2009 Corspmember of the Year: Sarah LaRocque

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

(Written in 2009) 

Sarah joined Heart of Oregon in August 2007 after a tumultuous childhood filled with drugs and instability. Sarah was extremely motivated to improve her life through education and hard work, and was determined to make it on her own as a single mother.

After attending one quarter of GED Prep, Sarah earned her GED and became taking College Prep classes.  While attending one of Heart of Oregon’s “Career Pathways” classes, she met the Human Resources Director of Bend Broadband, a local cable service provider.  After Sarah completed her term at Heart of Oregon, she reconnected with Bend Broadband and became one of their Customer Support Specialists.

As Sarah stated, “My main goal when I started was to be able to pay all my bills and start planning for my daughter's future, but I thought that was too far of a dream for me. Now I realize that all I needed was the right guidance and constant reassurance that anything can be done.   My life is better because I took that first step by myself, and after that I had my new family to hold my hand.”

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Christopher Thomas

***Update! Click here to read about what Chris has been up to since he accepted his award.***


(Written in 2011)

Despite challenging circumstances, Christopher Thomas overcame adversity to become a leader in the California Conservation Corps (CCC). He and his 3 siblings were raised alone by their mom, who worked 3 jobs and also survived cervical cancer.

In 2005, Chris enlisted in the Marines after working as a youth pastor. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was wounded twice over his four years of service. He received shrapnel in the chest and was stabbed once, leading to a medical discharge. Soon thereafter, he joined the CCC.

Chris became a Crew Leader, admired for his dedication, unassuming nature, and his pursuit of service to others. He and his crew worked on a variety of projects, such as helping to maintain newly planted trees and decrease fire potential by reducing fuels. It was not so easy at first though.

Chris says that “coming from the military, we were all taught to think and act one way. So I just didn’t run into different personalities until I came to the Corps. It was really a culture shock and the fact that I was forced to work with these people really was a smack to the face. But it taught me patience and greatly improved my people skills. No matter where I go in life my time in the Corps will only benefit me. And I no longer feel ‘forced’ but blessed to work with different types of people.”

Chris’s supervisors noticed his nature to go above and beyond. While only required by the CCC to complete 48 hours of volunteer community service, Chris logged nearly 250 hours. For this reason, they nominated him for the Silver Presidential Service Award, which he ultimately received from the Corporation for National Service in September of 2010.

It’s this kind of ethic that Chris’s supervisors believe will ultimately make it easy for him to find a job with one of the agencies or departments he has worked with. He has already interviewed for a position with the Department of Water Resources, but says that “no matter where I end up, I just want to help people, whether that’s my career or not.”

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.

Corpsmember Success Story: Diana Carrillo


Diana could not speak English when she left her home of Mexico City and came to America. Now, after spending three years living in the States, 25-year-old Diana is a confident English-speaker with her eyes set on college. None of this would have been possible, she says, if not for her involvement with Conservation Corps North Bay in San Rafael, California.

Before joining the Corps, Diana's lack of a high school diploma and her limited English made it difficult for her to find a job. This was extremely frustrating for her as she needed to make money to support her then 4-year-old daughter. Fortunately, Diana heard about how Conservation Corps North Bay taught ESL and could help her gain job skills. She was particularly excited to hear that Corpsmembers at CCNB could work and earn money while completing their studies.

As a participant in Conservation Corps North Bay’s educational program, Diana earned her GED and is just a few credits away from obtaining her high school diploma. In addition to what she learned in the classroom at CCNB, Diana also learned how to use a chainsaw and is now an expert sawyer. She earns money by working with CCNB crews on environmental conservation projects that have involved everything from habitat restoration to fire and flood prevention. Diana currently works with CCNB’s recycling program and earns enough money to support herself and her daughter.

After she passes the California High School Exit Exam, Diana hopes to begin attending the College of Marin in January 2013. While studying she will also earn money working at CCNB’s organic farm on the College of Marin’s Indian Valley campus. Diana is not entirely sure what she wants to study, but she says she really enjoys her conservation work at CCNB and is considering pursuing a degree in environmental studies.

When Diana emigrated from Mexico with her family to try and find more opportunities, she had no idea what the future held for her in California. Three years later, she is well educated, employable and self-sufficient.

“I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Now I have time for work, for study, and for my daughter.”

Corpsmember Success Story: Carmen Curry

Without a high school diploma or GED and with little work experience, 21-year-old Carmen Curry found it very difficult to find work. That all changed, however, when Carmen joined Conservation Corps North Bay.

Carmen heard about the Corps from her brother who had participated in a CCNB program for middle school and high school students. Intrigued by how the Corps offered job training and assistance for those trying to further their education, Carmen joined CCNB in August 2011.

After taking classes through CCNB’s educational program, Carmen passed her GED test on the first try. She has already passed the California High School Exit Exam in Math and English and is just a few credits away from earning her high school diploma. Carmen said her peers at CCNB have been extremely helpful and supportive throughout her educational experience.

When she's not in the classroom, Carmen is out in the field working alongside fellow Corpsmembers on various conservation projects. CCNB taught Carmen how to use a chainsaw and paid her to work on habitat restoration, creek cleaning, and other efforts to help protect and maintain the natural beauty of local parks and public lands. Carmen became such a skilled sawyer that she is capable of prepping a gas-powered chainsaw in just 46 seconds.

Carmen plans to attend Berkeley City College in January 2013. She hopes to take classes in early childhood education and eventually pursue a career as a preschool teacher. Carmen says she has been interested in becoming a teacher for a long time. After watching her brother struggle with reading, she feels she has ideas about how to make learning more engaging and exciting for students who would otherwise get frustrated in school. Carmen also feels she is well-equipped for a teaching career because she knows she can relate with students who are experiencing a tough time at home.

In addition to job skills and an education, one of the most important things Carmen gained from her experience with Conservation Corps of North Bay is self-confidence. Carmen says she was once very shy and quiet, but now she feels like a leader and is happy to be able to set a good example for her children.

“If you’re really in a rough spot, the Corps’ the place to go,” said Carmen.

Carmen has a 3-year-old son and a second baby due in February 2013. She lives in Richmond, California.

EarthCorps Crew Leader Reflects On Transformative Summer Experience


Editor's Note: Each summer many of our Corps send crews into the backcountry and wilderness. From time to time we publish accounts of these experiences. The one we are publishing today is among the best. Based in Seattle, Washington, EarthCorps is unique among The Corps Network's membership in that many of its Corpsmembers are recruited from overseas. This account was written by a crewleader named Zach.


I’ve always felt that working and living in the wilderness provides a great equalization between people. It helps to bring forward all the essential qualities between humans and strips them of their differences. In the backcountry, you are all on the same footing. When you live in a tent, it doesn’t matter how much your property is worth. When you are swinging the same tools, your credentials do not stratify you. When you are speaking a common language of slope, grade, and soil, your mother tongue does not define you.

As a Crew Leader at EarthCorps, I serve with a group of young professionals from across the globe to restore local habitats. A challenge faced by operating crews from such different backgrounds is building a common community in which all the participants can fully realize their potential. Often, our work takes place in the greater Seattle area. We maintain and create sustainable habitats by removing Blackberry and other invasive species of plants from parks and green-spaces. We spend most of our time restoring public land so that people may reconnect with the urban wilderness that exists in the city. 

Cities are a nucleus for human creation. Often these artifices are specific for the group of people that have created them. Surrounded by the creations of Pacific North West culture, it is easy to discuss only the differences between the crew members. Recently I had a conversation with my Crew Member João from Brazil about the HOV lanes we use in Seattle. He was amazed by the speed in which we were able to bypass WA-520 traffic on a Tuesday morning. Our trip to a Kirkland park became a lively discussion about the Eisenhower Interstate system and the comparative construction of Brazilian, Ugandan, and Nepalese transit systems as others chimed into the conversation. In trying to build a community of this diverse group, it is essential to find the commonalities between us instead of just the differences. Surrounded by cultural artifacts, a diverse group often just sees the contrasts.

In July my crew was able to participate in some trail maintenance and building along the Foss River in the Necklace Valley Wilderness. We spent eight days living many miles from other people. We were visited only by the occasional hiker heading up to Jade Lake and a few of the more curious critters looking for berries. For a few members of my crew, it was the first time for them to get into the backcountry. They were academics from top universities across the globe--more comfortable finding a book on hydrology than swimming in a river. For me, I was excited to leave the roar of the Sound and return to a place where things were simpler. 

Stripped of the city, we were alone in our surroundings. Suddenly, the crew members from the United States no longer had the cultural home-field advantage. Haddy from Uganda and Prati from Nepal could live as comfortably as Natalya from Indiana or Max from Washington under the forest canopy. No longer surrounded by culture, we were revealed as humans. Our conversations changed as we spent more time in the forest. Before we would talk about American holidays and how they were different from Nepalese festivals. Now we discussed the underlying concepts of belonging to a place and how family and community helped center our identities. As a crew, our festivals did not rely on tradition but around sharing calories after a long day of work. The universal and basic feelings of hunger, fatigue, and camaraderie were now central. We had taken off our cultural overcoats to find the human underneath. Every night we would uncover different joys that each of us had buried inside of them and we would share them with laughter and compassion around a campfire.

All too soon the days drifted by and we hauled our gear out on a beautiful sunny day. Our packs seemed light after eating much of the food and hauling rocks for the past week. But as we got closer to the city we started carrying more: phone calls we had to make, bills to be paid, friends to visit and chores to be done. We wrapped ourselves in our national flags again and started settling into our place among other people and the routine of the city. 

Yet now it seemed different. We had seen each other as hungry, loving, tired, happy, capable humans. Instead of identifying each other based on our pasts and traditions, we could see each other more clearly as people. All of us possessed the same fundamental qualities, fears, and desires. We just spoke about it with different words. The distance between Nepal and Seattle seemed smaller now. We had crossed a bridge in our community and now had a better understanding of each other within our small group. We had done restoration work on each other as we worked on that trail. 

The backcountry brings people together in a very unique way. It closes the gap between cultures and brings to the forefront all the human things that are so often muffled by the noise of our creation. I have always enjoyed its ability to fundamentally change perspectives. My crew was a powerful example of this. We hiked in a small community centered on exploring cultural differences. We came out a global community of six young humans.

Maryland Conservation Corps Battles Insect Parasites to Save Hemlock Trees


The parasitic wooly adelgid. Photo by E.P. Mallory via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

The Maryland Conservation Corps was featured along with several other partners in a recent Baltimore Sunarticle for their work to combat wooly adelgid insects that are decimating hemlock tree populations in Maryland forests in places such as Swallow Falls State Park.

Tina Stevens, a Park Service Associate with the Corps, said that "Last week 50 corps members treated 2000 old growth hemlock trees to prevent the HWA from spreading and devastating the 478 acre park."

Aside from those impressive numbers, according to The Sun, "Besides their ecological role, the stately hemlocks at Swallow Falls also draw 250,000 visitors a year" making this task even more important.

You can read the full story about how the Maryland Conservation Corps and other state agencies and partners are combatting the insects at The Baltimore Sun (link)