are both leading volunteers and providing the muscle power for home repair. In Union Beach, NJ, a blue-collar town of 6,200 where nearly a quarter of the homes were lost, I joined AmeriCorps members in ripping out the flooring of a storm-damaged home. Our members bring tools, training, and a supercharged work ethic that rubs off on the volunteers they serve with.

Removing damaged floors and mitigating mold reduces health risks and can save homeowners thousands of dollars – especially important for those who aren't covered through their insurance or can't afford contractors. The cost savings are significant. But AmeriCorps members and volunteers provide something else harder to put a dollar figure on but no less important: an enormous emotional lift.

Maureen Gallagher is an 82-year-old widower living a few blocks from the shore in the Belle Harbor neighborhood in Queens. Her home suffered extensive damage and she has been living with her daughter since the storm. When she heard volunteers were at her home, she made a special trip over to say thanks. Emerging from her car, she was overcome with gratitude, with tears streaming down her face as she hugged and thanked the volunteers. Similar scenes are playing out across the affected areas, as volunteers come from near and far to lend a hand.

Maureen is one of hundreds of homeowners assisted through New York Cares, a Points of Light affiliate. We are proud to partner with New York Cares, our state service commissions, and dozens of other organizations in the affected states on this critical mission. It takes partnerships of many kinds to help a community recover and rebuild, especially from a storm as devastating as Hurricane Sandy.

Working with local partners and residents, national service will continue to provide leadership and muscle power to Sandy survivors in their time of need.


Wendy Spencer is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that engages millions Americans in service through Senior Corps and AmeriCorps, and leads the president's national call to service initiative, United We Serve.

150 Corpsmembers Join in California Conservation Corps Flood Exercise

Photo Credit: Conner Jay/Daily Republic

Members of the California Conservation Corps, including one crew from each center throughout the state, participated in a large-scale flood readiness exercise in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta this week.  The Delta levees have experienced flooding and levee breaks many times over the years, so the Twitchell Island exercise provided corpsmembers with a realistic site for sharpening their skills.

The exercise included proper methods for filling and passing sandbags, construction of sandbag walls, protection of levees from wave-wash erosion and "boils," or seepage through the levee.

Every CCC crew is trained in floodfighting techniques by mid-December, and can be dispatched where needed during to assist state agencies and local communities during winter storms and floods.

Read more about the exercise and see additional photos at the Fairfield Daily Republic website.

Providing Relief – What Corps Have Done to Assist in Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts

 

Washington Conservation Corps members remove damaged household items from a flooded home

Hurricane Sandy took lives, destroyed homes and businesses, and left millions of people without power. As the storm bore down on the Northeast coast during the last days of October, Corps across the country were already mobilizing to help with the relief effort. Corpsmembers have played a significant role in helping communities in New York, New Jersey and 5 other states recover and rebuild.

Some Corps worked through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and FEMA, while others organized independent of the federal response. Some Corps worked in shelters, while others cleared debris. Some Corps travelled thousands of miles to assist in the relief efforts, while other Corps worked in their own backyards.

Find out which Corps have been involved in Sandy recovery, read about what they’ve done to help, and see pictures from the field:

Corps Involved in recovery efforts 

Conservation Corps Minnesota and Iowa Corpsmembers “mucking out” a home damaged by flood water

What are some of the things Corps have done?

  • Operated emergency shelters throughout New York City: managed volunteers, monitored and assisted residents, cared for children and pets, maintained the facilities
  • Cleared debris
  • Cut down damaged trees and limbs
  • “Mucking out” - removing water and water damaged items and building materials from homes and businesses affected by flooding
  • Solicited donations of food and emergency supplies from individuals and businesses not hit as hard by the storm
  • Operated distribution centers and packaged emergency supplies for Sandy victims in need of food, water, blankets, clothing, toiletries, and other necessities
  • Canvassed neighborhoods to find people in need and spread information about repair work
  • Restored parks damaged by high winds 

NYRP clearing a downed tree in New York City 


AmeriCorps NCCC/FEMA Corps members assisting with water distribution in Far Rockaway, NY.
 

Get more pictures and more information on the recovery efforts and Corpsmember experiences

Student Conservation Association (SCA) Corpsmember in New Jersey


Southwest Conservation Corps members working with FDNY


Utah Conservation Corps members surrounded by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy 


Green City Force Corpsmembers and staff serving food 


Montana Conservation Corps members organize supplies at a distribution center


New Jersey Youth Corps clearing a downed tree


 


 

 

 

 

 

The AmeriCorps NCCC Experience: Hearing about it from a Corpsmember Turned Staff Member

 

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2007 Corpsmember of the Year,
Alana Svensen


Alana Svensen, a former member of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2007 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 Alana and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2007 National Conference.

Alana Svensen graduated from college with a chemistry degree, but she knew well before leaving school that she didn’t want to pursue a career in science. She had not been entirely happy working in the lab throughout college and was sure she wanted to work with people instead of with flasks and chemicals. But where to turn?

Alana came across a list of AmeriCorps programs and was instantly intrigued by the variety of service opportunities offered by the National Civilian Community Corps. She joined NCCC hoping to gain job skills in many different fields so she could get a better sense of what she was good at and what she wanted to do with her future. She certainly ended up having a wide range of experiences as both a Corpsmember and a Team Leader with NCCC: among other things, Alana helped coordinate disaster relief efforts; built homes; managed educational programs for children; and became a Certified Wild Land Firefighter. In the end, however, it was NCCC itself that Alana really liked.

“NCCC was able to expose me to a bunch of different things and really I just fell in love with the program and what it does for young people in helping them find their way,” said Alana, who is now a staff member with NCCC in Iowa.

These days, Alana plans the logistics for nonprofits and government agencies that hire NCCC crews. It’s fun for her to think of how she started at NCCC just like the crewmembers she now helps coordinate. Her first rotation as a Corpsmember with NCCC was from February 2005 to November 2005, during which she helped manage the first wave of NCCC members that responded to Hurricane Katrina. Alana oversaw a group of 25 Corpmembers that mainly worked in the kitchen of a Mississippi school that had been turned into a shelter. 

“We didn’t have electricity so we had to limit the number of times we went into the freezer…we needed to keep things cool as long as possible so we could continue to cook them,” said Alana. “There was this one lady who dropped her plate and she burst out crying. And we were like, ‘It’s okay! We have more! We’ll get you another plate!’ But she was like, ‘There are so many people that are starving and I wasted all this food.’ We didn’t want to explain to her that we had food that was rotting because we didn’t have electricity. It was just a very interesting experience.” 

While deployed with the Red Cross in the Gulf Coast, Alana also helped coordinate loading and staffing emergency response vehicles. After graduating as a Corpsmember, Alana came back to NCCC as a Team Leader and became an assistant to the director of NCCC’s then newly opened Gulf Coast office.

Hurricane Katrina played a big part in shaping Alana’s Corps experience, but there were certainly moments during her other rotations with NCCC that she feels left a profound impact on her. She remembers how inspired she was by the passionate director of a struggling summer camp that Corpsmembers helped keep afloat. She remembers feeling empowered when she was left in charge of 20 Habitat for Humanity volunteers and had to teach them how to read building plans.

“I didn’t necessarily see it at first, but as I went through the program more and more I realized how it was starting to shape me as a young professional,” said Alana. “I love the idea of how NCCC goes out into communities and helps them with what they define as their needs. We don’t define a community’s need or an agency’s need – they come to us and say, ‘this is an area we’d like help in.’”

Alana is very happy with her staff position at NCCC and she hopes to eventually move up in the organization. She has considered going to graduate school to get a master’s degree in public administration. If she leaves NCCC, Alana is fairly certain she would work for a nonprofit, or maybe do international work with USAID.

When she’s not at work, Alana has been involved in various leadership development activities. She is an officer for her local Toastmaster’s club and she has found time to coach a youth soccer team for the past four years.

“It’s been fun to watch them grow up. They were 5th graders when I started and this year they’re in 9th grade. So those sassy teenage years have been entertaining to me,” said Alana.

Alana says she really enjoys watching Corpsmembers grow within the NCCC program, too. She remembers watching one young man who was very shy and quiet when he came to NCCC have the confidence to speak at the Corpsmember graduation.

To any young people considering joining a Corps, Alana says:

“I would encourage them to do it, but I’d tell them to make sure they check out the different types of programs. Just because one program isn’t a fit for you, it doesn’t mean national service isn’t a fit for you.”

New York Times, Senator Udall Highlight Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts of Service and Conservation Corps

Following the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy, numerous members of The Corps Network have responded with disaster relief assistance in communities along the Eastern Seaboard. The efforts of Service and Conservation Corps located in New Jersey and New York, as well as those arriving from out-of-state as part of a broader National Service mission have already garnered significant recognition.

Service and Conservation Corps Contributing to Relief Efforts After Hurricane Sandy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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