SeaWorld Visits Earth Conservation Corps in Washington, DC


Children from the PAL Club visit the Earth Conservation Corps's Pump House location to see Stomp the alligator and other animals brought by SeaWorld. Picture from the ECC Facebook page.

Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) – headquartered on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC – is certainly accustomed to welcoming feathered visitors; the Corps’s Raptor Education Program has hosted many demonstrations with the help of owls, hawks, and other birds of prey. Yesterday, however, the Corps’s Pump House location in Diamond Teague Park welcomed a visit from some new friends…some furry and scaly friends, that is.

A red ruffed lemur explores the Earth Conservation Corps office. Picture from the ECC Facebook page

An American alligator, a red ruffed lemur, and a great horned owl came to the Corps on Tuesday, March 26 with staff members from the Education program at SeaWorld-Busch Gardens in Orlando, FL. Children from PAL Club (People. Animals. Love.) attended the event. Usually the PAL students come to ECC on Friday afternoons to watch Corpsmembers in the Raptor Education program give bird presentations, but the visit from SeaWorld gave the children a chance to come face to face with animals they had never seen before. Among other things, the students learned about how owls digest their food, about how lemurs are losing their natural habitats, and about how to be safe around alligators. They also had the opportunity to see a sock and prosthetic leg made for an elephant.

The PAL Club, a partner with ECC, is an after school program based out of Stanton Elementary School in Southeast, DC. The program builds on children’s natural curiosity about animals to stimulate scientific inquiry and inspire an interest in reading and math. The children care for pets, read about animals, and make trips to organizations such as Earth Conservation Corps to learn about less familiar animals. Usually, when the students come for their Friday visits, they are taught by ECC Corpsmembers; young men and women from under-resourced DC neighborhoods who are out of work and not in school. ECC gives these Corpsmembers a chance to learn valuable job skills by working in teams to complete local conservation projects. The Raptor Education Program teaches Corpsmembers how to handle birds of prey and helps them develop their public speaking and social skills by giving them the opportunity to present the birds to groups like PAL Club.  


Proposed law could reclassify Texas high schools, benefiting American YouthWorks

From KUT - Austin, by Alexandria Mayo

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reports that less than 85 percent of the students in the class of 2010 graduated. At a hearing Thursday in the Texas Senate, lawmakers heard the case for better tracking students who end up back in school.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, a member of the Senate Public Education Committee, told members that even though high school graduation rates in Texas are improving, some schools aren’t getting credit for their part in those improvements. She was talking about schools that enroll dropouts and give students a high school diploma if they earn their credits and meet the requirements. 

Van de Putte wants the the TEA to account for these students and their schools differently. She’s written a bill that would designate schools where at least half of enrolled students at least 17 as “dropout recovery schools.”

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D - San Antonio, TX


She says these schools can get poor ratings because they don’t graduate students at the same age and speed as traditional schools. By creating a separate category for these schools, the TEA could give them points towards their accountability rating for each high school diploma they give.

Charter schools like Premier and American YouthWorks in Austin would benefit if her bill becomes law.

Parc Smith, chief executive of American YouthWorks, says his school has students who get pregnant and leave, and others who are homeless. But many come back. So he wants the state’s measuring stick to take this into account.

“We accelerate the learning rate and we get them to graduate, and so we would like to see some measurement that honors that growth we’re doing with those students rather than penalizing us for them not graduating with their original cohort,” Smith said. “We didn’t create that problem. They come to us two to three years behind.”

Blanca Lopez dropped out in middle school and stayed out for six years. She’s now at Premier in South Austin. She started last September and has finished the equivalent of two years of high school. She has plans to finish.

“The teachers worked with me to get back on track,” Lopez said. “I made the mistake of dropping out once, six years ago, and I’m not making that mistake.”

KIDS COUNT Snapshot: Report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds dramatic drop in youth incarceration rate

According to an article by SparkAction, a new KIDS COUNT data snapshot released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that the U.S. youth confinement rate is at a 35-year-low. This decline signals opportunity for alternative, more effective responses to court-involved youth. 

As stated in the report, Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States, America's rate of locking up young people has dropped by more than 40 percent over a 15-year period, with no decrease in public safety.

The number of young people in correctional facilities in a single day fell to 70,792 in 2010, from a high of 107,637 in 1995. This downward trend, documented in data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, has accelerated in recent years. 

Despite this sharp decline, the United States still leads the industrialized world in locking up its young people...

Click here to read SparkAction's full coverage of the Report.

The Opportunity Index: Does your Zip Code Matter More than your GPA?

Opportunity Nation seeks to make sure that all Americans, no matter where they're from, have the opportunity to get ahead in life and find economic success. (photo of Civicorps graduation in Oakland, CA)

Editor’s note: The Corps Network is a Coalition Partner of the Opportunity Nation campaign. Elizabeth Clay Roy, Deputy Director of Opportunity Nation, spoke at a plenary session on youth unemployment at The Corps Network National Conference, February 2013.

Children all across the country are told that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. America is supposed to be the “Land of Opportunity,” but in reality, what is the likelihood that a child from Starr County, TX will grow up to be a scientist, or a lawyer, or the president of a Fortune 500 company? What are the chances that a budding entrepreneur in Loudon County, VA will be able to start a small business?

It’s no secret that where you grew up and where you live can factor enormously into your chances for upward economic mobility. While some people come from neighborhoods with safe streets, good schools, and plenty of desirable jobs, other people come from neighborhoods with no grocery stores, no doctors, and high crime rates. Simply put, some communities offer residents all the amenities and resources needed for personal success, while other communities offer limited pathways to opportunity.

Two organizations, Opportunity Nation and Measure of America, teamed up to create a tool that measures how much opportunity is available in every state and just about any given county in the U.S. This tool, the Opportunity Index, gives a numeric score and a letter grade to about 2,900 counties. All 50 states and the District of Columbia also received numeric scores.

To generate these scores, Measure of America compiled data from the U.S. Census and other publically available records to look at how each state and county fared in three dimensions: Jobs and Local Economy; Education; and Community Health and Civic Life. Rather than just looking at the unemployment rate and the poverty rate, the Opportunity Scores generated by the Index encompass multiple factors that have been demonstrated to impact academic and economic chances.

 “We felt like there was a limited dialogue about how we were doing as a country economically,” said Elizabeth Clay Roy, Deputy Director of Opportunity Nation. “If the official unemployment rate goes up or down, that is significant for a few thousand people, but if new jobs are all low wage that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be a serious impact on economic opportunity…It’s not just about the job you have today. It’s about a number of factors at the community level that can be a stepping stone to opportunity. For example, if you want to start a business but there are no banking institutions to give you a loan, that’s going to limit opportunity. If you have trouble concentrating in school because you’re so concerned about the violence happening in the streets, that’s going to impact opportunity.”

Opportunity Nation is not a research organization; it is a bipartisan national campaign made of community groups, faith-based organizations, non-profits, businesses and educational institutions working to expand economic opportunity. The Index gives Opportunity Nation information to support their campaign and a tool to help spread awareness about America’s opportunity gap.

“Part of what spurred our decision to create this Index was a conversation we had with a young man in New York City as a part of our National Listening Tour who said that he felt like the zip code he grew up in was more important than his GPA in determining his life chances,” said Ms. Clay Roy. “This wasn’t a young man who was trying to excuse a low GPA. He had done well in high school, but he was trying to say that those grades were less important than the school he went to in terms of his chances of getting ahead. We realized how important it was to consider place and community as indicators of opportunity.”

The three dimensions that factor into a state or county Opportunity Score (Jobs and Local Economy, Education, and Community Health and Civic Life) are broken down into numerous indicators of opportunity that can be measured with the data compiled by Measure of America. For example, to see how a region is doing in the Jobs and Local Economy dimension, the Index looks at (among other things) the unemployment rate, the poverty rate, and how many banking institutions there are per 1,000 residents. The Education Dimension looks at preschool enrollment, the on-time high school graduation rate, and the number of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree. The Community Health and Civic Life dimension looks at (among other things) violent crime rates, the number of primary care physicians, and the number of young adults who are unemployed and not in school.

So how much opportunity is available for that child in Starr County, TX? How much opportunity is available to that entrepreneur in Loudon County, VA? Starr County received a D minus on the Opportunity Index, while Loudon County received an A minus. Starr has a median household income of less than $25,000 and nearly 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Loudon County on the other hand has a median household income of over $115,000 and a poverty rate of only about 3 percent. However, the results of these two indicators are perhaps not what resulted in the two counties having such drastically different scores on the Opportunity Index.

The Opportunity Index map. The darker blue areas are places with higher Opportunity Scores. The lighter blue areas are places with lower Opportunity Scores.


 “When we initially did the Index we thought that the indicator that would be most highly correlated with a state Opportunity Score would be median income, or the poverty rate – something that indicated how wealthy the state is. But as it turned out, the indicator that most correlated with a state’s opportunity score was the percentage of 16 – 24 year olds not in school and not working,” said Ms. Clay Roy. “In a state like Nevada, where you have a high proportion of young people not in school and not working, you get a very low score. In states like Vermont and Minnesota where you have more young people in school and working, you have higher opportunity scores.”

The Opportunity Index tells us that places like Starr have limited opportunity, but what can be done to help such communities raise their scores? How can we help a state like Nevada be more like Vermont or Minnesota? As part of their campaign to build stronger, more equitable local economies, Opportunity Nation and its coalition members are providing numerous forms of assistance to communities that want to raise their scores.

According to Elizabeth Clay Roy, the first thing Opportunity Nation can do to help a community like Starr is provide more detailed information about how their score was compiled. With specific data, Opportunity Nation can help communities pinpoint policy changes or initiatives that could help raise their score.

“We’re looking to engage elected officials to become aware of these scores and begin governing for opportunity and start to think about making some of their policy decisions in line with advancing opportunity,” said Ms. Clay Roy.   

A second way Opportunity Nation is helping communities is with technical assistance and mini grants. Opportunity Nation has helped make connections between some of their coalition members and local community leaders. For example, they have helped leaders in Hampden County, MA connect with The Springfield Institute and a number of nearby colleges in order to develop plans to address the county’s Opportunity Score. The $1,000 mini grants Opportunity Nation provides generally go towards kicking off local events or service projects that could increase Scores.

Another thing Opportunity Nation has done is simply make sure that stakeholders know about the Opportunity Index. Opportunity Nation works with community leaders and media on a local level to spread awareness. The Index has also received national media attention; since its launch in 2011 the Index has been featured on the cover of TIME magazine, in Newsweek, and on the Huffington Post website. They hope to continue to build media attention and awareness with each new release of the Index.

“Ultimately we believe that no one leader or one institution alone can increase opportunity scores. We think this tool has value for elected officials and institutional leadership, but also for community members of all stripes,” said Ms. Clay Roy. “I think only when there is interest from every side will there really be change. Some elected officials may learn about the Index from an organization like ours and get interested, but I think more likely they’re going to be more influenced when their constituents begin to say we’re disappointed in our score and we know we can be a community that’s better than a C and we want to work together to change this.”

Ms. Clay Roy stressed the importance of making sure the Opportunity Index reached people who are passionate about volunteering, service, and mentoring. Volunteer projects and mentoring can be very important parts of increasing a score in a specific dimension or moving a county’s grade from a C to a B. These kinds of projects are also important in how they help people build a connection with their community and feel a sense of responsibility for how their community scores on the Index.

Opportunity Nation hopes to see an across the board 10 percent increase in opportunity within the next 10 years. They created the Shared Plan to lay out policy and nonpolicy ideas that they believe will lead to increased scores. The Shared Plan’s recommendations include boosting mentoring, engaging employers in connecting with young people, and reauthorizing and reforming the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. 

“Even just between 2011 and 2012 there were real changes. We saw improvement for 40 percent of counties in terms of their grade,” said Ms. Clay Roy. “We see the Opportunity Index as a community awareness and advocacy tool, so we’re really excited that a lot of our grassroots partners around the country have gotten excited or incensed by their Index scores and have started to build local coalitions around community organizations to try and increase their scores…Community organizations have always been at the forefront of advancing opportunity and mobility and economic security. Adding this data just arms them even more with the tools they need to do their work well.”

The Opportunity Index has been released with data for 2011 and 2012. Opportunity Nation plans to continue to release the Index with updated information.  

Click here for a PDF describing the Opportunity Index. 

Leaving Life on the Streets for a Life Dedicated to Service


Where are they now? -- Catching up with 2007 Corpsmember of the Year,
Cop Lieu

Cop Lieu, a former student with The Work Group, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2007 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 Cop and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2007 National Conference.

It took a lot of courage for Cop Lieu to get where he is today. Cop came to America with his family via Thailand after trekking across his native Cambodia by foot. Once in the States, he got caught up in gangs and spent time in juvenile detention. What helped Cop turn things around was joining The Work Group in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Just getting through the programs at The Work Group, however, required Cop to show a good deal of personal strength.

“I still had problems with people I used to be friends with. It was almost like I was a rubber band: [my friends] were trying to pull me back to the street while The Work Group was trying to pull me away from it,” said Cop. “The same people that had been my friends pretty much became my enemies. They would say stuff like, ‘You’re too good for us now. You don’t come around anymore. You don’t want to do drugs with us.’ That stood out for me because it took a lot of strength on my part to avoid drama. Sometimes I’d have to change up my route to school because I knew where they hung out and I knew they’d try to make drama.”

Cop is still with The Work Group, but he is no longer a student. These days Cop is a Community Service Supervisor, leading classes of up to 16 students through the same program that helped him leave the streets just a few years ago.

“I train and teach kids basic skills to help them find and keep a job. I teach them skills like being on-time, and learning how to battle 8-hour shifts. I teach them new skills like shaking hands and keeping eye contact,” said Cop. “I have firsthand experience from where they came from. I’m from the inner city and I had trouble growing up. I got in trouble with the law, but I was able to pull myself away from the street and…try to be around positive people… That motivated me to help these young people who are in a position that I was in and help bring them to where I’m at now. It’s really rewarding to see that some of these youth can transition from being in the streets to being more professional and stable.”

This past May, Cop celebrated five years with The Work Group. He came to the organization when he was 17 after hearing about it from his probation officer and other teens he met while in the justice system. Cop was expelled from the regular school system, but he still wanted to further his education. It was at The Work Group that he earned his high school diploma and the respect of his supervisors. His success led to his being hired as a “peer reinforcer” for The Work Group – a position in which Cop helped motivate the teen and young adult participants in the program. Cop took time off after a year as a peer reinforcer, but he eventually applied for his current position and was rehired by The Work Group.

Having the opportunity to mentor youth means a lot to Cop. He believes that what made The Work Group’s program such a successful experience for him was the access to positive adult role models.

“When I came to The Work Group, they showed me attention, they showed me love, and they pretty much just helped me through my struggles. They gave me faith in the future,” said Cop. “They showed me that even though I got in trouble and I felt like the world was over, there are more opportunities out there. They just helped me side-by-side with my personal problems. That kept me away from trouble.”

One of Cop’s proudest contributions to The Work Group is his involvement with the organization’s summer inclusive program. Cop has spent the last three summers helping plan and facilitate the program, which operates with support from The College of New Jersey. A professor, who regularly trained staff at The Work Group on how to help students with disabilities, recognized that Cop – with his patience and people skills – would be the perfect person to help make the inclusive crew a reality. Working with people with physical and developmental disabilities has become one of Cop’s greatest passions. He sees potential in all of his inclusive crew students; he says it’s exciting to see how some students who have previously only socialized with other disabled youth really open up when working alongside the rest of the students at The Work Group.

“It’s just fantastic,” said Cop. “I’ve seen a lot of growth and some kids - they just want to come back.”

Cop wants to go to college to earn a degree that could help him pursue a career in helping the disabled. For now, however, he wants to continue with his position at The Work Group and hopefully see the inclusive program offered year-round instead of just during the summer.

In addition to earning his high school diploma and finding rewarding employment, during his five years with The Work Group Cop also received his driver’s license and obtained his American citizenship. Cop says that without The Work Group he would probably be in the same position that many of his old friends are in: unemployed and without much to offer potential employers.

“I’d be a lump on a log – just staying home and doing illegal activities,” said Cop.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps like The Work Group, Cop says:

“It never hurts to try. Signing up for something like The Work Group can change your life personally and professionally. It’s a life-changing experience…Pretty much, the staff here will go to bat for you, and they will stick out limbs for you. If you don’t join it’s just an opportunity missed.”





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.




"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, De’Andre Alexander


De'Andre Alexander, a former member of Operation Fresh Start, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about De'Andre and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 national conference.

De'Andre Alexander, a 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, currently apprentices as an ironworker. After he finishes the 4-year apprenticeship, he wants to take night classes and hopefully earn his bachelor’s degree. He dreams of becoming a firefighter or perhaps working with Operation Fresh Start, the Corps that helped him get back on his feet. As De’Andre says, his life would be very different today had he not found Operation Fresh Start.

“I would probably be working at a restaurant or be in some job that doesn’t have a lot of benefits and I wouldn’t get paid as well as I do now,” said De’Andre. “I wouldn’t say I would be as immature as I was [before], but I’m sure I wouldn’t be as mature as I am now. I definitely wouldn’t have the skills I have now. I’m sure without Operation Fresh Start I would be nowhere.”

De’Andre, who is now 22 years old, joined Operation Fresh Start in June 2009. He had recently been released from jail for an armed robbery he committed in 2007. With a felony on his record, De’Andre found it very difficult to find a job. Operation Fresh Start gave him a chance. While in the program, De’Andre gained carpentry skills, learned how to be a reliable employee, and completed a few college credits. Most importantly, he learned how to manage his anger.

“Not only did they teach me carpentry, but they taught me how to work. They taught me how to act in a workplace,” said De’Andre. “At the time I was still a kid. If I hadn’t gone to Operation Fresh Start I probably would’ve gotten a job, and who knows? I could’ve gotten fired just because I didn’t have that work ethic in me yet. Doing carpentry definitely made me tough as I am now as far as being a hard worker and willing to take on tasks.”

De’Andre says that what made the Operation Fresh Start program such a good fit for him was the caring staff. He feels that many of his teachers in high school were not invested in the students or didn’t push him hard enough. At Operation Fresh Start, De’Andre was motivated by being surrounded by supervisors and instructors who were attentive and obviously passionate about their work.

De’Andre says that Operation Fresh Start helped him become a calmer, more accepting person. Counselors at OFS taught him ways to control his actions and his words, and working in a crew with his fellow Corpsmembers helped De'Andre learn important teamwork skills.

“One thing I learned at Operation Fresh Start was that you have to learn how to work with all types of people,” said De’Andre. “If your coworker is different from you, you can’t change them. You have to learn how to work with them. Working at Operation Fresh Start there were a lot of guys I wouldn’t even have hung out with in high school. Working on the crew I learned that it doesn’t matter who they are. You need to make the best of it and learn more about them. That’s what’s going to make the world an easier place.”

These days De’Andre takes pride in the things he helps build as an ironworker. He says he knows he’ll produce his best work possible if he thinks of his projects as his own buildings. Though De’Andre enjoys his apprenticeship, he sometimes misses carpentry. He continues to volunteer with construction crews at Operation Fresh Start whenever he can. When his schedule permitted, he spent entire days volunteering with OFS. He says he loves getting to meet the new Corpsmembers and offer them advice.

De’Andre’s younger brother is currently enrolled in Operation Fresh Start. He says his brother also sometimes struggles with anger management issues. At one point his brother dropped out of the program. As De’Andre said:

“He didn’t want to go back, but I told him, ‘You got to go back. Without Operation Fresh Start you’re not going to learn the skills you need to survive in the real world.’ And then he decided to go back and I just told him to stay tough, do what your supervisors tell you and keep your head on your shoulders. It’s definitely worth it.”




Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year Mari Takemoto-Chock

Mari Takemoto-Chock, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 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 Mari and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2011 national conference.

Mari Takemoto-Chock is certainly not one to just sit around. In August 2011, almost immediately after finishing her AmeriCorps VISTA term with KUPU – the organization that runs the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps – Mari flew to New York for her first semester as a graduate student at NYU. She received her master’s degree in the spring of 2013.

Mari’s experiences at KUPU are part of what inspired her to study gender and race in graduate school. During her year with KUPU, Mari was instrumental in creating an Urban Corps to provide job training and life skills education for Honolulu’s under-resourced youth. Mari was struck by how a large proportion of the Corpsmembers at KUPU were Native Hawaiian. What did it mean that they all came from a certain minority group? Mari says her graduate studies have helped her look with a critical lens at questions about race and inequality. After Mari graduates in May 2013, she says she will probably attend law school. She is not entirely sure what she wants to do with a law degree, but she hopes to one day work for an organization like the Legal Aid Society. She says there's also a possibility she will return to Capitol Hill; between college and her AmeriCorps term, Mari worked on energy, environmental, and education issues as part of the legislative staff for a member of the Hawaii delegation. Though Mari is still very much interested in environmental issues, she says her main interest, and what will probably shape her future career, are the issues surrounding at-risk youth. 

Looking back on her time at KUPU, Mari says her experiences not only inspired her studies in graduate school. She says that helping build the Urban Corps provided excellent exposure to how programs are developed, implemented, and maintained.

“I got a really good, broad overview …from funding to developing to implementing and devising policy,” said Mari. “And then also the day-to-day of managing behavior and discipline. I think the thing I took away the most was that broad overview.”

Mari says her Corps experience also helped her think in a whole new way. She feels that if she had not joined the Corps, she would probably still be on Capitol Hill thinking about issues from a political perspective.

Mari maintains close contact with people at KUPU. She goes to the Corps to visit her former coworkers whenever she gets a chance. She also frequently checks the Corps’ Facebook and Twitter pages to stay posted on what kinds of projects they’re working on.

To youth considering joining a Service or Conservation Corps, Mari says:

“I think it’s a really good opportunity for self-reflection and self-development. So I would say to be really open to that. I think just being out in nature is a good opportunity – for some reason it inspires a lot of self-reflection. Not many people get the chance to spend that much time out in nature. So I would say to really take advantage of that.”



Young Invicibles Releases New Publication


Our friends at Young Invincibles have released a new policy brief titled "Young America Ideas Book: 12 Solutions to Help Get Our Generation Back on Track." You can download the publication here.

A press release from Young Invincibles explains that "These ideas are not designed to be comprehensive solutions, but rather provide concrete, pragmatic steps that our political leaders can take right now to address the economic problems facing young people.  The 12 solutions are based on discussions with young adults across the country, available data, and expert opinion.

Policy ideas include:

    1. Create 500,000 AmeriCorps jobs, so that young adults can serve our country and get valuable work experience.   Last year, 500,000 people applied for 80,000 positions.

    2. Establish the “American Counseling Fellows” program to send 30,000 recent college grads into high schools to assist under-staffed school counselors in career and college counseling; like Teach for America for school counselors.

    3. Require disclosures on all TV college advertisements where schools must publish their employment rates after graduation.

    4. Student loan repayment programs made easy and pumped-up financial aid counseling to help students make good decisions and repay student loans.