"Little things that the Conservation Corps changes about you that make a big difference" - Kenny Mai, Corpsmember of the Year 2009


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

Kenny Mai

Kenneth Mai, a former member of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2009 for his commitment to service and self change. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Kenny and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2009 national conference.

Kenny Mai admits that he was once headed down a bad path. He was affiliated with a gang when he was a teenager and experimented with drugs and alcohol. He faced homelessness and an unstable family life. Kenny, who moved to Los Angeles from Belize when he was 13, also dropped out of high school due to his frustrations as a non-native English speaker. Fortunately, he was able to turn things around with the help of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC).

Kenny joined LACC in 2007 after hearing about the program from a friend. By this point Kenny had already participated in Job Corps and earned his GED. However, he still saw room for self-improvement and needed to break ties with his gang background. LACC’s program, which offers youth the chance to go back to school while also gaining work experience and earning a little money, seemed too good to pass up. While he was with LACC, Kenny became competent in carpentry, roofing, plumbing, irrigation and drywall installation. In addition to job skills, Kenny also learned important life skills.

“They taught me really everything that I know now. They’re the ones that took me out of the streets. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had,” said Kenny. “The most important thing I learned was to be a leader and I got work skills. They taught me how to be on time. A lot of the training they gave me I’m still using today.”

These days, Kenny works for the Koreatown Youth and Community Center. With KYCC, Kenny has planted trees, removed graffiti from public places, and participated in community cleanups and landscaping projects. Kenny is also currently contracted through KYCC with Southern California Edison’s Energy Conservation Program. Kenny works in an Edison warehouse driving forklifts and managing inventory, but he mainly helps organize crews that go out and provide free retrofitting services to Edison customers.

Kenny left the Los Angeles Conservation Corps in 2009 and went straight to KYCC, but he says that his experience with LACC still impacts his day-to-day life.

“It’s funny because me and my coworker always talk about this. There are little things that the Conservation Corps changes about you that make a big difference,” said Kenny. “Now I can’t litter! I always find a trashcan because I’ve done the work of cleaning up trash. I’ve gone from not worrying about it to seeing how littering is a real problem and I’m adding to it. Now I’m more conservative. It used to be ‘whatever,’ but now I’m thinking ‘save the planet.’ Now I’ve got to worry about my kids.”

Looking back at his time with LACC, Kenny is most proud of a tree planting project he participated in near his home. The Corps’ goal was to plant 500 trees in a single day, but they ended up planting 600. Kenny says the trees are still standing and it’s a great feeling to walk past them.

Kenny is also proud of his time as president of the Conservation Corps’ Leadership Council. He says his presidency was an important learning experience that taught him leadership skills he uses today. During his presidency, Kenny managed to change how the council is run and organized.

“When I started, they were paying the Corpsmembers to be in the council – giving them a stipend. But I said, I don’t think the leaders should be getting paid to be leaders. I didn’t think they should get the stipend – if they want to be in the council, they should join out of their own will,” said Kenny. “Before that, there were like six people in the council all getting the stipend, and when I came in there was like 18 people in the council just a month later and they weren’t getting paid. That was really cool. They inspired me and I inspired them.”

Through his position on the Leadership Council, Kenny became an important recruiter for LACC. He reached out to youth who were dealing with many of the same issues he had experienced before joining the Corps.

“I got to get a lot of Corpsmembers off the street and keep them in the programs. Because when they saw me doing it, they could say ‘if he can do it, I can do it,’” said Kenny. “I would tell them about how they can learn to be a leader, and they can learn work skills, and they can do their community service part. They can have mentors there. What we go through in the street, it was the same for the people that work [at LACC]. Many of the staff were Corpsmembers, so what you’ve been through – they’ve been through.”

Kenny is busy with KYCC and Southern California Edison, but he still finds time to volunteer. Recently, he has helped construct a new community garden near his home. He hopes to eventually go back to school to earn a business degree – he has thought about one day opening his own small business, perhaps a carwash. Kenny also still hopes to work with LACC, the organization that he feels changed his life.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I wouldn’t have these work skills,” said Kenny. “I’d probably be in jail, to tell you the truth. I wouldn’t be working. I would be in the streets with a gang or something if I didn’t get into the Conservation Corps.”

Kenny is now 26-years-old. He has one son and a second son on the way.

Corpsmember Success Story: American YouthWorks Alum Builds on the Skills he Learned in the Corps

 


Taken from the American YouthWorks Newsletter

"American YouthWorks does a lot to help people, in all kinds of ways."  Jeremy M.

Jeremy already has his high school diploma when he came to American YouthWorks (AYW) in 2010, but he was 22 years old, had a two-year-old daughter, and was living in his car. He had been unemployed for over a year.

Jeremy’s grandmother, who had raised him and his siblings, was unable to help him financially. Jeremy also had issues in his past that made it difficult for him to find employment or housing.    

He was at a loss.  

People would tell me that they wanted to hire me, but they weren't able because of my background checks. No matter what I did, I always got the same answer."  

A friend told Jeremy about AYW's job training programs.  In these programs, participants learn hard and soft job skills, give back to their community, earn a small living stipend and receive an educational award for college expenses.  Jeremy applied and was accepted. He was relieved to have found a job and ended up learning and serving at AYW for almost two years.  

Jeremy credits AYW for giving him the job skills and life skills that have helped him be successful today.  

"The staff want to make sure the students have the foundation to thrive," said Jeremy

During the “Mental Toughness” orientation to AYW, Jeremy was told that the hardest part of the job would be showing up every day and being on time; this made a big impression on him and he learned that he could do it.  He acquired skills in carpentry, house framing and construction.  He also learned to be patient, observant, responsible and detail oriented.  

"Details in building a house are extremely important,” said Jeremy. “An error of 1/8th of an inch could mean the difference between finishing the cabinets, or having to tear them down to start all over again."  

Most importantly, Jeremy learned that he was a leader.   

While he was learning construction skills, Jeremy was improving his community by building affordable, five star, energy efficient homes for low-income home buyers and weatherizing and repairing existing homes for low-income Austin residents.

During his time at AYW, Jeremy earned educational awards totaling nearly $4,000 and was honored with a $2,000 scholarship from YouthBuild USA for his leadership and public service.  These awards, along with encouragement from AYW staff, made all the difference in Jeremy's choice to pursue higher education.  

"I wasn't planning on going to college.  AYW helped me make that decision,” said Jeremy.  

Jeremy says that when he first came to AYW, he was just coming for the job, but he received so much more.   Today, Jeremy is in his 5th semester of classes with Austin Community College and working full-time for the City of Austin's Public Works Department.  

Now, Jeremy has choices.  

When asked who Jeremy goes to for advice, he replied, "AYW! Even though I'm not in the program anymore, the staff are who I come to for support and guidance".  

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.

 

 

2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Francisco Vizcarrondo

 

“It’s motivating to see a person who was in desolation and misery, then witness them in their weakness become strong and successful because of their drive to live a better life and improve on the skills and talents they have acquired.” 

Since his enrollment in the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, Francisco has received perfect attendance awards, been recognized as Corpsmember of the Month, earned his high school diploma, and completed a 675-hour term of service resulting in an AmeriCorps Education Award. He gained experience in concrete work, framing, drywall, roofing, landscaping, and sprinkler repair. He was also elected treasurer of the Corpsmember Council of FLCC, as well as the Youth Council at his transitional living center.

Francisco is currently studying Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning at Fresno City College.  It is hard to believe that he is the same person who enrolled in the Corps in December 2006 – a homeless, twice-convicted, drug-addicted high school dropout. 

“The experience has helped me reconstruct my life," said Francisco. "I plan to get certified in HVAC and Carpentry, have my own business, and present opportunities of advancement to others as they have been presented to me.”

2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Matthew Rainey

In his role as Field Education Facilitator for his Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay) crew, Matthew teaches a weekly lesson, assists teachers with classes at project sites, and helps orient new Crewmembers. Matthew also has a life lesson to share:

“I feel like I am an excellent example for people, showing what they can overcome if given a chance.  Hard work and determination can take anyone to great places. As long as they make the choice to change and work towards that change, anything is possible.”   

When he came to MCC’s Natural Resource Crew in May 2007, Matthew was unemployed, homeless, with a criminal record and no high school diploma. He had just had a baby and knew it was time to make some changes in his life. 

“I felt that becoming a father was the start of responsibility for me," said Matthew. "I was looking for an opportunity to show my family, as well as myself, that I was ready.” 

Matthew had taken four of the five GED tests while in prison but had such low confidence that he never even checked the results.  When the Corps checked his scores, they discovered he had passed all four.  This gave Matthew the confidence to take and pass the last section, earning his GED.  Matthew saved enough to buy a car within a few months of joining the Corps. He slept in the car for an additional three months while saving enough to finally get his own apartment in September. Even while living in his car, Matthew maintained an exceptional attendance record - gaining work skills, leadership experience, and the respect of his crew, supervisor, teachers, parole officer and family.  

2009 Corpsmember of the Year: Kenny Mai


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

Kenny came to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) with a number of challenges: gang affiliation, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, limited family support, a single parent household, anger problems, and family conflict with his stepfather. Because English is not his first language, Kenny struggled through school and dropped out. However, he refused to give up on education a second time. At age 19 Kenneth enrolled in Job Corps where he received his GED. Despite the threats and fear of giving up gang life, he started working as a Corpsmember at LA Conservation Corps in March 2007. While training at the Corps he learned carpentry, roofing, plumbing, irrigation and drywall.  Kenny showed up to work daily and to learned how to deal with family, work, and stress. 

Kenny was elected President of the LA Corps Leadership Council where his responsibilities included motivating corpsmembers to participate in partnership with the LA Conservation Corps.  His involvement with the Leadership Council has developed his leadership skills to the point where he now recruits and promotes participation in the LA Conservation Corps's numerous programs.

Kenny said, “Life after the corps will be a bigger step in my life which comes with more opportunities to grow despite drama and stress.  In the near future I see myself enrolled in a community college, working and becoming part of the LA Conservation Corps staff.  I also plan on getting my degree in electronics and continue my career in construction.”

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: Shanice Long

Observers who see Shanice Long advise Corpsmembers on how to master the requirements for the high school diploma, or hear her representing Corpsmembers in second chance appeal, might not suspect that this quiet young woman, who leads by example, came to Oakland’s Civicorps homeless, without a mom or dad, a sixteen year-old 11th grade dropout with 9th grade credits, with just the clothes on her back. 

Shanice Long walked in the door and then, as she says, “my life changed 100 percent.” She joined a crew working 32 hours a week in exhausting heavy trail maintenance. After hours Shanice headed straight to class and worked just as hard on getting her diploma—and so was able to give up the chainsaw and post-hole digger for the computer, working at Civicorps’ Learning Center, where she rapidly mastered a range of software and demonstrated a real gift in helping others achieve. 

Today after work, she still goes to school—but now that means community college, where Shanice is in her second semester, focusing on paralegal studies, using one of her two AmeriCorps scholarships. She just moved into her first apartment, bought a car, and has plans to continue at a four-year college.   

2012 Corpsmember of the Year: Nicholas Jimenez

Joining the Sequoia Community Corps has been an extreme experience for Nick Jimenez. With a difficult adolescence where he often found himself being bounced around in foster care and at one point homeless, Nick says that “growing up, I never had a stable home to live in. The Corps has impacted my life by providing that stability.”

Since entering the Corps, Nick has obtained his high school diploma, enrolled as a full time college student in the evening, and has been working as a Recycling Specialist, a position for which only a select few corpsmembers are chosen. Nick has also been promoted twice and is now a Crew Leader in his department. As a Specialist he leads public presentations and educates the community about the importance of recycling. He also organizes events, which includes doing the scheduling and all the logistical planning.

Since joining the Corps Nick has also been able to rent an apartment, purchase a vehicle, and use some of his earnings from the Corps to get Lasik surgery to improve his vision, a problem he has had since he was 4. Sequoia Community Corps Staff say that Nick has also built up his self-esteem, and serves as an excellent example for his fellow corpsmembers with perfect attendance and a positive attitude.

Nick talks to his peers about his college experience and how education is making a difference in his life. He has inspired 3 others to enroll in college courses and has served as a mentor to help them go through the enrollment process.

Beyond these important contributions and accomplishments, Nick is a leader and often the voice of the corpsmembers in staff events and meetings. He has learned how to voice his opinion in situations that may be intimidating.

As for his future, Nick plans to finish his degree in psychology and hopes to get a Master’s Degree. He’s never been outside of California, and looks forward to attending The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, D.C. as well as traveling more in the future.