Powerful Youth Voices Amplified at Opportunity Nation Summit

The Opportunity Nation Summit featured a number of high profile speakers, but the speakers with the most important messages were the young men and women who every day must struggle to overcome barriers to opportunity.Youth voices were most prominent during the National Council of Young Leaders and Allies Gathering that was a breakout segment of the Summit. During this session, members of the National Council shared and explained the Six Immediate Recommendations for improving youth opportunity that they developed earlier this year.
The Recommendations were to Expand Comprehensive Programs; Expand Commitments to National Service; Expand Private Internships; Increase Mentoring Opportunities; Increase Pathways to Higher Education; and Expand Second Chance Programs for Former Inmates.
Read their full recommendations and biographies.
Members of the Council are affliated with various organizations that serve youth, including The Corps Network, Youthbuild USA, Year Up, Public Allies, Opportunity Nation, Youth Leadership Institute, Jobs for the Future, the Philadelphia Youth Network, and the Forum for Youth Investment / Spark Action.
Council members with relevant personal experience presented the recommendations. Ladine “JR” Daniels, a 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, presented the final recommendation and explained how, after spending two years in prison, The Sustainability Institute in his hometown of Charleston, S.C. helped him develop job skills.
Philandrian Tree, another 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, presented the second recommendation and shared her story of working as an AmeriCorps member with the Coconino Rural Environment Corps to help improve energy efficiency on Arizona’s Native American reservations.
Throughout the Summit, youth were called upon to share how job corps and nontraditional educational programs helped them overcome barriers to success such as poverty, broken homes, teen pregnancy and criminal records. Diana Carrillo, a member of The Corps Network’s Conservation Corps of North Bay in San Rafael, California, shared her story of finding success at CCNB as a young mother who was new to this country. Diana explained how she emigrated from Mexico to America three years ago with no knowledge of English and her then 4-year-old daughter in tow. Thanks to CCNB, Diana is now a confident English-speaker, has her GED and plans to attend Community College next year.
Numerous other Corpsmembers and Corps staff from around the country came to Washington D.C. to attend the event and also participate in a Hill Day on Thursday. We thank them for their participation!

2007 Project of the Year: University of San Diego -UCSD Assessment and Counseling Clinic


Winner: Urban Corps of San Diego

After months of sharing ideas, visiting each other’s campuses and planning, the Urban Corps of San Diego and the University of San Diego (USD) have partnered to create the Urban Corps Assessment and Counseling Clinic (UC-ACC).

This collaboration provides Urban Corps participants the opportunity to receive both personal and career counseling services from Graduates Students in USD’s Leadership Program. Under the supervision of Dr. Ronn Johnson; Licensed Clinical Psychologist and head of the counseling department; these USD students come to the Urban Corps of San Diego on a daily basis to assess and counsel corpsmembers in the on-site UC-ACC office.

The UC-ACC program is now written in to Dr. Johnson’s course curriculum syllabus and enables him to place his students in a working clinical environment, exposing them to practical (non textbook) situations involving real young adults facing real-life issues.

As one can easily see the beauty of this collaboration is the experience that it provides these master’s level USD students while giving Urban Corpsmembers and the organization a valuable service that neither the corpsmembers nor a typical Corps program (non-profit) could afford on a full time basis.

Another phase of this collaboration, will involve the same USD students, working under Dr. Johnson’s supervision, conducting staff training seminars for supervisors, managers, and directors at Urban Corps of San Diego to assist them in acquiring a better understanding of the skills necessary in dealing with and serving the needs of these young adults in their quest for education and job training. Most of the young people entering the Corps face problems so overwhelming that they are unable to function within the established parameters of the program, and often exit prematurely.  As the staff at the Urban Corps participates in these USD-led training seminars and adds these skills to their repertoire of techniques in dealing with young people, the organization will be better equipped to continue its mission to successfully develop these young adults who face multiple barriers to success.

There is enormous mutual benefit in this collaboration for both participating organizations and it has great potential to evolve into other areas that benefit both the young people at USD and the young people at the Urban Corps of San Diego.


2009 Project of the Year: Teaching Golf to Underprivileged Youth

Winner: Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia

The Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia's popular program, The First Tee of Beckley (TFTB), engages and exposes underprivileged youth to the disciplined game of golf. Using golf as the vehicle, youth are exposed to character education in programming that integrates the fundamentals of golf and personal skills. TFTB's core values of honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perserverance, courtesy, and judgment serve as the building blocks of the program.

Since being developed in 1997, The First Tee has achieved its mission of "impacting the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf." TFTB, the first and only chapeter in West Virginia, focuses on the developmnet of area youth, particularly those at-risk, by offering all programming free of charge.

While enrolled in TFTB's programming, youth are taught the importance of giving back to the community through service and volunteer projects, are offered positive adult role models that provide the foundation and basis for participants to become mentors for younger siblings and/or peers, and postive alternatives to drug use, crime, and a sedentary lifestyle.

In 2008, TFTB engaged 225 youth at its facility and another 2,100 in area schools. The First Tee of Beckley has proven so successful that the Corps is in the process of expanding its programming throughout West Virginia. 

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Germain Castellanos

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

(Written in 2005)

Before Germain Castellanos made the decision to change his life, he was involved with a local gang and participated in various gang activities including drugs and violence.  This path caused him to get kicked out of school and convicted of a misdemeanor by age 16.  The birth of his daughter served as a wake up call. That’s when Germain joined the Youth Conservation Corps’ NASCC (National Association of Service and Conservation Corps - the former name of The Corps Network) AmeriCorps RuralResponse Program.  Now, after supervising kids who were in the same situation he was once in and volunteering for a wide variety of community, faith-based and political organizations, Germain has received his GED, completed one and half years at DeVry University and started courses at College of Lake County in Illinois.  Germain is on his way to reaching his goals of becoming an attorney and starting a nonprofit program that works with at risk youth. 

-- “This experience has shown me that the world is in dire need of help from people who love to help others.  The YCC AmeriCorps program has helped me come to the realization that I am one of those people.”

(written in 2005)

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Charley Kakel

The youth of New Mexico are thankful for Winston Churchill. It was Churchill's comment that swayed Baltimore resident Charley Kakel to start a whole new existence in New Mexico. 

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give," said Churchill. 

These words, along with Charley's personal resolutin to give of himself, helped send him to Taos, New Mexico. Charley soon realized his passion for teaching and attended Goucher College to study the social sciences and improve his teaching skills, and later found himself back in New Mexico and working for the  Rocky Mountain Youth Corps's Service Learning Program as an AmeriCorps member. Charley worked daily with over 200 youth in their academic and personal lives.

With any spare time he had, Charley would travel across New Mexico and spread the inspiring message to any youth he could find. He loves the youth of Taos and wrote and received a grant for improving the middle school's baseball field. Charley now works with RMYC - After School Tutoring Program where he will be helping ten at-risk youths. Charley plans to continue his close relationship to the people of Taos by teaching at the middle school.

Charley reflects on his journey, stating it "has proven that I am capable of being a leader in making positive change happen." Churchill may have been Charley's inspiration for becoming a teacher, but Charley has inspired the children of Taos to care for each other, to become active in their communities, and to make lives for themselves by what they give. 

(written in 2006)

2009 Corpsmember of the Year: Kenny Mai

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

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

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

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

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: William Brandt

Once a wildly undisciplined youth, William Brandt’s lack of direction was aggravated by substance abuse and a defensive, angry attitude.  He got into trouble with the law.

But when he heard about the Urban Corps of San Diego—and the opportunity to get paid, get trained, and earn a diploma, all at the same time—his goals came quickly into focus.  The Corps staff treated him as a young professional, and William rose to the challenge. 

Today William is a self-possessed young man who represents the Corps in outreach events, is currently studying at the community college, with the aim of getting his associates’ degree in drug and alcohol counseling with an emphasis on social work. 

At the same time, he will be serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the Restoring Youth and Communities program in San Diego, which works within parole and corrections offices, counseling and mentoring youth in the justice system. 

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Mari Takemoto-Chock

***Update! Click here to read about what Mari has been up to since she won her award.***

Mari Takemoto-Chock is from the rural town of Hilo on the eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii. A strong student, Mari says that she “successfully managed to out-geek all other geeks in my senior year of high school.”

After graduating, Mari saw how huge the opportunity gap was between students from neighbor islands and students from Oahu. While Mari did go to college, this is not a common occurrence for a young person from Hawaii. The state’s public schools system ranks near the bottom of schools in the nation, and college is not always emphasized by schools. So Mari took it upon herself to help make a difference for other young Hawaiians, for whom opportunities need to be created.

She started by working after college for U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Mazie Hirono from Hawaii’s 2nd district. After getting a taste of high-level policy, Mari was ready to get a more hands-on experience. In 2010, Mari applied to be an Americorps VISTA with KUPU, the organization that operates the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps.

Among her many accomplishments, Mari has helped the Corps to improve their social media communications, helped organize Kupu’s participation in a Christmas parade where they handed out seed envelopes of native Hawaiian plants, and helped raise money for the organization. The bulk of her work, however, has been to plan and create the organization’s new “Urban Corps.” The Corps began its operations in January and will create a job training and life skills education program for Honolulu’s under-resourced youth. Corpsmembers will be trained to install solar panels, complete environmental conservation work, and will also learn about energy efficiency.

Mari says that the “intense, focused, cause-driven experience has been energizing.” She also notes that “work that is personally meaningful can make up for a lot of daily frustrations and disappointments (and there are many when piloting a new project).”

Once she completes her service as an Americorps member, Mari would like to return to Capitol Hill to work on energy, environmental, and education issues as part of the legislative staff for a member of the Hawaii delegation. She also hopes to earn a law degree with a focus on environmental and climate justice. Mari’s passion, success, and desire to help her fellow Hawaiians makes her a leader and role model for others.

Opportunity Youth

The Corps Network believes that youth corps can provide "On Ramps" for Opportunity Youth to reconnect to the mainstream. We help provide a voice and assistance to this group of people who must overcome more barriers than others to have success in life.

Who are Opportunity Youth?


The Corps Network promotes the idea that Corps provide a solution to multiple problems in American society.