How a Former Corpsmember Helps Current Corpsmembers: Mike Bridges' rise from Corpsmember to Supervisor


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,
Michael Bridges


Mike receiving his award at The Corps Network 2006 National Conference in Washington, DC
 

Michael Bridges, formerly a Corpsmember with Conservation Corps of Long Beach, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 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 Mike and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2006 National Conference.

Michael Bridges followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined Conservation Corps of Long Beach in 2003. Mike had recently dropped out of high school and thought that becoming a Corpsmember would be a good way to get back on track.  

“I saw how it was changing the lives of some of the Corpsmembers and I realized really quickly that it was a second chance for me to get things going in own my life,” said Mike.

Mike progressed quickly at CCLB, ultimately moving through eight levels of the program. He served as a member of the Corps Council, was awarded seven Outstanding Achievement Awards, and earned more than $5,000 through the AmeriCorps Education Awards Program and the CCLB scholarship fund. Mike was so respected by his peers that they nominated him to speak at the CCLB graduation.

Though he had sometimes struggled in the traditional school system and subsequently dropped out, Mike felt that attending classes through CCLB was a positive and rewarding experience. He obtained his high school diploma within just one year of joining the Corps.

“There were fewer students than in a regular high school so we got a lot more attention than we would from the teachers in a traditional school. We got a lot more one-on-one attention,” said Mike.

Within a few years of receiving his diploma, Mike was promoted to a Supervisor position with CCLB. He’s been with the Corps ever since.

“What’s kept me here is that I’ve kind of grown into my position,” said Mike. “I like working with young people and trying to make a difference in their lives. I’m just trying to help give them that second chance that somebody once gave me. So I’m basically just returning the favor.”

As a Supervisor, Mike teaches new Corpsmebers some of the skills he learned from his own Supervisors when he was a Corpsmember. Among other projects, Mike has led his crews in landscaping, habitat restoration, stream cleaning, and litter and weed abatement efforts.

“None of my days are average working with young people, but basically I a) Ensure my Corpsmembers are safe when working in the field, and b) Ensure that they do the project properly,” said Mike. “I educate them and teach them not only the various skills that we use out in the field, but I also educate them in how to conduct themselves as young adults should. So it’s basically the whole gambit…I teach them work skills, but also work habits, like how to be responsible and how to become a productive employee.”

Though he was an extremely successful Corpsmember, Mike says that he has achieved his greatest accomplishments with CCLB as a Supervisor. For Mike, it is very gratifying to see his Corpsmembers get promoted within the Corps or move on to a post-secondary education opportunity.

“Training new people and actually having them succeed and receive additional promotions…that’s a great feeling, that’s what makes me feel the most accomplished,” said Mike.

Having been a Corpsmember himself, Mike feels like he’s in a good position to understand what his crewmembers might be experiencing. Still, being a Supervisor is very different from being a Corpsmember.

“When I was just a Corpsmember, I was more worried about just getting my life back on track and doing the assignment in front of me. Now, as a Supervisor, I have to show a lot of leadership and focus on changing the lives of the Corpsmembers and actually educating them,” said Mike. “I almost feel like a parent when I’m around my Corpsmembers…They have a lot of things going on in their lives and in some cases I have to step in and be the parent for a Corpsmember. So I’m in more of a role model position versus when I was concerned just with myself and my own future back when I was a Corpsmember.”

Mike’s busy schedule has prevented him from finding the time to use the scholarship money he received as a Corpsmember, but he plans to eventually earn some kind of higher degree. He knows he wants to continue working in conservation and hopefully earn positions with greater levels of responsibility. For the foreseeable future he is very content to stay with Conservation Corps Long Beach.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Mike says:

“Just don’t lose sight of your goal and the reason why you came into the Corps. Don’t worry about what other people might be telling you – just stay out of the drama. Keep sight of your goal of getting your high school diploma and take advantage of the second chance that you’ve been offered. Just keep focused.”

Corpsmember Success Story: American YouthWorks Alum Builds on the Skills he Learned in the Corps

 


Taken from the American YouthWorks Newsletter

"American YouthWorks does a lot to help people, in all kinds of ways."  Jeremy M.

Jeremy already has his high school diploma when he came to American YouthWorks (AYW) in 2010, but he was 22 years old, had a two-year-old daughter, and was living in his car. He had been unemployed for over a year.

Jeremy’s grandmother, who had raised him and his siblings, was unable to help him financially. Jeremy also had issues in his past that made it difficult for him to find employment or housing.    

He was at a loss.  

People would tell me that they wanted to hire me, but they weren't able because of my background checks. No matter what I did, I always got the same answer."  

A friend told Jeremy about AYW's job training programs.  In these programs, participants learn hard and soft job skills, give back to their community, earn a small living stipend and receive an educational award for college expenses.  Jeremy applied and was accepted. He was relieved to have found a job and ended up learning and serving at AYW for almost two years.  

Jeremy credits AYW for giving him the job skills and life skills that have helped him be successful today.  

"The staff want to make sure the students have the foundation to thrive," said Jeremy

During the “Mental Toughness” orientation to AYW, Jeremy was told that the hardest part of the job would be showing up every day and being on time; this made a big impression on him and he learned that he could do it.  He acquired skills in carpentry, house framing and construction.  He also learned to be patient, observant, responsible and detail oriented.  

"Details in building a house are extremely important,” said Jeremy. “An error of 1/8th of an inch could mean the difference between finishing the cabinets, or having to tear them down to start all over again."  

Most importantly, Jeremy learned that he was a leader.   

While he was learning construction skills, Jeremy was improving his community by building affordable, five star, energy efficient homes for low-income home buyers and weatherizing and repairing existing homes for low-income Austin residents.

During his time at AYW, Jeremy earned educational awards totaling nearly $4,000 and was honored with a $2,000 scholarship from YouthBuild USA for his leadership and public service.  These awards, along with encouragement from AYW staff, made all the difference in Jeremy's choice to pursue higher education.  

"I wasn't planning on going to college.  AYW helped me make that decision,” said Jeremy.  

Jeremy says that when he first came to AYW, he was just coming for the job, but he received so much more.   Today, Jeremy is in his 5th semester of classes with Austin Community College and working full-time for the City of Austin's Public Works Department.  

Now, Jeremy has choices.  

When asked who Jeremy goes to for advice, he replied, "AYW! Even though I'm not in the program anymore, the staff are who I come to for support and guidance".  

Corpsmember Success Story: Justin Quintana-Scott - Paying it Forward

From the Colorado Youth Corps Association

When Justin Quintana-Scott’s home in Beulah, Colo. was destroyed in a fire in January 2012, he lost not only his house, but his two dogs as well. The mountain community of Beulah came forward in support by holding a fundraiser and erecting a memorial – gestures Justin will never forget. He is repaying his community’s kindness in part through his involvement with Mile High Youth Corps-Pueblo.

“I saw how my community stepped up and pulled together to help us out. It inspired me to help more,” says Justin, who joined Mile High Youth Corps in June.

A member of the Apache and Navajo Indian tribes, Justin is a sophomore at Colorado State University in Pueblo. He is studying wildlife biology (he made the Dean’s List this year) and has dreams of working for the Division of Parks and Wildlife.

He is getting valuable work experience through youth corps, building on an innate interest in the outdoors. “I’ve always been around wildlife – including bears, deer and mountain lions. I’d like to work closely with wildlife, and make it so that the next generation will have access to that too,” he says.

Justin’s crew is braving the scorching Colorado temperatures clearing corridors along the Arkansas River Trail and the Fountain Creek River Trail. By ridding the area of Russian olive trees – an invasive species and daily consumer of more than 30 gallons of river water – Mile High Youth Corps is “making the Pueblo nature scene more friendly to the public and pleasing to the eye.”

Justin is working toward an AmeriCorps scholarship to help pay for college. To achieve his goal, he needs to complete 300 hours of work with the youth corps. But to Justin, this is more than just work. “We’re always smiling, not because it’s a job, but because everyone on my team wants to be there.”

Justin and his family are rebuilding their life with a new house in Pueblo, and he is setting an example for youth with a positive outlook. “I like that in youth corps, we’re helping out the community and setting a positive role model for the youth of Pueblo. It’s altogether fun and enjoyable, and makes me feel good to be a positive influence.”

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." 

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: James Zmudzinski


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

James dreams of owning an auto mechanic shop. One year ago, this dream seemed to be only that - a dream. Working since age 15, James was struggling to obtain a stable income, lacking his high school diploma and auto mechanic's certificate. He heard about the 5-day orientation the LCC (EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps) led and decided to attend, quickly becoming a vital crew member in the Flood Control Basin Maintenance Program.

Working in 127 degree heat while fighting off snakes, James maintained an extremely positive attitude towards work and his fellow crew members. His supervisor described him as a self-starter. James routinely led the safety meetings for his crew. He made use of the classes offered by LCC and found the financial strategy class of particular interest. In addition to working and taking night classes, James is only 26 credits away from obtaining his high school diploma after completing 47 credits in the past year. He has completed his 900 hour AmeriCorps Education Award and has earned $2,365.50 towards furthering his education. He is currently working towards completing a full-time award to earn an additional $4,725.

All of this hard work reflects his desire to be a good father. He is even using the Individual Development Account to save money for his shop. Expecting his first child, James said his main goal is to "be a person who my son could look up to."

James is grateful for the new start the corps gave him. He said, "I do no know where I would be without the LCC. Before I came to LCC the only light at the end of the tunnel was hope and it was fading quickly. It was the hope that somehow I would be able to earn my high school diploma and an auto technician certificate in order to better support my family, and hope that I would one day be able to live my dream of owning my own shop."

(written in 2006)

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Yvette Chischillie

As a Corpsmember with the Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) in Durango, CO, Yvette was part of a Special Diabetes Project of the Navajo Nation, led a crew in constructing a brand new trail in the Chuska Mountains of New Mexico and was a leader of the Wild Fire Prevention Program.

Yvette was the first SCC Corpsmember from the Navajo Nation and her positive experience inspired so many to apply in the following years that there are now more applications from the Navajo Nation than there are available member spots.

Yvette graduated from vocational school in welding in bricklaying and plans to use her AmeriCorps education award to go into a apprenticeship program in bricklaying.

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Rosalio "Lio" Cardenas

 

(Written in 2007 - update at the bottom)

Rosalio took an unusual path to becoming a Corpsmember.  After spending two and a half semesters working towards a civil engineering degree at San Diego State University, and working much of that time in the university library and as a math and science tutor, Rosalio decided his college experience was lacking.  In the CCC, Rosalio saw his opportunity to work outdoors, provide a valuable service to his state, meet new people from various backgrounds, and earn scholarship money to assist him in completing his degree in the future. 

As a CCC corpsmember, Rosalio initially engaged in fire hazard reduction work, removing burned and dead trees from communities hard hit by the San Diego wildfires of 2000.  In early spring with heavy rains threatening flooding and mudslides, Rosalio and his crewmembers again served their communities by working tirelessly to divert debris, flood waters, and mud from residential neighborhoods.  Because of his high standards for performance and eagerness to assist others, Rosalio quickly established himself as a leader among his peers.  By April, Rosalio was ready for the next challenge that the CCC had to offer: the Backcountry Trails Program.

Choosing to leave the comforts of home life in southern California, Rosalio joined a crew of 15 Corpsmembers who committed themselves to spending 22 weeks living and working in the wilderness of Klamath National Forest.  The trials faced by backcountry Corpsmembers are daunting, but once again Rosalio was unflinching in his determination to meet them.  Rosalio stood out not only for the unprecedented results he achieved on the grade, but also for the amount of time he committed to performing communal chores and providing mentoring and guidance to his fellow crewmembers. He went beyond expectations by creating an extensive evening curriculum program aimed at developing a greater sense of community, environmental awareness, and communication skills.   His compassion, integrity, and consideration for others were widely respected among his peers and earned him the moniker, “Papa Leo.”  Peter Lewis, the CCC’s Backcountry Trails Supervisor, said of Rosalio “in the 28 years we have been sending Corpsmembers to the backcountry, I can think of no finer person to represent the program or the youth of America.”

Leo now plans to use the AmeriCorps education award he earned with the CCC to finish his degree in Civil Engineering and has applied to the California Highway Patrol so he can continue to make an impact on his peers and community. 

*** Sadly, Rosalio was killed in a motorcycle accident on the morning of Wednesday, December 12, 2012. 

The Corps Network sends condolences to Rosalio’s wife, family, and friends. To honor Rosalio, we have posted the speech he gave at our National Conference in February 2007 upon accepting his Corpsmember of the Year award. 

2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Francisco Vizcarrondo

 

“It’s motivating to see a person who was in desolation and misery, then witness them in their weakness become strong and successful because of their drive to live a better life and improve on the skills and talents they have acquired.” 

Since his enrollment in the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, Francisco has received perfect attendance awards, been recognized as Corpsmember of the Month, earned his high school diploma, and completed a 675-hour term of service resulting in an AmeriCorps Education Award. He gained experience in concrete work, framing, drywall, roofing, landscaping, and sprinkler repair. He was also elected treasurer of the Corpsmember Council of FLCC, as well as the Youth Council at his transitional living center.

Francisco is currently studying Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning at Fresno City College.  It is hard to believe that he is the same person who enrolled in the Corps in December 2006 – a homeless, twice-convicted, drug-addicted high school dropout. 

“The experience has helped me reconstruct my life," said Francisco. "I plan to get certified in HVAC and Carpentry, have my own business, and present opportunities of advancement to others as they have been presented to me.”

2009 Corpsmember of the Year: Tatiana Moore

 

Before coming to the corps, Tatiana was in a downward spiral. She had no high school diploma, was running in the streets, smoking weed, drinking and staying out all night.  Before high school, Tatiana had been good student - she went to classes and did all of her work. Then things turned when she started hanging out with the wrong crowd.  However, the East Bay Conservation Corps, which is now Civicorps, helped change her life.

Tatiana started out working with the Alameda County Flood Control program but she was soon promoted to an internship position with the Recycling program. She eventually worked her way up to being a Crew Leader.  Then, one year into holding the Crew Leader position, Tatiana became pregnant. She thought she was going to have to stop working but, with the support of her crew she was able to continue at her job until the baby was born. After taking a month-long leave of absence, Tatiana came back to the Corps. Two months later, she got another promotion called an "outside internship" at the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA). Tatiana works in the finance department but is interested in pursuing a career in Social Work. She hopes to one day be able to work with at-risk children or children with disabilities. Tatiana said, “If I work with troubled kids I know I can help show them that their life is not over no matter what kind of problem they have.” 

Tatiana is already taking classes at Laney Community College. She plans to use the AmeriCorps scholarship she earned through her service to continue classes at the community college before transferring to a university. 

“I want my son to have the best future possible, everything that I didn’t have," said Tatiana. "I don’t want him to go down the same road I did, though I know kids seem to experiment with life when they get to a certain age.  My plans are to stay in college, get a good paying job working with kids, and I want to be the best mom ever. All this became possible because of Civicorps.”

2010 Corpsmember of the Year: Alejandro Lopez

Alejandro Lopez was incarcerated at the age of 15 for a gang-related drive-by shooting. He lost two years of his life behind bars, and feels he could easily have wound up living a sad stereotype: the son of farm workers, with a criminal record, likely to end up back in jail or worse.

Fortunately, EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps recruited from his class of parolees. In the Corps, the once reserved young man blossomed and recovered from past mistakes.

Alejandro began vocational training on an irrigation crew while attending the Corps’ School of Unlimited Learning. The boy with the record became a man with credentials: earning a high school diploma and AmeriCorps Education Awards which took him to Fresno City College.

In 2009 Alejandro was selected for the Division of Juvenile Justice Outstanding Achievement Award for Juvenile Courts – recognition reserved for young ex-offenders who have changed their lives.

Today Alejandro has reached accomplishments his parents hardly dared dream of. He owns his own home, building a stable family for his child. To give back to others living the life he once had, he works at EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, aiming to grow into a supervisory role.

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