The Corps Network Announces New Service & Higher Education Program


Corpsmembers taking part in innovative higher education pilot to obtain college credit for their service in Corps

The National Council of Young Leaders: On the Need to Make Higher Education more Attainable

National Council of Young Leaders banner, painted by council member Francisco Garcia

Created in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, the National Council of Young Leaders is tasked with informing policymakers, business leaders and funders about the issues faced by America’s young people. The 14 founding council members, ranging in age from 18 to 34, come from diverse upbringings in urban and rural low-income communities across the nation. They represent our country’s Opportunity Youth: the 6.7 million young Americans who are neither in school nor working, but who pose enormous potential for our economy and our future if they are provided the opportunity to get on track and get ahead. Though each council member has overcome different kinds of obstacles, they all share in common their participation in transformative youth programs that helped them become the successful young adults they are today.

In the fall of 2012, the Council released its first publication - Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. The report outlines specific actions that could help Opportunity Youth and their communities. One of highlights of the publication is the Council’s Six Recommendations for Immediate Public Action: 1) Expand effective comprehensive programs; 2) Expand National Service; 3)Expand Private Internships; 4) Increase All Forms of Mentoring; 5) Protect and Expand Pathways to Higher Education; and 6) Reform the Criminal Justice System.

We wanted to hear the Council Members describe in their own words why these specific Recommendations are important to them and important to the success of America’s young people. Below, find out why council member Adam Strong is passionate about Recommendation #5...

Protect and Expand Pathways to Higher Education:
Make sure that college and registered apprenticeships are affordable and attainable for low-income students. Education awards, scholarships, low-cost community and state colleges, loans that are not predatory or excessively burdensome, and Pell Grants for nontraditional students must be protected and expanded, barriers to obtaining them reduced, and pathways to college strengthened. We understand that higher education is one key to lifelong success. [Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America, p. 8]

(Parts of Adam's bio and his photo are from the YouthBuild website)

Adam Strong was raised by his father in the Appalachian community of Jackson, KY. After high school, he enrolled at the local community college and took a position as a security guard at a mine. Unfortunately, this job didn’t last long; the mine was in decline and Adam soon found himself unemployed. A friend from high school referred him to the YouthBuild program. 

At YouthBuild, Adam took part in community service and outreach projects, while receiving a stipend. He gained construction skills, and had the opportunity to tutor through YouthBuild as a fulltime AmeriCorps member. The experience helped introduce him to new possibilities and a new perspective on life. 

Adam currently lives in Hazard, KY where he is a student at University of Kentucky. He expects to graduate in December 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science. He plans to get a job as a medical lab technician.

As a member of the National Council of Young Leaders, Adam has been active in informing policymakers about the issues faced by rural and low-income young people.

Why is this recommendation important to youth in general or to you specifically?

This recommendation is important to me specifically because I go to a four-year university right now and it’s pretty expensive. I actually started out at a community college – one of the main reasons why was just because the cost is a lot cheaper. I’ve been the recipient of a couple AmeriCorps Education Awards, which have helped me out a lot in paying for college. If it wasn’t for them I otherwise would’ve had to take out loans, so I’d be even more in debt.

My whole thing is that even though college is a direct ladder out of poverty or can help people who just want to find success or make more money, you have to go into something that there’s a ready market for. We need better advisors. There are a lot of college graduates that are unemployed right now. I believe that right now there should be more of a focus on professional programs. There are jobs readily available and there are a lot of people that, like I said, are unemployed or they’re just not satisfied after they get their college degree…So I think there’s an informational gap right now and it needs to be closed so that people know the right programs to go into. End game, you don’t want to graduate from college and you have a bunch of debt and you’re not able to put that degree towards a job. So I believe the pathways to education need to be strengthened and I believe there needs to be a strengthening of the information provided to students so that people not only can go to college and pay for college, but also do well and succeed after they get their degree.

That’s my overall feel because a lot of people in my program already got degrees and already have a lot invested in college, so they’re not really getting a payoff at this point. But college is for sure the best way to better yourself or better your situation. It’s what you should do, but at the same time I think you need to be able to make informed decisions all along the different steps of the process.

What do you think are ways we can make higher education more accessible and attainable?

I think education awards – AmeriCorps awards –  they’re a great thing and I think that’s one thing that needs to be strengthened just so more people can go on to higher education. Maybe more people need to be informed about the ways they can access these different service awards just because they offset costs for college a whole lot…Knowledge about them needs to be more available to the public.

Another thing – I know they do this at a lot of med schools – but more schools could have a tuition guarantee. You come in as a freshman and each year that you stay in college and meet the requirements, you get a guarantee that the tuition won’t go up. Because I know at my school – University of Kentucky – they raise the tuition just about every year. But if you stay in the program, it would be nice if tuition guarantee was more widespread. Just a lock-in. It wouldn’t save you a whole lot, but I’d think it could save you couple hundred or even a few thousand dollars over the four or five years it takes you to get your bachelor’s degree.

The Recommendation says higher education should be made more affordable and attainable for low-income students. A lot of the points in the recommendation focus on ways to make college more affordable, but aside from economic factors, do you believe there are certain barriers that make college unattainable for low-income students?

Just in general, if you’re a low-income student then your personal affairs or your personal lifestyle might affect whether you can go to college. There are different types of poverty; it might be money, it might be resources or a lot of other things. If you’re coming from a low-income family, they may not be able to provide you with a vehicle. If you don’t have a vehicle that means you’re going to have to live on campus. But if you live on campus and you don’t have a vehicle, you might need to find a new job. Because you need a job since your family’s not going to be able to give you money throughout college every week...So it’s really just your situation in general – not just being low-income. It’s just your lifestyle or maybe you have family ties and you have to go to a community college, or maybe you have a kid. Low-income people tend to have a lower amount of resources, like information resources. Maybe they tend not to know where to find help to pay for college or all the different programs. There are a lot of different things that can dissuade you from going to school outside just the cost of college. All those are different barriers. For a lot of people have, I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but just because of their situation it might be easier for them to go to college. 

Another thing is that, I know this is true for some of my friends, they make just enough money where they don’t actually qualify for financial aid. When you fill out your FAFSA, you have to put down your ESC – your Estimated Family Contribution. Well, I mean, if you make $50,000 or $55,000 and your mom makes $30,000 – and that’s even if you live in a dual-income household, because as you can see the trend now is a single parent raising two or three kids. In those cases, you’re only getting one resource of money and you’ve got a couple kids, so even if you make $50,000 or $60,000 you might not actually have that money to contribute towards your child’s education. In most cases, I’m not saying families that are well-off, but might be better off than say…well we’ll say in general, my dad is unemployed so I get the full amount of financial aid. But for instance, I can think of two or three specific friends of mine who actually want to go to college, but they make too much money. So they don’t actually qualify for financial aid. If they were to go to college it would be all on academic merit and loans, or just all on loans depending on what kinds of scholarships they qualify for or anything like that. Just being at a certain scale, your family doesn’t really have the money to give you access to college, but at the same time, you’re in the middle. That can kind of dissuade you, too.

The Council states in Recommendation Five, “We understand that higher education is one key to lifelong success.” What does that mean? College is important, but it’s not the only key to success?

Higher education can be a key just because, like I was saying, it in itself is probably the best –but maybe not easiest – way to propel yourself forward. If you want to provide for your family or just do something more, you should probably go to college. Really college just opens up opportunities for you to do other things, make more money, or have different jobs. But it’s only one key because some people, even if they don’t go to college they’ll still be successful just because of some of the qualities they have. It’s not just about working hard, but investing in yourself. I know this is kind of weird but I’ll get on YouTube every once in a while and I’ll listen to Jim Rohn, he’s a motivational speaker, just because he has good things to say. I think there are a lot of different factors for success. When we [the Council] went to the Opportunity Nation Summit, one of the speakers actually talked about the different factors of success. A lot of them were just about doing extracurricular activities and being active in your community. Just being active and looking for opportunities and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it or ask for information – those are all factors. Just being open in itself will create more opportunities. And that’s not just in college – having the mindset of not being afraid and not being discouraged will help propel you forward in whatever you want to do.

Why should we be particularly concerned about college accessibility right now? Do you think college is becoming less accessible?

Well you kind of just have to think about the economic factors right now. At the one end of the spectrum you have all these people saying there are no jobs and they can’t find a job. And then at the other end of the spectrum, the government is saying there are all kinds of jobs that need to be filled. So there are a lot of potential jobs opening up, but they all require some sort of skill. They may not require a four-year degree – you might just need some level of technical education – but it’s really hard now to just go into a new city and find a job. Maybe you can in certain places, but the job outlook isn’t real good right now. So the focus has been shifting more towards college.

The cost of living is going up, the cost of education has gone up dramatically. So there just aren’t a lot of resources. A lot of people are unemployed right now. Like I said before, my father, he’s unemployed. People who want to go to college are having to rely more on themselves, but it’s not just that – the cost of college keeps going up so it’s much more of an investment than it was 10 or 15 years ago. So just the way I see it, in general, it’s harder to find a job, there’s less money for your family to put in, and the overall cost of living and cost of college are going up, so a lot of people don’t want to invest in something if it’s not a for-sure thing. I have two friends who kind of want to go to college but they don’t really qualify for any financial aid so they don’t really want to potentially end up with a lot of debt and not come out with a degree that will guarantee that they get high-paying jobs that would feasibly allow them to pay off their loans. So just out of shear cost.

Also, there’s the cost of the technology that’s required for classes. If you go into anything science related you have to pay an extra fee for labs. So there are a lot of other costs that come with tuition – whether its books, or a computer. Honesty, a computer is almost mandatory now. It’s not technically mandatory, but you really do need a laptop for college. So that’s a huge cost right there. So there are a lot more barriers than just the tuition.

Tuition is one of the biggest barriers to college, don’t get me wrong, but there are a lot of other fees too. I almost feel like tuition is the number two barrier. This is just my personal thing, it’s not something the Council discussed, but I feel like number one is just your situation; your family circumstances just because maybe you don’t have a strong support network – everyone needs one of those to be successful because college is a huge commitment. You need to have a good support network. I just feel like your circumstances in general can be a barrier. 

The Education Corner

Check back here for education news and for information about the kinds of education reforms, initiatives and programs that might make a difference for your Corps's educational programming. 

Date: April 9, 2014
Title: College Board/National Journal "Next America" Poll


Minority children are projected to comprise a majority of the K-12 population within this decade, and minority workers projected to provide all of the net increase in the workforce through 2030. As a result, many agree that increasing the skills and educational attainment of young, non-white people looms as one of the most pressing challenges to American competitiveness.

In an era of slow economic growth and tight public budgets, there remains considerable disagreement about not only the kind of intervention, but also the timing of intervention most likely to produce success. In other words, with limited dollars to spend, what is the point in the lifecycle of students and young workers where we can invest in them for the greatest return? Click here for the full post

Date: January 9, 2014
Title: Meeting Students Where They Are: Competency-Based Education and College Success


The Corps Network's Tyler Wilson recently spoke at a Center for American Progress event on Competency based education. Read below for a description of the event. 

Boosting postsecondary education success is incredibly important for our ability to grow and maintain a strong middle class in an economy that increasingly relies on technology. A new Center for American Progress report will call for game-changing reforms to postsecondary education financing models to promote the adoption of competency-based education—which tracks student progress by measuring the acquisition of knowledge and skills—and stackable credentials—which allow students to leave and re-enter postsecondary education more easily—with the goal of enabling students to more readily complete programs and presenting clear pathways to the workforce.

Please join the Center for American Progress for this event, which will explore competency-based education as a driver of innovation with higher education. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter will speak about competency-based education as part of President Barack Obama’s plan to make postsecondary education more affordable and a better bargain for the middle class. A panel will discuss emerging approaches to reform that show promise for encouraging program completion, reducing cost, and improving quality. Click here to watch the video. 

Date: April 2, 2013
Title: The GED Test is Undergoing a Major Overhaul. Will the Changes Affect You? 


The General Education Development (GED) test has for decades been the most commonly accepted alternative to a high school diploma. Developed in the 1940s as a way to help World War II veterans complete the requirements needed to move on to college, GEDs have now been awarded to over 18 million people. The test has proven to be an excellent tool for adults who may have dropped out of high school many years earlier; the average age of test takers is 26. The market for the GED and other high school equivalency certificates has grown recently along with increased dropout rates (especially among minority populations), and as the changing job market has forced older Americans to improve their education in order to find employment.

After a major overhaul process, a new GED test with different content and a different format will be administered starting in January 2014. This change could create serious obstacles for many low-skilled and low-income adults throughout the country. The new test will be more difficult, more expensive, and will likely be offered in fewer locations. Read more

Date: March 29, 2013
Title: What is the Common Core Initative?


This week, members of The Corps Network staff attended an AEI (American Enterprise Institute) research conference on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The Common Core is an education initiative to align K-12 curricula across the country. The goal is that every student will receive a meaningful high school diploma that guarantees they have a certain level of ability that would be expected in college or desirable to an employer (see below for more information on what the Common Core State Standards entail).

So far, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the initiative. With the new Standards, states will be required to administer new assessments to measure student achievement. Though a test has not been created, the first formal assessment is expected to happen as soon as the 2014 – 2015 school year. This compressed timeline leaves many educators questioning whether the Standards will be effectively implemented and how successful CCSS will be. Read more

The GED Test is undergoing a Major Overhaul. Will the Changes Affect You?

The General Education Development (GED) test has for decades been the most commonly accepted alternative to a high school diploma. Developed in the 1940s as a way to help World War II veterans complete the requirements needed to move on to college, GEDs have now been awarded to over 18 million people. The test has proven to be an excellent tool for adults who may have dropped out of high school many years earlier; the average age of test takers is 26. The market for the GED and other high school equivalency certificates has grown recently along with increased dropout rates (especially among minority populations), and as the changing job market has forced older Americans to improve their education in order to find employment. 

After a major overhaul process, a new GED test with different content and a different format will be administered starting in January 2014. This change could create serious obstacles for many low-skilled and low-income adults throughout the country. The new test will be more difficult, more expensive, and will likely be offered in fewer locations. Read below to learn the specifics of how the GED is changing, why these changes raise concerns for educators, and how states and counties are addressing these concerns. Information taken from The Working Poor Families Project policy brief, "Preparing for the New GED Test: What to Consider Before 2014" (Fall 2012).


Why is the GED test changing?

The American Council on Education (ACE), the nonprofit organization that has developed and administered the GED since its creation, believed that the current test content did not reflect the skill level needed for college or competitive jobs. There was a desire to bring the test in alignment with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and thus keep the test in step with the country’s increased focus on postsecondary education. ACE also wanted to update the test so it could be taken on computers rather than on paper. In 2011, ACE created a partnership with Pearson VUE, a for-profit testing company, in order to develop a new exam that would test for the skills colleges and employers now expect from competitive applicants.


What does the current GED test look like?

The current test is comprised of tests in 5 subject areas that, when passed, certify that the test-taker has high school-level academic abilities. Tests are administered at official GED testing centers. Usually, the tests are taken over the course of a few weeks or months (it would take over 7 hours to complete them all at once). The 5 tests include:

  • reading
  • writing
  • math
  • science
  • social studies


What will the new GED test look like? – starting January 2014

The new battery of tests places a greater emphasis on writing ability and critical thinking skills. There will be four tests covering the following subject areas:

  • literacy
  • math
  • science
  • social studies
    **(writing skills will be assessed in multiple tests, eliminating the need for a separate writing test) 

The new test will be administered on computers. The old paper and pencil tests will only be available for students with disabilities.

There will now be a two-tiered scoring system resulting in two different types of certification. There will still be a certain passing score for each test that indicates general high school competency. But, students that score well on college readiness aspects of the test will also receive credentials that indicate both high school equivalency and college readiness.


What concerns do educators have about how the GED test changes could affect low-income, low-skilled adults?


  • The current computer-based GED test costs about $120 for testing centers to administer; this is moderately or significantly more than the standard fee for the paper and pencil test.
  • While some states set the fees for GED tests or cover the test costs completely, other states allow testing centers to determine the price of the tests based on their operating costs and what kinds of subsidies they receive. As subsidies decrease and testing centers must invest in new equipment to administer the tests, there is concern costs could be passed on to test takers in the form of exam fees.
  • Since the new test will be taken by computer, GED Testing Service will assume total responsibility for test scoring and record keeping (a task usually managed by states). Some fear that having a central repository for all GED test records could make it more difficult and costly for test takers to receive their certificates and transcripts.
  • All new test content means test prep centers and adult education providers will need to invest in new materials and professional development. This could mean increased prices for prep services.
  • Many states have subsidized the cost of the GED test, but there is concern that this could stop due to prohibitions of public agencies subsidizing for-profit companies (such as Pearson VUE, the test taking company now partnered with ACE) without competitive bidding.
  • There is concern that Pearson VUE, as a for-profit company, has the ability to increase the test cost whenever they want.


Now that the test will be administered solely on computers, adult education providers will need to provide instruction in computer literacy. This will take more time and resources and could prove very difficult for test takers and education providers with limited or no access to computers.


The new test will be available at Pearson VUE test centers, which are generally far less numerous than the state-managed test centers that currently provide the exams. Existing state testing centers will be authorized to administer the test if they have the resources (computers) and capacity to do so. Fewer testing centers poses a challenge for test takers in rural areas and for those without transportation.


  • Studies show that about half of all GED test takers prepare for the exams on their own instead of participating in adult education programs. With the increased rigor of the exam, more students will probably need to use test preparation services.
  • Will the new two-tiered scoring system affect the rate at which GED takers move on to postsecondary education opportunities? Will those who don’t receive the college readiness credentials feel discouraged and not bother applying to college?
  • Does it make sense to bring the test in alignment with the Common Core State Standards Initiative? Yes, the Common Core was created to ensure high school graduates are more prepared for college and careers, but the Standards were developed for K-12 education, not adult education.
  • With the current test disappearing after December 31, 2013, will adult educators and test preparation services have had enough time to bring their curriculum up to speed?


 What is being done to address these concerns and accommodate for the new test?

Two main things that need to be done:

  1. States and school districts need to take action to ensure that the new test remains affordable and accessible
  2. States need to take action to make sure there are viable alternatives to the GED, especially for working adults for whom the new test model may not be appropriate.  

What's being done now?

  • GED Testing Services plans to make curriculum and professional development resources available in order to ease the transition.
  • Many states and counties are simply encouraging students to accelerate their studies and complete the GED test before the transition happens in 2014.
  • Some states, such as Texas and New York, are seriously considering creating an alternative test to the GED. Some states already offer alternatives to the GED test and are looking for ways to make these tests more accessible and accepted. Some states are exploring the development of new competency-based high school equivalency diplomas.
  • Some states and counties are looking into other established, national high school equivalency diploma options, such as the National External Diploma Program (NEDP). The NEDP, which is competency-based, better serves adults as it allows test takers to demonstrate skills learned through life experiences rather than through the classroom.


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2008 Corpsmember of the Year, Linnea Heu


Linnea Heu, a former member of the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 for her commitment to service and environmental conservation. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Linnea and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2008 national conference.

Linnea Heu wasn’t always interested in environmentalism. Her decision to join the Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) in 2005 after her freshman year of high school was motivated mainly by a desire to return to the island of Kaho’olawe. Linnea knew that first year AmeriCorps interns with YCC had the chance to participate in Kaho’olawe’s “regreening” process. The island sustained serious damage when it was used as a military live-fire training ground during WWII, but now its ecosystem is in recovery. Linnea had once visited Kaho’olawe on a school trip and felt a strong desire to return to this place that is currently only used for native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual purposes.

Now, after more than seven years since that first summer with YCC, Linnea can look back and appreciate how her experience with the Corps helped shape who she is today. Linnea has always been interested in science, but it was her time with YCC that steered her towards environmentalism.

When I was really young I used to think I was going to be a veterinarian or a zoologist. Then I started wanting to study botany and I even thought I might get into agriculture at one point,” said Linnea. “And then it was after my freshman year of high school that I got into [YCC] for the first time and that’s when I started to learn that I wanted to work in environmental sciences and restoration. Botany is still along those lines, but YCC definitely helped to guide me and focus my choices post high school.”

Linnea earned her bachelors’ degree in environmental science in 2012 and is currently a graduate student at University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she is studying how phytoplankton in the ocean is affected by nutrient-rich runoff from the land.

Linnea has never studied marine life before. After her first summer with YCC, during which she had the opportunity to work with numerous organizations and agencies, she returned to YCC for a second summer to work exclusively with the National Tropical Botanical Gardens in Lāwa’i. She later returned to the Botanical Gardens after her senior year of high school for another internship that was independent of YCC. Linnea’s background might be with terrestrial plants, but she doesn’t feel like studying phytoplankton is too big of a change.

“It’s different, but it’s not. I’m really just moving on to another part of the same system,” said Linnea. “Everything is all connected and it’s a lot easier to see in an island ecosystem where things are so small and compact. What I’m doing has everything to do with terrestrial restoration because whatever happens upland of the marine systems you’re looking at has a huge impact. All of that groundwater is impacted by whatever is happening on the island. It’s all connected.”

Looking back on her time with YCC, Linnea says the experience that had the greatest impact on her was working in the 10-month-long program between finishing college and starting grad school. She liked being able to get into a routine and become comfortable with her abilities as a researcher. She liked how her supervisors could trust her enough to send her out on her own to collect data. But Linnea definitely still considers her first two summers with YCC to be very formative experiences.

“There are just a lot of good skills I learned and I got an introduction to a lot of things I’d never thought about before in terms of conservation,” she said.

Linnea is not entirely sure what she wants to do when she’s done with grad school, but she knows she wants to get involved in environmental advocacy and resource management. She wants to keep learning and do research that is significant for both the environment and the people of Hawaii.

“As I got older I realized how connected the environment and the culture are,” said Linnea. “I’m very interested in continuing to learn about Hawaiian culture. There’s been a push lately in the sciences locally to integrate cultural components into your research. That’s awesome to see and that’s definitely something I want to do. I think it’s important for scientists to put in context the research they’re doing. Sometimes we remove ourselves from it, but really there are people who are very connected to the resources we’re trying to protect.”

To young people thinking of joining a Corps, Linnea says:

“Be absolutely open to all of the experiences that you’re going to have. If you go into it with a bad mindset, you’re not going to get everything out of it that you could. It is such an opportunity, so you want to be open to the whole experience. Maybe you’re not going to agree with the attitudes or approaches of all of the agencies and organizations you work with, but just keep an open mind and take it all in. The more you take in, the better able you are to develop your own opinions.”


New Video from Jobs for the Future - "Back on Track Through College: Voices from the Field"


Watch Jobs for the Future's new video -- Back on Track Through College: Voices from the Field. This video showcases three years of work with national network partners -- YouthBuild USA, The National Youth Employment Coalition, and The Corps Network -- to build a new education pathway across our nation to reengage disconnected youth and young adults (ages 16-24) and put them on a path to postsecondary success.  

The video showcases JFF's Back on Track to College model, outlines the components of its design and provides testimony on its impact.  Early data results from the networks show high percentages of formerly disconnected youth gaining secondary credentials, entering postsecondary education and persisting through the first year of college.  JFF wishes to acknowledge the funders of this effort: Open Society Foundations; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; New Profit, Inc.; the Nellie Mae Education Foundation; and our evaluators, The Center for Children Youth and Communities at Brandeis University. 



Strategies for Postsecondary Success: Green Career Pathways


In a Tuesday afternoon plenary session several speakers discussed the opportunities and challenges that exist in getting young people who have dropped out of traditional school systems enrolled in postsecondary education. Adria Steinberg, Vice President of Jobs for the Future got things started showing how the facilitation of this connection is of vital importance. Mimi Clarke Corcoran, Director of the Special Fund for Poverty Alleviation at Open Society Foundations (left below), and Steve Patrick (center below), Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, followed up discussing how tying postsecondary education to green job credentials will be essential for preparing young people for the middle-skills jobs that will largely comprise the green economy forecast in America’s future.


2009 Project of the Year: Multi-Site Non-Profit Center for Education

Winner: Southwest Conservation Corps

The Southwest Conservation Corps' (SCC) award winning project, "The Commons," is the nation's first multi-site nonprofit center focused on education. Working with the Durango Adult Education Center and Pueblo Community College, SCC and its partners purchased a new facility in 2007. The community quickly saw the benefit of the project and the pernership was awarded the Durango Chamber of Commerce's "Non-Profit of the Year" award in early 2008. The New Markets Tax Credit Coalition chose the project as its Colorado respresentative in its "50 Projects - 50 States" Report in October 2008.

Development of The Commons has provided a bounty of direct benefits to SCC and its Corpsmembers. These benefits include: transition on-site between SCC to GED programs at Adult Education Center and post-secondary education at Pueblo Community College, Fort Lewis College and The University of Denver; special $1,000 Scholarships to Fort Lewis College for SCC Corpsmembers, renewable annually for four years; and 5,000 square feet of completely re-modeled and customized offices and shops with plenty of parking in downtown Durango. The other 13 nonprofit or education organizations in the building have seen similar benefits. Pueblo Community College and the Adult Education Center have each seen enrollment jumps of 30 - 40 percent since the opening of the facility in late 2007.

In an editorial piece, The Durango Herald stated, "...the real advantages come in terms of enhanced stability, greater coordination among the various organizations and the cooperation made possible by having such a fertile mix of educational groups under one roof...That has to translate into better careers, increased opportunities and an overal better Durango." 

2010 Project of the Year: Workstudy Program - Go to College, Work on an Organic Farm

Winner: Conservation Corps North Bay

Through the Conservation Corps North Bay's (CCNB) partnership with College of Marin and UC Cooperative Extension Marin, Corpsmembers can attend the College of Marin and receive work study for their field work at the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden. The Farm, located on the College of Marin's beautiful Indian Valley Campus, enables CCNB to expand its program to include post-secondary students, Corpsmembers who are interested in pursuing a college education and/or receiving a specialized certificate in Sustainable Horticulture.

At the 5.8 acre organic education farm and garden, the first education and training center of its kind in the region, CCNB Corpsmembers receive valuable year-round field study, job training, and education in preparation for jobs in Marin's fastest growing green jobs and sustainable agriculture sectors. As a part of this innovative program, the College of Marin will create a Certificate in Sustainable Horticulture program and also will align its curriculum with Agriculture and Environmental Sciences degree programs offered at the University of California Davis and Santa Cruz campuses. In this way, CCNB Corpsmembers can seamlessly transfer to four year colleges to continue their studies in this field.

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: De'Andre Alexander

***Update! Click here to read about what De'Andre has been up to since winning his award.***

(Written in 2011)

De’Andre Alexander says that in the past he was described by others as “cool, but also disloyal, dishonest, and disobedient.” After committing an armed robbery in 2007, De’Andre was arrested and went to jail. “When I was released from jail, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew that the first thing that I had to do was get a job, which is hard to do with a felony on your record. That’s when I came to Operation Fresh Start and applied.”

Since coming to Operation Fresh Start (OFS), De’Andre has become an influential and charismatic force. With his crew, De’Andre has helped construct several new homes in low-income communities as well as work on a number of conservation projects. He is also appreciated for his willingness to help fellow Corpsmembers work through their problems and persevere.

De’Andre is currently serving his 2nd term at OFS and is also enrolled at Madison Area Technical College in the Health Club Technician program. But De’Andre has even bigger plans.

He wants to get his felony expunged so that he can join the military and earn a bachelor’s degree. He also wants to get a teaching license and be a high school gym teacher and possibly a football coach. De’Andre now understands how crucial this formative time can be in a young person’s life.

“I want to help teach kids how to make positive decisions so that they won’t make the same choices I made before I joined OFS. After being here for 16 months, people describe me as honorable, positive, and authentic. Not only have I learned how to work with different people in different situations, but I’ve learned how to control my anger significantly, push myself to the limit, and lead a group to successfully complete a goal. Being a Corpsmember has impacted my life dramatically and shown me the way to success.”