Fresno Local Conservation Corps Helps Prepare New Home for Veterans



After a decade of efforts to create a veterans home in Fresno, California, a $250 million home was completed in 2012 thanks to the collaboration of numerous California government agencies. The home includes an on-site bank, post office, chapel, store, barber shop, and even a miniature golf course. But because of California’s budget constraints, the home’s 300 rooms and 30 acre landscape sat virtually untouched for an entire year. With the opening planned for October of 2013, a custodian and groundskeeper were finally hired in June to maintain and restore the landscape and home. This mountain of work proved challenging for 2 people, and for that reason the Fresno Local Conservation Corps saw an opportunity to help both the veterans and their own Corpsmembers.

Using funds from a federal Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration grant, the Corps deployed 31 participants of their CORPS Program (Career Opportunities Reached Through Participation in Service), to help the California Department of Affairs ready the veterans home and its landscape. This task was aligned with the grant’s goals to help Corpsmembers earn their high school diplomas, earn industry recognized credentials, and give back to their communities. Many of the Corpsmembers had a background with the juvenile justice system, so a project where they could interact with and honor veterans – those who have sacrificed so much for our country –  was appealing.

Beginning in June, Corpsmembers worked at the home 25 hours a week. They started by helping to clean the home, which had a considerable amount of dust, dead insects, and other cleaning needs because of its time without maintenance. They also helped build and assemble furniture for the rooms.

The $5 million landscape, however, was where Corpsmembers perhaps made their largest impact. They helped trim back 30 acres full of overgrown grass and unruly trees and shrubs that were hard on the eyes and a potential fire hazard. After that was accomplished, they planted approximately 1500 flowers and also helped install 54 flag brackets to hold flags from families that wish to honor their fallen relatives who served.



As a culminating event, Corpsmembers helped setup and break-down over 2000 chairs for the grand opening of the home in October. The event was attended by many high-ranking military officials, community leaders, future residents, and government dignitaries, including California Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. Representative Jim Costa.

In total, Corpsmembers contributed 1,314 hours of service at the veterans home. The Corps estimates that the overall value of this time spent was worth $28,077. Beyond dollars and time invested in their own community, Corpsmembers also gained valuable experience by learning janitorial skills, furniture assembly, irrigation maintenance, tree trimming, and landscaping. Many of them also accrued significant hours that will contribute toward earning their AmeriCorps Education Awards, which will help them pay for future education like college. Two Corpsmembers have also been approached by the Fresno Veterans Home staff about applying for full-time positions. The Lead Groundskeeper for the home has said “Without the help of the Local Conservation Corps, I simply do not know what we would have done. There is no possible way that we could be where we are today without you.”

The great news is that Corpsmembers will continue to serve at the veterans’ home and have opportunities to build relationships with residents. The Corps will be providing all recycling services to the facility going forward, and will continue to help maintain the landscape. They are also planning for their Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service project to take place at the home, with assistance from the veterans living there. This is truly work that matters.

Meet The Corps Network's 2014 Award Winners!

We are very excited to announce our 2014 Award Winners! They will each be honored at our National Conference in February. Please click on the links to read their stories. 


Projects of the Year

Each year The Corps Network awards several noteworthy endeavors from Corps with Project of the Year Awards. Here are links to stories about this year's winners.

Orange County Conservation Corps Partners with Disneyland on Innovative “Adopt-A-Channel” Program

Fresno Local Conservation Corps Helps Prepare New Home for Veterans

Vermont Youth Conservation Corps Boost Local Economy and Walkability of Vermont's Capital City


Legacy Achievement Award

The Corps Network Legacy Achievement Award recognizes leaders with approximately 20 or more years of contribution to the Corps movement, who have served in a senior leadership position of a Service or Conservation Corps or multiple Corps, and who have made a significant contribution to the movement (e.g. founded a corps, brought a corps to scale, served for approximately 15+ years as ED/CEO of a corps, or who have made a significant national contribution through developing a national project). This year's winner's include

David Muraki
Executive Director, California Conservation Corps

Scott Weaver
Senior Vice President, Government & Agency Affairs, Student Conservation Association

Leslie Wilkoff
Director of AmeriCorps Programs, The Corps Network


Corpsmembers of the Year / Corps Ambassadors

Each year The Corps Network honors Service and Conservation Corpsmembers whose accomplishments and personal stories exemplify the positive role that Corps serve for individuals and communities nationwide. They help serve as Corps Ambassadors, or spokespeople for the Corps Movement. 2014 winners include

Jon Brito
Kupu / Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps

Edgar Galvez
Fresno Local Conservation Corps

Eliseo Nunez  
Urban Corps of San Diego County

Linda Santana
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps

Ruby Simonian 
California Conservation Corps

Candace Washington
Civicorps

Boiler Plate: 
We are very excited to announce our 2014 Award Winners! They will each be honored at our National Conference in February. Please click on the links to read each of their stories.

2013 Project of the Year, Real Food Farm of Civic Works

Before Civic Works broke ground on their Real Food Farm in October 2009, Baltimore, MD had no significant urban farms. Because of its history with youth development and community outreach, Civic Works was selected by the Baltimore Urban Agriculture Taskforce as the perfect organization to operate a “demonstration farm.” Now, just a few years after they planted their first seeds, the Real Food Farm has inspired the creation of numerous urban farms and reached thousands of Baltimore residents through educational programs and efforts to increase access to fresh food.

Real Food Farm continues to grow, but for now it covers about six acres of land in Baltimore’s Clifton Park. The farm is comprised of high-tunnel hoop houses made from steel pipes and plastic sheeting, as well as open fields with trees and rows of vegetables. In 2012, Real Food Farm harvested nearly 15,800 lbs. of food, established 6 beehives, planted 60 fruit trees, installed 2 rain gardens & 1 berry patch, began the process of producing mushrooms, and expanded a composting project.

The mission of Real Food Farm is fourfold: make fresh fruits and vegetables more available to low-income Baltimore families; help grow Baltimore’s urban agricultural sector; provide experience-based education and leverage the farm as a learning tool; and promote sustainable land use. Civic Works uses various methods to achieve the Farm’s first goal of improving food access. The Mobile Farmer’s Market, a converted Washington Post delivery truck, makes home deliveries and pre-arranged stops in and around the Clifton Park Neighborhood. The Mobile Market accepts EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) payments made with Independence Cards, with additional incentives for those using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funds. Real Food Farm also runs a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program with adjustments that allow low-income families to join.

The main way the farm achieves its second goal of inspiring more urban farm development is by getting the community involved. This past year, 457 volunteers spent 1,292 hours working on various farm projects. Additionally, Real Food Farm held events and training sessions that attracted nearly 600 people. A number of former Corpsmembers have gone on to work at or start urban farms, with one former Real Food Farm AmeriCorps VISTA starting the Farm Alliance of Baltimore; a collective of small urban farms that share tools and hold joint community markets.

Internships for high school students, demonstrations, field trips for school groups, and after-school programs are ways Real Food Farm achieves its third goal of educating people about sustainable farming and where food comes from.  In 2012, 883 students from 13 local schools visited the Farm during field trips and 43 students regularly attended educational programming. Through the Farm Lab program, the farm has developed curricula for math classes, to art classes, to English classes. Kids in grades K-12 have all enjoyed field trips at the farm.

Real Food Farm’s fourth goal is realized through the farm’s use of sustainable practices. The farm is built on what were once underutilized sports fields next to two schools. They use rain gardens and are constructing a bioswale to reduce runoff and improve groundwater quality. The property now has a large composting project underway, and the farm recently acquired an industrial-sized freezer for preserving food.

Before 2009, Civic Works – and Baltimore itself – had little experience with urban agriculture. Corpsmembers and staff attended workshops, conferences, and training sessions to learn how to make the farm successful. Now, through plenty of hard work from Corpsmembers, Civic Works staff, and Baltimore volunteers, Real Food Farm is giving back to the community in big ways.

2013 Project of the Year, Proving Our Parenting Skills (POPS) of EOC/Fresno LCC


About two years ago, the 70 people attending a Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC) orientation session were asked to rate how involved their fathers had been in their lives. They could choose to rank their dads as either “heroes or zeroes.” Sadly, over 80 percent of participants said their fathers were zeroes because they simply hadn’t been present. According to countyhealthrankings.org, there are over 99,000 single parent households in Fresno, most of which are headed by mothers. LCC consistently serves a large number of gang-affiliated youth whose fathers have never been present. Because many young Corpsmembers are fathers themselves, and because LCC’s mission as a Service Corps is to assist youth in finding personal stability, LCC saw it as their duty to help stop this cycle of absent fathers. The Proving Our Parenting Skills (POPS) program was born. 


In September 2011, LCC and its umbrella organization, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), received a $2.5 million federal Responsible Fatherhood grant. The first year of the three year grant ended in September 2012. Over the course of the POPS program, the Corps hopes to serve 1,400 fathers (age 30 and under) from the City of Fresno. LCC created partnerships with over ten local organizations to help recruit POPS participants and assist in program facilitation. These partners include the Fresno Housing Authority, the Fresno County Department of Child Support Services, childhood development organizations, veteran organizations, a domestic violence prevention center, numerous churches, and various nonprofits that respectively serve unemployed youth, homeless youth, and gang-involved youth.

The grant provides funding for 20 young fathers to take part in POPS while simultaneously learning vocational skills and earning their high school diplomas through the standard LCC program. POPS participants complete the 24/7 DAD comprehensive fatherhood curriculum, CHOICES anger management classes, and Love Notes relationship-building classes with their child’s mother. The fathers can also take advantage of POPS family activities, such as “Daddy Days,” that provide opportunities for children and fathers to interact through Zumba classes, First Book Reading Nights, cooking classes, and other family-friendly activities.


In addition to the core twenty fathers in the POPS program, over 35 other Corpsmembers (male and female) as well as numerous veterans have access to POPS services. This includes anger management classes, family story-time, free diapers and wipes, children’s clothing, and picture books. Young men who complete the core aspects of the POPS program can build their leadership skills as POPS Ambassadors. These father Ambassadors mentor fellow dads and participate in a variety of activities that bring together fathers from the community to discuss their shared issues. Ambassadors also have the opportunity to receive advocacy training.


Those who participate in POPS come away with increased confidence in their parenting and relationship skills, a greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities, and enhanced communications skills. POPS fathers have the mindset needed to emotionally stabilize their families, as well as the vocational skills to begin providing for their families. These young men are given the tools and training to become heroes for their children, or in the case of veterans, become reintegrated into the family structure. The program is an asset to the community and hopes to grow through a developing relationship with the Men and Boys of Color Movement.

2013 Project of the Year, Flying Weed Warriors of LACC


What do helicopters, paintball guns, and inner city youth have to do with invasive plant removal? A lot actually. Corps often engage in projects to fight the advance of non-native species in our parks and forests, but Corpsmembers involved in Los Angeles Conservation Corps’s Flying Weed Warriors project quite literally went to battle against invasive plants.

Invasive plant removal usually involves Corpsmembers trekking through forests to cut down or pull out the offending species. What makes the Flying Weed Warriors project different is that they used a cutting-edge land management technique known as Herbicide Ballistic Technology (HBT). HBT involves shooting paintballs filled with high concentrations of herbicide from modified paintball guns. Shooting the guns from a helicopter enables all infestations to be accessed and treated quickly. Using the helicopter also provided an ideal vantage point to detect any new invasive species. Corpsmembers with the Flying Weed Warriors project used HBT to treat over 100 pampas grass infestations on Santa Cruz Island – the largest and most biologically diverse of California’s eight Channel Islands.

Flying Weed Warriors was made possible through the collaborative efforts of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, The Nature Conservancy Santa Cruz Island Preserve, the University of Hawaii, Native Range, Inc., and the generous support of the JiJi foundation. In addition to successfully helping stop the spread of a harmful species in one of America’s most environmentally unique areas, the partnerships of the Flying Weed Warriors project connected a wide range of people who otherwise would have never met.

“Although the project’s focus was research based conservation, it also helped bridge educational and socio-economic gaps between participants, leading to friendships and mentorships that would be unlikely without this unique collaboration” said Dan Knapp, Los Angeles Conservation Corps’ Deputy Director. “For this particular project, Corpsmembers were not just a labor force or mechanism for successful conservation work; they were members of a cutting edge research team.”

In many ways, the Flying Weed Warriors project was an eye-opening experience for the Corpsmembers involved. Before the project, none of the Corpsmembers had ever been to the Channel Islands, ridden on a boat, or flown in a helicopter. During their down time, Corpsmembers went snorkeling and explored the island – a place that has many endemic (and endangered) plant and animal species. The project was also an eye-opener for the researchers involved. Corpsmembers and researchers, including Dr. James Leary from University of Hawaii and Dr. Guy Keiser from University of California Davis, all lived together for up to four days at a time. This allowed members of the academic community to engage and teach members of a historically disenfranchised population.

Corpsmembers involved in Flying Weed Warriors participated in important research that supports efforts to get the use of HBT permitted throughout California. One of the project partners, Native Range, Inc., is now eager to hire Corpsmember participants once they receive State Herbicide application licenses. Native Range has even offered to help with preparation for the state licensing test.

In addition to gaining exposure to new places, new ideas, and new kinds of people, Corpsmembers in the Flying Weed Warriors project simply had a lot of fun. After all, what’s not to like about flying around in helicopters with paintball guns in the name of science?

 

Announcing The Corps Network's 2013 Award Winners

We received many excellent nominations this year for our Corpsmember of the Year, Project of the Year, and Legacy Achievement Awards. We thank all of those who applied and submitted nominations. Without further ado, those who will be honored at our upcoming 2013 National Conference include...

Legacy Achievement Award
Marilee Eckert
Ira Okun
John Irish
 
Projects of the Year
Flying Weed Warriors – LA Conservation Corps
POPS – Fresno Local Conservation Corps
Real Food Farm – Civic Works 
 
Corpsmembers of the Year
Jesse Roehm – Mile High Youth Corps
Alex Hreha – Coconino Rural Environment Corps
Luis Gaeta – Fresno Local Conservation Corps
Sarah Huff – California Conservation Corps
Raghda Raphael – Urban Corps of San Diego
Brandon Penny - Civicorps

Congratulations to all of the winners! We will look forward to sharing their stories over the coming weeks and months with you.

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.

 

2007 Project of the Year: Historic Island Trail Restoration

 

Winner: Coconino Rural Environment Corps

The Coconino Rural Environment Corps, whose mission is in part, “To carry on the tradition of the Civilian Conservation Corps”, has been working in partnership with the Flagstaff Area Monuments for several years to repair and rehabilitate the historic Island Trail.  The Island Trail is a strenuous one-mile loop whose 185 vertical foot descent deep into the canyon is made possible by over 200 stone and concrete steps.  Originally built by the CCC, these steps have slowly degraded from use and the freeze-thaw processes active in the 7000 foot climate.  During 2006, CREC members had the great honor of literally following in the footsteps of the CCC by taking on the daunting task of restoring the Island Trail stairs.

Between July and September of 2006, 40 CREC AmeriCorps members contributed 2,961 hours of service to the restoration of the Island Trail stairs over 10 project weeks, through funding awarded by the Arizona State Parks’ Recreational Trails Program (RTP).  Crews began by demolishing the remnants of 78 decomposing steps and manually hauling the debris out of the canyon via the 185 foot near vertical climb.  During this phase, crews uncovered much of the original CCC rock work which had been unfortunately encased in concrete in years since construction.  Additionally, crews uncovered CCC period beverage cans evidently either used as filler, or simply forgotten as trash.  Subsequent crews manually transported 20,880 pounds or more than 10 tons of concrete and over 400 gallons down the trail using backpack haulers.  Members built 25 retaining walls and other erosion control structures and formed and poured more than 90 steps in 4 separate flights of stairs.

As of the close of this season, CREC members have restored nearly half of the more than 200 stairs on the Island Trail.  With additional RTP funding available pending necessary approvals and clearances, CREC looks forward to continued collaboration with Flagstaff Area Monuments and to the eventual full restoration of the CCC’s historic Island Trail.

2008 Project of the Year: Yellowstone River Clean-Up

 

Winner: Montana Conservation Corps

This summer, the Montana Conservation Corps teamed-up with the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council (YRCDC) and dozens of other groups to pull-off the longest recorded river clean-up in Montana history – and perhaps in the nation. From its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park to the Missouri River, the Yellowstone flows 551 miles and is the longest un-damned river in the lower 48 states. Although, the Yellowstone is treasured for its outstanding trout fishing, quieter sections for swimming, and dependable sugar beat and alfalfa crop irrigation, the stewardship of her resources falls short at times. Her shores are littered with trash – even in the most remote stretches of this grand and wild river.

For one week, four MCC MontanaYES program youth crews with 24 teenage participants, ages 14 to 16, and their eight AmeriCorps crew leaders, covered the length of the river to clean-up sixty-four public access points.  Each day, community organizations including scout troops, Lion’s Club members, conservation district staff, and other volunteers joined the teens to help with their efforts, logging a total of 325 volunteer days.  In one week, 18,320 pounds of trash and debris was removed from the banks of the Yellowstone River, including 1500 pounds of steel and 5,056 aluminum cans that were recycled, and 90 tires. Other partners included: nonprofit conservation districts representing communities along the river, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, local service clubs, private landowners, and the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund.

2008 Project of the Year: Quality Neighborhoods Improvement Program

Winner: Greater Miami Service Corps

 

Through the Quality Neighborhood Improvement Program (QNIP), Corpsmembers repair and/or install sidewalks in local neighborhoods.  Since April 2007, 16 Corpsmembers have received hands-on experience installing 13,961 linear feet of sidewalk.  This partnership is mutually beneficial to all partners, achieving each entity’s organizational goals.  QNIP enhances property values in inner-city areas, many of which never had sidewalks.  In addition, Corpsmembers are trained and prepared for work opportunities in the construction field, a high growth area in South Florida. 

The partners include: Miami Dade County Board of Commissioners (set-aside funding for youth workforce development opportunities); Community Action Agency (intermediary with that allows Corps to obtain contract); The Office of Capital Management (policy support and tracking of all capital project completion); Miami-Dade Public Works (project oversight and inspections); Rainbow Enterprises (engineering sub-contractor and project superintendent); Miami-Dade Public Schools/Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center (academic, vocational, and GED training/scholarships); Miami Gardens Job Corps (academic and vocational training for co-enrolled youth); and The Greater Miami Service Corps (pre-employment and life skills, work experience, service learning, counseling, educational opportunities, internships, and job placement).

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