The Story of how a Former AmeriCorps Member Became a Pink Bunny


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year,
Kayje Booker

Kayje Booker, a former member of the Washington Service Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2005 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 Kayje and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2005 National Conference.

Kayje Booker, one of The Corps Network’s 2005 Corpsmembers of the Year, is now a bunny. A Pink Bunny, that is. Kayje works for the organization Forward Montana, leading the Pink Bunny Army – a statewide organization of voter registration volunteers who dress in pink t-shirts and bunny ears in an effort to engage youth in the political process. 

“At Forward Montana we believe very strongly in costume-based democracy,” said Kayje. “The Pink Bunnies register people to vote, specifically focusing on young people. For a lot of them it’s their first time registering to vote and the thought has been that your first time participating in democracy should be fun and special. Instead of just having a random person come up to you with a clipboard and tell you that you should register to vote, this is a more exciting way to do it.”

Kayje is proud to report that the Pink Bunnies managed to register over 11,400 Montana voters for the 2012 election. She says her army of floppy-eared volunteers is now well recognized: people in Montana seem to know to seek out the Bunnies if they need to register to vote.

Though she started her position with Forward Montana fairly recently, Kayje is hardly a stranger to getting youth more involved in their communities. Her first efforts to promote civic engagement were part of her experience as an AmeriCorps member with Washington Service Corps. Kayje joined the Corps in 2002. She had recently graduated from college and spent a few months working a series of odd jobs in Montana. AmeriCorps seemed like it would provide more meaningful work than a job at a pizza place or a coffee shop. What really pushed Kayje to join, however, was a phone call with a project coordinator from Washington Service Corps.

“She heard I hadn’t decided what I was going to do yet. She had me get on the phone and we talked. She basically sold me on it. She told me about how I would be creating a new program and she got me really excited about the potential of what we could do,” said Kayje.

That new project was an afterschool program for the Westway neighborhood of Federal Way Washington. Kayje and another Corpsmember ended up building the program entirely from scratch; a particularly impressive feat when you consider all the components the program needed to include. It had to serve children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and it needed to have some kind of civic engagement component. It was a tall order, but, with the help of dedicated community members, Kayje and her AmeriCorps partner were able to make the afterschool program such a success that it still operates today. They managed to get computers and internet donated. They collected a small library. They even organized a block party that attracted large crowds and involved a bicycle giveaway for Westway children. Kayje says that the bike raffle was one of the most memorable experiences of her time in AmeriCorps.

“There was this little girl who was so sweet who came from a pretty rough home and she had seen the bicycles all week and she was so excited about them,” said Kayje. “We had a raffle for the bicycles and what she didn’t know was that we held one in reserve – the one she had been eyeing all week. So instead of raffling that one off we presented it to her at the end and she was just so excited and couldn’t believe her luck. That was a really wonderful moment of seeing how something so simple could give somebody so much joy.”

Creating a civic engagement project that could be interesting and manageable for kindergarteners as well as sixth graders wasn’t easy, but Kayje and her partner eventually found success in getting the afterschool program involved in building a community garden and cleaning up litter. After completing her term in Westway, Kayje became a Team Leader with Washington Service Corps and helped AmeriCorps programs across Washington institute similar civic engagement projects. The next year, from 2004 – 2005, Kayje was an AmeriCorps VISTA with Washington Service Corps.

“The biggest thing I did as a VISTA was trying to figure out housing for AmeriCorps members,” said Kayje. “We were getting a lot of feedback in Washington Service Corps that finding a place to live was actually one of the biggest hurdles for people who wanted to do AmeriCorps. So I found this guy who had this huge house and we created an AmeriCorps house in Seattle. I did a bunch of surveying of members to figure out exactly what the issues were and I created some resources. We started a kind of Craigslist website so [AmeriCorps members] could find roommates. I also put together a list of all the factors they might want to consider when choosing a place to live.”

After her term as a VISTA, Kayje went straight to graduate school at University of California, Berkeley. She earned her master’s degree in Range Management and a PhD in Environmental Science and Policy Management. She spent a few months as a freelance consultant for an international development organization, but she eventually found her way back to working in civic engagement and youth outreach at Forward Montana.

“I would like to continue working with the organization I’m working with now. I’d like to continue to get people engaged and involved in the political process,” said Kayje. “I’d like to at some point have maybe more of an energy or environmental focus within that, but I am very happy with where I am now and I’d like to continue to work in this aspect of helping other people make a difference.”

To young people thinking about joining a service and conservation corps, Kayje says:

“It’s one of the most intense experiences that you’ll ever have in terms of highs and lows, but it’s all worth it in the end…One big thing I think AmeriCorps did for me was show me how you can live on very little and still have a full life. When I did it we were making $800 a month…I think it [was] a very valuable experience that everybody should have at some point to give them empathy for people that are in that situation and to show them that you don’t need a lot of money to have a good life.”

 

 

Write Letters of Support for National Service Funding

From our partners at Save Service in America

National service enjoys strong support from many different sectors of American civic and economic life. Unfortunately, however, most elected officials are simply unaware that so many different constituencies are united in their support for service.

That is why Save Service in America, a campaign of Voices for National Service and ServiceNation, is circulating several letters of support and collecting signatures from key community leaders. It is crucial that we document the breadth of  support CNCS programs have earned, so we  are ready to share it with Washington decisionmakers when the budget  debates resume.

To show your support, sign on to a support letter today. If you have any questions, please contact us at info@voicesforservice.org or 202-742-7374. Find your constituency group on this page to be directed to the appropriate letter and full instructions.

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.”

Making a Positive Transition from the Marine Corps to a Conservation Corps


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

Chris Thomas



Chris took this photo while 60 feet up on a utility pole

Chris Thomas, a former member of the California Conservation Corps (CCC), won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 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 Chris and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Chris Thomas does not hesitate to volunteer his time. Now a power lineman, Chris immediately went to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to help get the electricity flowing again. While in school to become a lineman, Chris volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for low-income families. Before school, he gave a lot of time to the Red Cross. And prior to any of these acts of volunteerism, Chris served in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Chris has faced many challenges in his life. He and his three siblings were raised by their mother, a cervical cancer survivor, who had to work three jobs to support the family by herself. During Chris’s four years of service in the Marines (beginning in 2005), he was wounded twice. He received shrapnel in the chest and was stabbed once, leading to a medical discharge. It was soon after this that he joined the California Conservation Corps (CCC) in 2009.

Chris, who is now 24, heard about the CCC from a cousin who served as a Corpsmember. The Corps seemed like a logical transition from military-life to civilian-life, but the change ended up being more difficult than Chris had anticipated.

“I had anger issues, quick to snap. Thought everyone should talk, work, act just like I did. If you didn't, then just get out of my way,” said Chris. “The CCC helped me curve that Marine Corps mentality, which in civilian life is a good thing.”

Through the Conservation Corps, Chris learned how to accept and embrace diversity. His CCC experiences helped him ease out of only being surrounded by other Marines who shared the same strict lifestyle and discipline. Looking back, Chris says his greatest learning experience came when he transitioned from working with the Corps in Chico, California to working with the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps. 

“Working in Sacramento put all that I learned to the test. In Chico I dealt with middle class white people with different backgrounds, but [we] still could find common ground,” said Chris. “In Sacramento, these kids were…cliché gangsters. Saggy pants, if it weren't for curse words I don't think they could complete a sentence…Before the CCC I would have been yelling, and firing left and right. But I was able to keep a calm head and make the crew I ran the most respected in the company.”

Chris says his background with the Marines taught him the meaning of hard work and gave him the building blocks to be a strong leader. As a Crew Leader with the CCC, Chris led others in planting trees, habitat restoration projects, and fire fuel reduction programs. He logged nearly 250 volunteer hours, well above the 48 hours the Corps requires. It was as a result of this dedication that he earned the Silver Presidential Service Award from the Corporation for National Service in September 2010.

After leaving the CCC in 2011, Chris worked as a Supervisor with the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps. He then moved to Meridian, Idaho to attend North Western Lineman College, where he served as class president. After earning his certifications from NLC, Chris moved to Big Spring, Texas, where he is currently working as a power lineman. He does everything from setting up utility poles to hooking up transformers.

Chris isn’t sure what his life would look like today without the California Conservation Corps. Chris will never be able to forget all of the different people he met with the Corps, particularly his mentor and former supervisor, Clayton Forbes. He says he would love to eventually return to the CCC to get back to doing the kind of work he misses and to help other young people in the way he was helped.

“I have no idea where I would be without the Corps,” said Chris. “Honestly I would probably be locked up for hurting someone. Or possibly working for some private security company overseas.” 

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Chris says, “Take everything you can from the Corps. Some training comes up? – go. A crew needs an extra hand for a spike? – go. Although at times Corps life might seem arduous and mundane, you will miss it.”

How an At-Risk Youth became a Service Provider for At-Risk Youth


Where are they now? - Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year, Germain Castellanos

Germain Castellanos, a former member of Youth Conservation Corps - Lake County, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2005 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 Germain and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2005 National Conference.

When he became a Corpsmember with Illinois’s Youth Conservation Corps in 2004, Germain Castellanos was an unemployed 21-year-old without a high school diploma or any professional experience. Less than three years after he left the Corps, however, Germain was sitting on the YCC Board of Directors.

To understand how Germain made this inspirational transformation, it’s important to look back at where Germain came from. His teenage years were far from stable; caught up in gang-related violence and drugs, Germain was convicted of a misdemeanor when he was 16. As he grew older Germain decided he wanted to give back to the community he had hurt. He wanted to start a program that could help troubled kids avoid the same issues he faced as a teenager. It was while looking for assistance to launch such a program that Germain stumbled across YCC and subsequently became a YCC AmeriCorps member.

“I was trying to be productive because before then I had been unproductive and just been hanging out with the wrong crowd and not making good decisions and having a negative impact on the community. It wasn’t a good time,” said Germain. “I was an at-risk youth myself, so that’s why I wanted to help young people that didn’t have access to resources the same way that I didn’t have access to resources.”

Germain worked as a Youth Developer during his year with YCC. He conducted life skills workshops, provided his students with basic counseling and case management services, and led teens on conservation projects. Germain reflects on that year as a time of great personal growth. In addition to earning his GED and college credits from DeVry University and the College of Lake County, Germain found stability in his life.

“Looking back, I think it feels like the program helped me more than I helped other people,” said Germain. “I was at a point when I was being developed by other program participants and other AmeriCorps members around me. I would see how they were handling some of their problems and their issues and that helped me solve some of my own issues. It was a really good developmental process for me.”

After leaving YCC Germain continued to work in youth development by spending two and a half years as an Assistant Program Manager with YouthBuild, Lake County – an organization that provides youth with learning opportunities and the chance to gain job skills. In June 2008, Germain left YouthBuild to do what he had set out to do four years earlier: create his own program to assist at-risk youth. He designed the program, applied for grants, and soon established what is now the SHINE Educational Leadership Program at Waukegan High School; the same school Germain was kicked out of when he was a teenager.

Germain is still in charge of the SHINE program. He oversees three staff members, manages a $300,000 budget, and he is responsible for developing programming for the 52 high school seniors that SHINE serves. Germain is always trying to grow the program by attending meetings and making countless speeches that might help bring in more resources.

SHINE's goal is to help low-income high school students transition to college. Germain estimates that well over 90 percent of the 52 students enrolled in the program come from families that have never had anyone go to college. SHINE tries to change that. “We do tutoring, we make sure our students come to school, we make sure they graduate. On a day-to-day basis we have a list of benchmarks that the students need to meet and we’re consistently reiterating to them that they need to fill out college applications and apply for scholarships,” said Germain.

SHINE students also take classes at the local community college once a week to get a feeling for what college is like. In addition to the in-school SHINE program, Germain also partnered with Walgreens to provide pharmacy technician training and job placement for recent high school graduates.

Running two youth development programs and overseeing nearly 200 current and former program participants is just the tip of the iceberg for Germain. He recently finished classes at DePaul University and will receive his bachelor’s in public administration in June 2013. He spent three years on the board of the local library; currently serves on the Lake County Workforce Investment Board’s Youth Council; sits on the Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity of Lake County; and of course also sits on YCC’s Board of Directors. He even plans to run for City Clerk in Waukegan.

Germain’s transition from being a recipient of services to a provider of services for at-risk youth earned him the Illinois Governor’s Journey Award in 2008. Remembering where he came from and looking at where he is now helps motivate Germain. It is particularly meaningful to him that he can now serve YCC, the organization that once served him.

“Because I went from a program recipient to a program provider I can help them make their services better with what I know and the knowledge I’ve gained professionally. I’m really involved with them and I do it in part to share my knowledge, but also because I’m reminded every time I walk in that building that I was there and I was on the other side of the table not that long ago. If it wasn’t for the opportunity I got at YCC I’d probably still be on the other side of that table, receiving services.”

Germain lives in Waukegan, Illinois with his wife and daughter.

 

 

 

2012 Election Features Highest Youth Voter Turnout to Date, Brings Other Good News

On Tuesday, young voters proved the predictions and pundits wrong. Instead of turning out to vote in record lows, exit polls indicate that “voters from ages 18 to 29 represented 19 percent of all those who voted on Tuesday,” constituting their greatest share of the electorate to date. In 2008, young voters represented 18 percent of those Americans who voted.

Peter Levine, director of Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), was quoted by Youth Today as saying, “This voting bloc can no longer be an afterthought to any political party or campaign.”

For The Corps Network and National Service supporters, the 2012 Election also brought additional good news. We congratulate Representative Martin Heinrich of New Mexico on becoming the first AmeriCorps Alum elected to the U.S. Senate. We also express our congratulations to Stefanie Mach, an alumna of Americorps NCCC, who was elected to the Arizona State House of Representatives.

Finally, we would like to congratulate U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (OH) on his re-election and U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono (HI) on her election to the U.S. Senate. In this current Congressional session, Senator Sherrod introduced The Youth Corps Act in the Senate, while Senator-Elect Hirono did so in the House of Representatives. If passed, the legislation would open up an additional funding stream for Service and Conservation Corps through the U.S. Department of Labor.

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.

National Service in Action Photo Contest


From Our Partners at Voices for National Service

The months ahead are crucial in the fight to protect and promote national service.  The success of our movement hinges on our ability to highlight the impact of service work in communities all across the country. 

In order to best tell the story of national service, we need to use powerful images.  Afterall, everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words!

With this in mind, Save Service in America, a campaign led by Voices for National Service and ServiceNation, would like to announce the first ever “National Service in Action” Photo Contest.  If you are passionate about the promise of national service, send us a photo of valuable service work being done in your community.

The photographer that takes the best photo will be recognized at the 10th Annual Friends of National Service Awards Reception in Washington, D.C. on February 12, 2013.

Submitting a photo is easy - there are two ways you can submit a photo:

1). You can submit your photo directly through our website by clicking here. Please be sure to include: the name of the national service program, the state where the service is taking place, and your name and e-mail address.

2). E-mail nationalserviceinaction@gmail.com with the photo as an attachment or in the body of the message, and include the following in the subject line: the name of the national service program, the state where the service is taking place, and your name.

Check out more photo examples just like the one on the right.

Spread the word - In order to gather the best photos possible, we ask that you share information about this contest far and wide on your social media channels using the hashtag #ServiceInAction.  You can share our Facebook post promoting the contest by clicking here.

You can also use the following suggested Tweets:

• Submit a photo for the #ServiceInAction photo contest. Support #NationalService w/ RT! http://ow.ly/eCxPc

• Tell story of #ServiceInAction in your community by entering photo contest. Show support w/ RT http://ow.ly/eCxPc

Each month a screening committee will select a photo of the month.  In mid-January, you can vote to help us select the “National Service in Action” photo winner!   The best photos from each month will be posted on Facebook, and you will have a chance to “like” your favorite.  The photo that receives the most “likes” will be selected as the contest winner.

We look forward to your participation in this exciting opportunity to creatively tell the story of the importance of national service.

Yours in service,

AnnMaura Connolly
President, Voices for National Service

The 2011 Friends of National Service Reception

 

Actor Brandon Routh (third from left), was excited to meet the Corpsmembers of the Year. His best known role to date was as Superman in 2006’s Superman Returns. Corpsmember De’Andre Alexander spoke powerfully at the reception and is on the far right.

The 2011 Friends of National Service Reception was held in the East Hall of Union Station and took on the form of a pep rally as National Service leaders rallied the crowd in opposition to proposed federal budget cuts. 

Numerous speakers voiced their support for Service including Senator Barbara Mikulski, AnnMaura Connolly, President of Voices for National Service, actor Brandon Routh, and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

According to the Washington-based publication known as The Hill, “the most moving speech of the evening was given by De’Andre Alexander, The Corps Network’s Corps Member of the Year, who recounted his journey from the penal system to a life of service.”

National Service: An Imperative in Today's Economy

 

by AnnMaura Connolly
President, Voices for National Service; Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice President, City Year, Inc.
 
When our country faces difficult times, economically or otherwise, it is almost always our citizenry that show us the way forward.
Today, we are faced with increasingly difficult choices. How can we meet the growing need for services with shrinking fiscal resources at every level of government? How can we improve the lives of people in our communities and help them thrive when we can barely afford to provide them with the basic services they need to survive?
The answer is clear. We need cost-effective strategies for public problem solving that leverage the most powerful resource we have: the American people.
Two new reports released by Voices for National Service detail the vital role national service plays in providing cost-effective solutions to improve local communities and strengthen the American workforce and economy at large.

Read more here. 

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