"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.

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, Oscar Alejandro Marquina



Oscar A. Marquina, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his leadership skills and commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Oscar and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Do rivers and lakes need regular health checkups just like people do? Ask Oscar Marquina.

“Basically I am a water doctor,” said Oscar. “I travel around doing different examinations making sure my patients - rivers and lakes - recover their health or stay healthy.”

Oscar, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, is currently interning with the Utah Division of Water Quality. Prior to this internship, he worked as a laboratory technician at the Utah Research Water Lab. Oscar has visited over 40 lakes throughout the state of Utah, collecting water samples and checking various water quality parameters. All this experience and Oscar is still just 23 years old.

Oscar and his family emigrated from Venezuela to the United States in 2001. Seven years later, Oscar was fluent in English and serving as one of two original Crew Leaders for the Utah Conservation Corps’ Bilingual Youth Corps (BYC). With his language skills and his ability to relate with the growing Latino population of Northern Utah, Oscar became instrumental in making the Bilingual Youth Corps a success. He translated informational brochures into Spanish, held orientation meetings in Spanish, and conducted interviews for potential Corpsmembers in both English and Spanish. 

“It wasn’t until I left [the Corps] that I realized I helped in laying the structure for future BYC programs,” said Oscar. “I didn’t think all the minute logistical details we discussed would help in future years. It is definitely a pleasant surprise knowing the heart and effort I had given for a summer program was then duplicated every summer after the first.”

Before joining the Utah Conservation Corps, Oscar loved the outdoors but he had never considered the amount of work that goes into the conservation projects needed to preserve parks and trails. Oscar joined the Corps simply because it seemed like it would be fun to spend his summer vacation in a setting where he could exercise his bilingual skills. Now, however, Oscar feels that the Corps can offer a lot more than just a fun summer job.

“For those who are new to this country, the Bilingual Youth Corps is ideal for many reasons. First it teaches Corpsmembers ownership of their new community through service and travel. To someone who is learning the language, it will speed up the education process by creating unique opportunities and interactions outside the classroom,” said Oscar. “It is also important to allow new immigrants to express themselves in their native tongue which may have been restricted at schools or other jobs simply because of the non-bilingual dynamics of such institutions.”

In preparation for when his internship ends in October 2012, Oscar has been networking, filling out applications and going to interviews. He wants to gain work experience before he eventually returns to school. Oscar graduated from Utah State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, and he is now interested in pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree.

Oscar’s time in the Corps may have ended in 2010, but he is still involved in service opportunities. He recently finished a tutoring position at a Utah high school where he helped students – most of them Latinos or Burmese refugees – with their homework and ACT preparation.

“My goal at the moment is to find a job that allows me to help communities and people,” said Oscar. “I would love to work for a company that allows me to travel and use my Spanish skills.”

Oscar says one of the things he loved most about his experience with the Corps was getting to meet interesting people from all walks of life. He says he feels like each individual BYC member he worked with stands out in his mind. He is still good friends with many of these members; they follow each other on Facebook and get together to hangout. He also stops by the Utah Conservation Corps offices to say hello to the staff whenever he is nearby.

To young people thinking of joining a service or conservation corps, Oscar says:

“If you have not figured out what exact experience you need in life, but you have the heart and drive to volunteer and provide a service to your community, the corps will be a way to seize the day and gain inspiration and illumination for any future endeavors.”

 

Utah Conservation Corps Bilingual Youth Corps Highlighted

Photo by Eli Lucero - Herald Journal 

"Youth corps introduces uninitiated to great outdoors" 

TONY GROVE — On a bright Wednesday morning just before 9 a.m., Tony Grove is virtually silent, save for a few birds chirping and the gentle gallop of horseback riders off in the distance.

But only a half hour later, a group from the Utah Conservation Corps Bilingual Youth Corps have arrived — doing some stretching, laughing, and then preparing for a 4-mile hike into the wilderness terrain to White Pine Lake.

Their gear includes yellow hard hats, boots, axes, shovels, and backpacks stuffed with food and water. And who can forget their uniforms: A pine green shirt spotting the UCC logo.

“OK, off like a herd of turtles,” said Kate Stephens, program director for the Utah Conservation Corps, as the 12-member group headed up the path that would lead them to the lake.

The trip was part of the final week of a five week session of Bilingual Youth Corps, an extension of the Utah Conservation Corps, which is under the USU AmeriCorps. The final week of the session is conducted entirely outside, and for that week, the group was assigned to put up signs and repair existing ones in the White Pine Lake area.

Founded in 2008, Bilingual Youth Corps is now in its fourth year.

“The Latino population had exploded over the last decade,” Stephens said in an interview on her reason for founding the youth corps. “The Latino community does not recreate as much on our public lands — generally, it’s just not a part of their culture — so this was an opportunity to reach out. ”

She continued, “We wanted our UCC to be representative of a changing demographic in Logan.”


Read more about this innovative program and this project here.

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.”