VIDEO: Mile High Youth Corps Helps Reopen Public Land Destroyed by Fire



Click here to watch a video about how Corpsmembers from Mile High Youth Corps helped restore the Blodgett Peak Open Space in Colorado Springs following a devestating wildfire.

VIDEO: Mile High Youth Corps Helps Reopen Public Land Destroyed by Fire



Click here to watch a video about how Corpsmembers from Mile High Youth Corps helped restore the Blodgett Peak Open Space in Colorado Springs following a devestating wildfire.

Repurposing a Former Mining Site


 

Story and pictures taken from the Mile High Youth Corps Facebook page

In summer 2012, 11 members of Mile High Youth Corps’ “Marmot Team” embarked on a unique trail construction project that helped convert a former mining site into a public park.

The Spring Creek Park Project is located in the Town of Brookside south of Canon City. Sitting on more than 18 acres of land, it was home to a mining operation during the early 1900s. The first phase of the Spring Creek Park Project was completed in 2010 by the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), and was the launch of the town’s only public outdoor recreation area. That phase of the park development began with site cleanup and removal of dead trees, followed by parking lot construction, the development of handicap-accessible hiking trails, regrading of coal waste piles, revegetation of land and, thanks to funding from Great Outdoors Colorado, installation of a picnic shelter and park benches.



 

The final phase was the construction of trails – including the most difficult trails, which is where MHYC entered the project. The Marmots worked closely with Town of Brookside staff and local citizens to create a trail that conforms to the natural environment and provides a challenging way to enjoy the beauty of the park. This included the use of more than four tons of sandstone slabs for use as steps and retaining walls. In especially steep areas, the Marmots hand-chiseled steps into the native rock face of the mountain. In the end, the difficult trail measured about one-quarter of a mile in length, with an elevation gain of more than 500 vertical feet.

Starting Over Out West; How Corey Brown made a future for himself with the help of Mile High Youth Corps

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2010 Corpsmember of the Year,

Corey Brown


Corey receiving his award at The Corps Network 2010 National Conference in Washington, DC. Pictured with David Muraki, California Conservation Corps, and Brigid McRaith, Mile High Youth Corps
 

Corey Brown, a former member of Mile High Youth Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2010 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Corey and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2010 National Conference.

Corey Brown has one regret about his service with Mile High Youth Corps of Denver Colorado: he wishes he had joined sooner.

“I wish I’d looked into the Corps a long time ago,” said Corey. “…I feel like I could’ve had a better grasp on who I am as a person and also what I like and what I don’t like.”

Corey’s path to the Youth Corps was not an easy one. With his mother suffering from a severe mental illness and his father dealing with serious physical disabilities, Corey had to assume many responsibilities at a young age. He did the family shopping, cleaned the house, and earned money to pay the bills. Even while he was in college he continued to juggle a full course load, work, and family obligations. As Corey said, he was burnt out, depressed, and worried that he didn’t have room to make any mistakes.

Corey realized it wasn’t healthy or productive for him to live this way. Fortunately, one of Corey’s mentors moved to Colorado and offered him a place to stay in Denver. Corey knew he owed it to himself to at least consider the offer. He eventually decided that the best thing he could do for himself was leave school, leave New Jersey, and head out to Colorado.

“It was a really, really hard decision. I basically just got up and left with the clothes on my back and a few things and a little bit of money in my bank account. It took me probably a good year to really finally make the decision and go all in,” said Corey. “I just felt like I was stuck and kind of helpless. I felt like this opportunity, even though it was a pretty huge risk, I only had to gain. I couldn’t really go any further down from where I was at.”

Not long after arriving in Colorado, Corey was referred to Mile High Youth Corps. During his tenure with the Corps, from May 2009 until November 2010, Corey mainly worked with the Corps’s water conservation project. His main job was to install high-efficiency toilets in low-income households throughout Denver. Though Corey admits the work wasn’t glamorous, he learned a lot about the importance of water resources.

Corey was eventually promoted to be a Mile High “alumni mentor.” Having the responsibility to motivate other Corpsmembers and help them work through their problems left a big impression on Corey. He has considered finishing his bachelor’s degree in psychology so he can one day become a licensed counselor.

“I think I look back at my own personal story and see how having mentors and counselors in my life meant a lot. If I didn’t have those few people I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Corey. “I wouldn’t have the confidence I now have. I wouldn’t be as successful. So knowing that one person can make such a big difference in somebody else’s life is what interests me in this work the most.”

After leaving Mile High, Corey spent about a year weatherizing homes in Denver and Arapahoe County with the organization Veterans Green Jobs. He then transitioned to his current position as a maintenance tech with a nonprofit that provides housing for single-parent families facing homelessness. Corey is responsible for helping with the upkeep of the organization’s 100,000 square feet of property. In his spare time, Corey volunteers his maintenance skills by providing general upkeep services for a local church. He is also looking into volunteering with the Denver rape crisis center – an organization he feels strongly about and has donated to in the past.

Right now, Corey is focused on becoming a wind energy technician. He begins classes with Ecotech Institute in Colorado in January 2013. His goal for now is to get his degree from Ecotech in the next two years and start building his career as a wind tech.

Corey says his decision to pursue a career in the green sector was inspired by his time with the Corps. He was always interested in the environment, but his Corps experience made him more passionate about conservation. However, a career path is not the only thing Corey gained from Mile High, however.

“I think probably the biggest impact was on my confidence level. I feel like before I came out to Colorado I was very passive…I’d been through a lot and didn’t have the confidence that I should’ve had,” said Corey. “Going through the Corps and being promoted, just knowing that I could be really good at what I do and be well-liked by my coworkers and peers I think was definitely a huge confidence-builder for me.”

To young people thinking about joining a corps, Corey says:

“I would recommend that if you are interested in corps at all you should definitely look into it as soon as possible. It’s more than just a job. I would just recommend using it for everything it’s worth. I know a lot of Corpsmembers do look at it as just a job and they don’t use all the other resources that a corps can offer. There’s a lot of networking that’s available and a lot of educational opportunities.”

 

A Corpsmember who survived the Rwandan genocide wins state award in Colorado

 

Photo taken from The Gazette of Coloardo Springs
Christian Ndushabandi at work - Photo taken from The Gazette 
 

Taken from The Gazette of Colorado Springs, CO - written by Carol McGraw  

When 19-year-old Christian Ndushabandi receives a Mile High Youth Corps award and gives a speech at the state Capitol Monday before a crowd of legislators, federal officials and others, his mother won’t be there.

Instead, Elise Lukambo is in the hospital having an appendectomy.

“I feel sad that she won’t be there,” Ndushabandi says. But he shrugs it off. A former school teacher, she taught him that in the grand scheme of things such disappointments are not earthshaking. Not like the Rwanda genocide and other warfare that tore the family asunder and set them on a path that has led Ndushabandi to this honorary moment.

Last week, he sat in his family’s Colorado Springs apartment below a photo of his late father.

He’d been working on the talk he will give, and plans to spend a few minutes speaking about his love of conservation. But part of that is how he got here, a journey that began with his family’s terror during the 100 days in 1994 when up to one million were killed in a civil war in which tribal Hutus laid waste to the Tutsis.

“I used to be ashamed to tell about the bad things that occurred. But now I am relieved to talk about it.”

He wants to tell his family’s painful story, he says, because, “The genocide is something not to forget. If people know, maybe it won’t happen again.”

It was early evening in the small city of Gitarama when Tutsis were dragged from their homes and herded into the streets by Hutu killing groups, some of them neighbors, armed with knives and machetes.

Lukambo, who was pregnant, was attacked. A machete cut deep into her shoulder and the back of her head and neck. She fell and was thought dead.

Ndushabandi was only a year old at the time. In the mayhem, his Hutu babysitter pretended he was hers, strapped him to her back and fled the carnage. The toddler was returned to his family two days later.

But it wasn’t over. A week later, his father Cassien Ndushabandi, a superintendent of schools, was murdered in his office.

Lukambo later married her husband’s brother, as is custom. They were living in the Congo, and again the warfare hit. He was killed during the ethnic strife.

Alone with four children, Lukambo sought help from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They ended up in Colorado Springs and received resettlement help from Lutheran Family Services, Rocky Mountain Refugee and Asylee program. The agency helped with a variety of social services, including an apartment, food, medical services and enrollment in school. Lukambo received surgery for the debilitating injuries that plagued her.

Floyd Preston, Lutheran Services program director, says, “They are all troopers. She is a sweet lady who has been through tremendous trials with faith and persistence to survive.”

He adds, “Christian has been the rock of the family. His award is testament to their new beginnings.” 

Ndushabandi graduated from Palmer High School last year. He learned English quickly, a feat he attributes to the two years of seasonal work with Mile High Youth Corps in Colorado Springs. “I had to learn. No one knew my language.”

Nancy O. WIlson, director of the regional Mile High Youth Corps, says Ndushabandi was one of 10 youth in the state chosen for the award because of his outstanding work ethic and leadership. “He’s a remarkable young man who got a job right away with us to support his family. And he realizes the importance of education.”

The corps trains youths 17 to 24 to do conservation work. Ndushabandi built trails in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and worked on erosion control efforts in the Hayman fire and Waldo Canyon fire burn areas.

When he first did trail work, he could not imagine what it was for — in his former country, he explains, “We did not hike for fun, we hiked because we had to.”

Corps workers receive weekly living stipends and are provided with Americorp scholarships of $1,468.

Ndushabandi is the major breadwinner for his mother, two sisters, 18 and 15, and brother, 12. “I worry about it a lot,” he says.

He worked in a pizza restaurant and is working part time in the cafeteria at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School. His mother, who is taking classes to learn English, works two day a week in food services. Her disabilities prevent her from full-time employment. They plan to become U.S. citizens.

He writes almost daily, putting down his family’s memories as well as their experiences now. “I want to write my mother’s story in a book,” he says.

Ndushabandi is studying at Pikes Peak Community College and plans to attend medical school to become a surgeon. “I saw how they helped my mother. I’d like to give back and visit Africa, too and help where it is needed.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

 

2013 Corpsmember of the Year, Jesse Roehm



 

Jesse Roehm understood at a very young age what it means to be a good environmental steward. Through many small acts, his family conveyed to him the importance of protecting nature and maintaining a small carbon footprint. He remembers helping his father cover their windows in shrink wrap every fall to reduce the amount of energy they consumed to heat their house in a suburb of Indianapolis. He remembers how he and his brother never watched TV or played videogames; they much preferred to spend their days tramping through the woods, digging in the dirt and fishing in the creek. As Jesse got a little older, the concept of environmental stewardship gained further clarity through his participation in the Boy Scouts. His Eagle Scout project involved spreading awareness about invasive species by writing for the newspaper, handing out information at community events, and leading an eradication project at a local park.

Jesse’s upbringing helped him appreciate the importance of community involvement and activism, but he feels that he started to lose sight of some of his values while he was in college. When he graduated from Indiana State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and international studies, Jesse decided he was ready to make some changes in his life. He wanted to find himself and reconnect with his beliefs, so he decided to devote a year to service.

“I’m not exactly sure how I initially heard about AmeriCorps. I was loosely considering doing the Peace Corps, but through research I found out that there were also domestic Corps. I thought that would be a better fit for me because I didn’t really think I was ready to commit two-and-a-half years to go abroad and leave family and friends,” said Jesse. “I knew I was interested in AmeriCorps, but there weren’t a whole lot of AmeriCorps options in Indiana and I had wanted to move out to Colorado just to kind of get away. I had spent my whole life in Indiana and I was looking to make a fresh start.”

As someone who loves to go skiing and backpacking, Jesse was lured by Colorado’s mountains. He already had several good friends in Colorado, so he knew that if he went there he would have a place to stay until he got on his feet. It wasn’t long after Jesse arrived in Denver that he found Mile High Youth Corps; an organization that focuses on community building, energy conservation and wilderness land management. MHYC seemed like a perfect fit for Jesse, so he soon dove headfirst into a 10-month-long AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation Program. He spent that first spring with the Corps installing water saving measures in low-income homes.

“I stared poverty in the face and made real and tangible changes,” said Jesse. “I began to relearn the concept of community and feel a sense of belonging to a greater cause.”

Through his commitment to helping others and making a difference, Jesse proved to be a natural leader. He was elected by his peers to Leadership Council; the Corpsmember-led governing body of Mile High. He served as the voice of his crew, enacted policy changes based on Corpsmember input and organized agency-wide events.



Once the summer came around, Jesse was promoted to Assistant Crew Leader. Around the same time, he and his peers transitioned to land conservation work for the summer and fall months.

“I think definitely what stood out to me during that first year with the Corps was the work that I did on land conservation,” said Jesse. “For roughly six months I was part of a chainsaw crew. I worked with the same Crew Leader and some of the same crewmembers and we had a very successful two seasons together in terms of how cohesive we were as a group. I’m really proud of our accomplishments.”

At the end of Jesse’s ten-month term, he was hired by MHYC as an Alumni Mentor for a 1,700 hour term. The Mentor position allowed him to assist with Corpsmember hiring and recruitment, support program development, and serve as a liaison between Corpsmembers and staff. Jesse also assumed the responsibility of coordinating and facilitating MHYC’s first Crew Leader training, and he helped plan MHYC’s first Career Day: an event that gives Corpsmembers the opportunity to learn more about MHYC staff and ask questions about current job market trends in the conservation field. Because of Jesse’s leadership and organizational skills, both of these events were a great success. 

Though Jesse was instrumental in implementing organization-wide policies and events that touched many people in the MHYC community, some of his most meaningful experiences came from simply working with Corpsmembers and other young people in the program.

“As an Alumni Mentor, I provided leadership, support and training for Corpsmembers in our Energy, Water and Land programs,” said Jesse. “My role was to connect with Corpsmembers on an individual level, ensure that they were engaging in meaningful service opportunities and educational experiences and provide on-going suggestions for improvements in our programming. At its simplest, I maintained and promoted a positive corps culture across the agency”

 Throughout his time with MHYC, Jesse has, according to his supervisors, “displayed a commitment to high quality work that is difficult to match. He gives 100 percent every day and motivates his peers through challenging times.” These claims are easily backed up by the Corpsmembers that Jesse has mentored and inspired over the past couple years.

 “I feel lucky to have Jesse as a mentor,” said one Corpsmember “I think he truly believes in the influence that Mile High and AmeriCorps can have on young adults, and this belief comes through in his overwhelming concern and compassion towards every single Corpsmember. He has been a key agent in helping me to always see the bigger picture and to understand truly what service means. Jesse has made a huge impact on me and how I have come to view my own term of service.”

Another Corpsmember commented, “At the end of every day I would see Jesse getting back from the day’s work site where he had been cutting down trees for forest thinning.  He would always have a smile on his face even though he would crawl out of the van dirtier than anyone else in the van; a strong testament to his ability to work hard all hours of the day while constantly being upbeat and positive.  Every day that he comes to work he goes above and beyond what is required of him.  His positivity and work ethic are infectious.”

After 3,400 hours with Mile High, Jesse became a staff member in late 2012. As a Program Specialist for the Corps’ Conservation Program, Jesse now leads the AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation crew that he was a part of in 2011. He is excited to have the opportunity to create an AmeriCorps experience for his Corpsmembers that was as valuable as his own.

“I am thrilled to be able to continue promoting individual learning, leadership and personal growth among Corpsmembers,” said Jesse.

While working full-time at Mile High Youth Corps, Jesse plans to use his AmeriCorps Education Awards to pursue a master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Colorado, Denver. Ultimately, he hopes to work in a managerial role at a Denver area non-profit focused on community development. Though he might not stay at Mile High forever, Jesse will forever be changed by his time with the Corps.

“At the end of my two years in AmeriCorps, the biggest change is who I see in the mirror. I am proud of who I am. My AmeriCorps experience kindled a passion for service inside me. I learned the value of community, hard work and integrity and now live in service to those values. I would like to thank Mile High Youth Corps for providing me with the tools to make a difference in my own life and the lives of others.”

 

Corpsmember Success Story: Justin Quintana-Scott - Paying it Forward

From the Colorado Youth Corps Association

When Justin Quintana-Scott’s home in Beulah, Colo. was destroyed in a fire in January 2012, he lost not only his house, but his two dogs as well. The mountain community of Beulah came forward in support by holding a fundraiser and erecting a memorial – gestures Justin will never forget. He is repaying his community’s kindness in part through his involvement with Mile High Youth Corps-Pueblo.

“I saw how my community stepped up and pulled together to help us out. It inspired me to help more,” says Justin, who joined Mile High Youth Corps in June.

A member of the Apache and Navajo Indian tribes, Justin is a sophomore at Colorado State University in Pueblo. He is studying wildlife biology (he made the Dean’s List this year) and has dreams of working for the Division of Parks and Wildlife.

He is getting valuable work experience through youth corps, building on an innate interest in the outdoors. “I’ve always been around wildlife – including bears, deer and mountain lions. I’d like to work closely with wildlife, and make it so that the next generation will have access to that too,” he says.

Justin’s crew is braving the scorching Colorado temperatures clearing corridors along the Arkansas River Trail and the Fountain Creek River Trail. By ridding the area of Russian olive trees – an invasive species and daily consumer of more than 30 gallons of river water – Mile High Youth Corps is “making the Pueblo nature scene more friendly to the public and pleasing to the eye.”

Justin is working toward an AmeriCorps scholarship to help pay for college. To achieve his goal, he needs to complete 300 hours of work with the youth corps. But to Justin, this is more than just work. “We’re always smiling, not because it’s a job, but because everyone on my team wants to be there.”

Justin and his family are rebuilding their life with a new house in Pueblo, and he is setting an example for youth with a positive outlook. “I like that in youth corps, we’re helping out the community and setting a positive role model for the youth of Pueblo. It’s altogether fun and enjoyable, and makes me feel good to be a positive influence.”

2009 Project of the Year: Reducing Water Use in Denver

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps

With utility rates rising and the threat of drought, Colorado-based Mile High Youth Corps tackled the issue of saving water through its Water Conservation Program. In partnership with Denver Water, Mile High Youth Corps developed the Water Conservatin Program in 2007 to help low-income households, nonprofit agencies, affordable housing complexes and faith-based institutins across the metro area save water and lower their utility costs while promoting water conservation. Small teams of Corpsmembers are dispatched to area homes and agenices to replace toilets using more than 3.5 gallons of water per flush with high-efficiency toilets (HETs), which only use one gallon per flush.

"The crew was friendly, professional, fast and thoroughly explained everything," said William Fitzwater, a Denver Water client who received his free toilet earlier this year.

The Water Conservation Program grew out of MHYC's Energy Conservation Project with the Governor's Energy Office (GEO). In 2006, MHYC began working with GEO to install low-cost energy saving measures in the homes of 2,000 clients of the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). Corpsmembers fit kitchen and bathroom faucets with low-flow aerators, installed water-efficient showerheads and assessed homes for water leaks. This year, the Water Conservation Program expects to double the 854 HETs installed in 2007. Typically, households see a 15 percent reduction in their water bills.

A key component of the program is Corpsmember and client education. MHYC Corpsmembers receive comprehensive environmental education and techinal training. They also gain the skills and experience needed to be successful in today's workforce - especially the ever-grrowing Green Jobs industry. 

2010 Project of the Year: Making Low-Income Denver Homes More Efficient

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC)

In 2009, Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) diversified and expanded its operations - and the result was a gigantic savings of energy - and energy costs - for residents who needed it most. Low-income single family and multi-family units in Denver with high energy bills received no-cost energy audits and retrofit services. Four days a week, 10 months of the year, teams of Corpsmembers audited homes, installed compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), high-efficiency shower heads (SH) and sink aerators and conducted energy and water use assessments.

MHYC served over 25,000 CFLs, 2,000 SHs and 5,000 sink aerators - which typically led to a 20 - 30 percent reduction in client utility costs. These measures will reduce energy use by 3,000,000 kWh over their life-cycle, reduce emissions of CO2 equivalents by 5,500,000 pounds, and lead to water savings of over 48,000,000 gallons.

Audit data sent to local weatherization partners and Denver Water enabled them to connect over half of the clients to more extensive no-cost services: replacement of ineffiecent toilets, refrigerators, furnaces and/or installation of improved insulation in their homes. Also, Corpsmembers have received job training, energy and environmental education and community service hours - enabling them to succeed in the burgeoning energy economy.

2012 Project of the Year: Military Posts to Park Program

 

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps

The “Post to Parks Program” was a unique collaboration between a local youth conservation corps (Mile High Youth Corps – Colorado Springs), a local military installation (Fort Lewis Army Base) and a National Park (Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument). Conducted during the Summer of Service Program 2011, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, it served a relatively small number of young people (26) with the potential to serve hundreds more. “Post to Parks” engages Corpsmembers and potential future Corpsmembers for their own benefit and that of our National Parks.

One crew of Mile High Youth Corps’ Corpsmembers was paired with and became mentors for seventeen youth from Fort Carson on a four day educational adventure. For several days preceding their time together the Corpsmembers planned educational sessions, games and experiential activities for their mentees. When the Fort Carson teenagers arrived the ice was quickly broken through a series of games and sharing activities. Corpsmembers then involved the younger youth in interpretive programs, fossil labs, and interpretive hikes.

The youth from Ft. Carson worked each day with MHYC corps members on trail maintenance, learned tool safety, erosion control, and noxious weed identification. The Corpsmembers had the opportunity to teach and tell these youth about Leave No Trace Camping, hiking safety, what Corps do and why. They also formed a panel with staff of the Monument to talk about their careers in the outdoors. Both Corps and military youth were also able to interact with park staff and learned about volunteer and career opportunities in the National Park System.

This program was developed by staff at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and planned collaboratively with the Mile High Youth Corps. It was funded by two grants from the National Parks Foundation. The goal of the project is to get military youth connected to our parks, to provide leadership opportunities for Corpsmembers and to recruit new members for the Corps.

The youth from military families received transportation, lunches, and a small stipend for participating in the program. The Corpsmembers camped at the park, prepared their own meals, and received their weekly stipends as usual. Prior to the project Corpsmembers were not surprised to learn they would be swinging shovels and tamping trail but they never imagined that they would also be called upon to develop a curriculum and teach their trail and camping skills while also showing compassion and understanding to children of military families whose parents could be deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Both Corpsmembers and the youth from the military base benefited tremendously from this project.

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