Video: Washington Conservation Corps Builds Floating Islands to Save Polluted Lake

Secretary Jewell Kicks Off National Fishing and Boating Week with Earth Conservation Corps

On Monday, June 3, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Rowan Gould at Earth Conservation Corps’s Pump House location on the Anacostia River to kick off a day of recreational and educational activities in recognition of National Fishing and Boating Week. Over 200 students from D.C. metro area elementary and middle schools had the chance to enjoy fishing and boating activities with Secretary Jewell, and learn about fish and wildlife conservation through hands-on activities.

Also participating in the event were Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, and Bob Nixon, founder of Earth Conservation Corps. The staff of Earth Conservation Corps was on hand to demonstrate the organization’s live “osprey-cam,” and introduce visitors to birds of prey from their Raptor Education Program.

The event was sponsored by 13 local and federal government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits. 
 


Secretary Jewell, holding a bird from Earth Conservation Corps's Raptor Education Program, pictured with Daryl Wallace, ECC Media Arts Director 



A boat that took students and guests for a ride down the Anacostia



Earth Conservation Corps Staff Daryl Wallace and Kellie Bolinder giving a demonstration



A fire boat on the Anacostia River puts on a demonstration for the event

Starting Over Out West; How Corey Brown made a future for himself with the help of Mile High Youth Corps

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2010 Corpsmember of the Year,

Corey Brown


Corey receiving his award at The Corps Network 2010 National Conference in Washington, DC. Pictured with David Muraki, California Conservation Corps, and Brigid McRaith, Mile High Youth Corps
 

Corey Brown, a former member of Mile High Youth Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2010 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 Corey and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2010 National Conference.

Corey Brown has one regret about his service with Mile High Youth Corps of Denver Colorado: he wishes he had joined sooner.

“I wish I’d looked into the Corps a long time ago,” said Corey. “…I feel like I could’ve had a better grasp on who I am as a person and also what I like and what I don’t like.”

Corey’s path to the Youth Corps was not an easy one. With his mother suffering from a severe mental illness and his father dealing with serious physical disabilities, Corey had to assume many responsibilities at a young age. He did the family shopping, cleaned the house, and earned money to pay the bills. Even while he was in college he continued to juggle a full course load, work, and family obligations. As Corey said, he was burnt out, depressed, and worried that he didn’t have room to make any mistakes.

Corey realized it wasn’t healthy or productive for him to live this way. Fortunately, one of Corey’s mentors moved to Colorado and offered him a place to stay in Denver. Corey knew he owed it to himself to at least consider the offer. He eventually decided that the best thing he could do for himself was leave school, leave New Jersey, and head out to Colorado.

“It was a really, really hard decision. I basically just got up and left with the clothes on my back and a few things and a little bit of money in my bank account. It took me probably a good year to really finally make the decision and go all in,” said Corey. “I just felt like I was stuck and kind of helpless. I felt like this opportunity, even though it was a pretty huge risk, I only had to gain. I couldn’t really go any further down from where I was at.”

Not long after arriving in Colorado, Corey was referred to Mile High Youth Corps. During his tenure with the Corps, from May 2009 until November 2010, Corey mainly worked with the Corps’s water conservation project. His main job was to install high-efficiency toilets in low-income households throughout Denver. Though Corey admits the work wasn’t glamorous, he learned a lot about the importance of water resources.

Corey was eventually promoted to be a Mile High “alumni mentor.” Having the responsibility to motivate other Corpsmembers and help them work through their problems left a big impression on Corey. He has considered finishing his bachelor’s degree in psychology so he can one day become a licensed counselor.

“I think I look back at my own personal story and see how having mentors and counselors in my life meant a lot. If I didn’t have those few people I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Corey. “I wouldn’t have the confidence I now have. I wouldn’t be as successful. So knowing that one person can make such a big difference in somebody else’s life is what interests me in this work the most.”

After leaving Mile High, Corey spent about a year weatherizing homes in Denver and Arapahoe County with the organization Veterans Green Jobs. He then transitioned to his current position as a maintenance tech with a nonprofit that provides housing for single-parent families facing homelessness. Corey is responsible for helping with the upkeep of the organization’s 100,000 square feet of property. In his spare time, Corey volunteers his maintenance skills by providing general upkeep services for a local church. He is also looking into volunteering with the Denver rape crisis center – an organization he feels strongly about and has donated to in the past.

Right now, Corey is focused on becoming a wind energy technician. He begins classes with Ecotech Institute in Colorado in January 2013. His goal for now is to get his degree from Ecotech in the next two years and start building his career as a wind tech.

Corey says his decision to pursue a career in the green sector was inspired by his time with the Corps. He was always interested in the environment, but his Corps experience made him more passionate about conservation. However, a career path is not the only thing Corey gained from Mile High, however.

“I think probably the biggest impact was on my confidence level. I feel like before I came out to Colorado I was very passive…I’d been through a lot and didn’t have the confidence that I should’ve had,” said Corey. “Going through the Corps and being promoted, just knowing that I could be really good at what I do and be well-liked by my coworkers and peers I think was definitely a huge confidence-builder for me.”

To young people thinking about joining a corps, Corey says:

“I would recommend that if you are interested in corps at all you should definitely look into it as soon as possible. It’s more than just a job. I would just recommend using it for everything it’s worth. I know a lot of Corpsmembers do look at it as just a job and they don’t use all the other resources that a corps can offer. There’s a lot of networking that’s available and a lot of educational opportunities.”

 

A former Corpsmember starts his own conservation group

 

Where are they now? - Catching up with 2005 Corpsmember of the Year,
Diony Gamoso


Diony working on Peralta Creek

Diony Gamoso, formerly of Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay), won Corpsmember of the Year in 2005 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Diony and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2005 National Conference.

Diony Gamoso has always loved nature and animals. He studied wildlife biology in college and spent the first four or five years after graduation working as a wildlife field biologist. He then accepted a 3-month-long internship doing habitat restoration in San Francisco through the San Francisco Natural Areas program. Around this time, Diony was also working intermittently for the Student Conservation Association. A friend took notice of Diony’s interest in environmental preservation and suggested he might find value in working for the Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay, CCNB). Diony checked online and noticed that the Corps was hiring Crew Leaders. He decided to give the program a try.

“I thought I’d be there for maybe a year or even just six months so I could get some valuable experience under my belt and then move on,” said Diony. “I was thinking at the time that this would just be a steppingstone. But then I ended up staying there for about three years.”

During his first year with CCNB, Diony worked in the field doing flood control, fire fuel reduction, irrigation, and various other land management projects. He made it clear to his supervisors from the very beginning that his main interests were in habitat restoration and environmental education. To give Diony some teaching experience, the Corps offered him a position with Project Regeneration; CCNB’s summer youth program for Marin County high school kids. Diony organized educational field trips and led program participants in service learning projects. Diony went back to being a Crew Leader at the end of the summer, but his supervisors wanted to help him in fulfilling his ambition to become a teacher. He was soon promoted to Education Department Assistant.

“I felt like the culture of the Corps was to find opportunities for people. Any time there was a new project that came along, or a new position they thought I might be interested in, the Corps would say, ‘Hey, you should apply to this!’” said Diony. “Basically they just kept on opening up new opportunities for me within the Corps and I really felt useful and needed, so I stuck around.”

Diony spent the rest of his time with the Corps in the Education Department. As a field teacher he taught CCNB crews about watershed, habitats, fire ecology – basically any of the science related to their field work. Diony also helped in the classroom teaching English as a Second Language to Latino students and tutoring Corpsmembers in math, science, and reading. During his last six months with CCNB, Diony was simultaneously enrolled at Dominican University to get his California teaching credential in secondary school science. He left the Corps in 2006 to focus on his studies. After receiving his teaching credential, Diony spent a little over a year teaching physical science and biology at Berkeley High School. However, he soon decided that as much as he valued education, he was happiest in the field.

For the past three years, Diony has worked seasonally as a biological science technician doing habitat restoration in the Presidio park of San Francisco. He took the job because he felt it would give him more experience in conservation while also providing plenty of time for him to pursue other projects. Diony has taken advantage of this extra time to reestablish a creek group in his neighborhood in Oakland. The group was established about a decade ago, but interest soon faded. Diony can take credit for reviving Friends of Peralta Creek and turning it into the growing organization that it is today. Friends of Peralta Creek has organized field trips for over 300 youth and has engaged between 50 – 100 adult volunteers in events and creek restoration projects.

“The focus is on bringing native plants back to the Peralta Creek watershed. But combined with that is education about watersheds in general and how we can protect the creeks from being polluted, and how we’re connected to the ocean through the creek,” said Diony. “…I became interested in this kind of education as I worked in the environmental field. I think I realized just how disconnected so many people are from the nature that’s around them. So I guess I had a desire to make a difference and get kids involved in learning about all this nature that’s right there.”          

Diony says the skills he learned at CCNB are definitely still relevant to his work in the Presidio and with Friends of Peralta Creek. It was at CCNB that he learned how to build willow walls and brush mattresses. Diony still teaches youth and volunteers about these erosion control mechanisms and still uses them in his work today. Diony was recently offered a year-round, fulltime job doing habitat restoration in the Presidio for the next two years.    

Diony is confident he would’ve found his way into conservation even if he had never found CCNB, but he says he is grateful that the Corps helped expand his horizons and gave him a place to get hands-on experience in the work he now does for a living.          

“The Corps changed my perspective a lot about people with different backgrounds...it helped me connect with a lot of people who I might not normally associate with in my regular social circles,” said Diony. “I loved the sense of community there. I would say there was a certain kind of love in the Corps – not necessarily like a warm and fuzzy kind of love, but in the sense that everyone really cared for each other and went the extra mile to help each other out.”

To youth considering joining a Corps, Diony says:     

“a) Good idea! I got so much out of it and I think that practical work experience is so important….I felt that the Corps was a great place for getting some solid job skills. It’s just very good, practical experience…and b) My words of wisdom would be that you should let people know what it is that you hope to get out of your Corps experience and where you’re trying to go next. My experience with the Corps was that as soon as they found out what my goals were, every opportunity that arose that was related to what I was interested in, they would offer it to me. I was very thankful for that.”

 

 

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, Oscar Alejandro Marquina



Oscar A. Marquina, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his leadership skills and commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Oscar and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Do rivers and lakes need regular health checkups just like people do? Ask Oscar Marquina.

“Basically I am a water doctor,” said Oscar. “I travel around doing different examinations making sure my patients - rivers and lakes - recover their health or stay healthy.”

Oscar, a former member of the Utah Conservation Corps, is currently interning with the Utah Division of Water Quality. Prior to this internship, he worked as a laboratory technician at the Utah Research Water Lab. Oscar has visited over 40 lakes throughout the state of Utah, collecting water samples and checking various water quality parameters. All this experience and Oscar is still just 23 years old.

Oscar and his family emigrated from Venezuela to the United States in 2001. Seven years later, Oscar was fluent in English and serving as one of two original Crew Leaders for the Utah Conservation Corps’ Bilingual Youth Corps (BYC). With his language skills and his ability to relate with the growing Latino population of Northern Utah, Oscar became instrumental in making the Bilingual Youth Corps a success. He translated informational brochures into Spanish, held orientation meetings in Spanish, and conducted interviews for potential Corpsmembers in both English and Spanish. 

“It wasn’t until I left [the Corps] that I realized I helped in laying the structure for future BYC programs,” said Oscar. “I didn’t think all the minute logistical details we discussed would help in future years. It is definitely a pleasant surprise knowing the heart and effort I had given for a summer program was then duplicated every summer after the first.”

Before joining the Utah Conservation Corps, Oscar loved the outdoors but he had never considered the amount of work that goes into the conservation projects needed to preserve parks and trails. Oscar joined the Corps simply because it seemed like it would be fun to spend his summer vacation in a setting where he could exercise his bilingual skills. Now, however, Oscar feels that the Corps can offer a lot more than just a fun summer job.

“For those who are new to this country, the Bilingual Youth Corps is ideal for many reasons. First it teaches Corpsmembers ownership of their new community through service and travel. To someone who is learning the language, it will speed up the education process by creating unique opportunities and interactions outside the classroom,” said Oscar. “It is also important to allow new immigrants to express themselves in their native tongue which may have been restricted at schools or other jobs simply because of the non-bilingual dynamics of such institutions.”

In preparation for when his internship ends in October 2012, Oscar has been networking, filling out applications and going to interviews. He wants to gain work experience before he eventually returns to school. Oscar graduated from Utah State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, and he is now interested in pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree.

Oscar’s time in the Corps may have ended in 2010, but he is still involved in service opportunities. He recently finished a tutoring position at a Utah high school where he helped students – most of them Latinos or Burmese refugees – with their homework and ACT preparation.

“My goal at the moment is to find a job that allows me to help communities and people,” said Oscar. “I would love to work for a company that allows me to travel and use my Spanish skills.”

Oscar says one of the things he loved most about his experience with the Corps was getting to meet interesting people from all walks of life. He says he feels like each individual BYC member he worked with stands out in his mind. He is still good friends with many of these members; they follow each other on Facebook and get together to hangout. He also stops by the Utah Conservation Corps offices to say hello to the staff whenever he is nearby.

To young people thinking of joining a service or conservation corps, Oscar says:

“If you have not figured out what exact experience you need in life, but you have the heart and drive to volunteer and provide a service to your community, the corps will be a way to seize the day and gain inspiration and illumination for any future endeavors.”

 

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.

2009 Project of the Year: Reducing Water Use in Denver

Winner: Mile High Youth Corps

With utility rates rising and the threat of drought, Colorado-based Mile High Youth Corps tackled the issue of saving water through its Water Conservation Program. In partnership with Denver Water, Mile High Youth Corps developed the Water Conservatin Program in 2007 to help low-income households, nonprofit agencies, affordable housing complexes and faith-based institutins across the metro area save water and lower their utility costs while promoting water conservation. Small teams of Corpsmembers are dispatched to area homes and agenices to replace toilets using more than 3.5 gallons of water per flush with high-efficiency toilets (HETs), which only use one gallon per flush.

"The crew was friendly, professional, fast and thoroughly explained everything," said William Fitzwater, a Denver Water client who received his free toilet earlier this year.

The Water Conservation Program grew out of MHYC's Energy Conservation Project with the Governor's Energy Office (GEO). In 2006, MHYC began working with GEO to install low-cost energy saving measures in the homes of 2,000 clients of the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). Corpsmembers fit kitchen and bathroom faucets with low-flow aerators, installed water-efficient showerheads and assessed homes for water leaks. This year, the Water Conservation Program expects to double the 854 HETs installed in 2007. Typically, households see a 15 percent reduction in their water bills.

A key component of the program is Corpsmember and client education. MHYC Corpsmembers receive comprehensive environmental education and techinal training. They also gain the skills and experience needed to be successful in today's workforce - especially the ever-grrowing Green Jobs industry. 

2010 Project of the Year: The Dolores River Restoration Program

Winner: Canyon Country Youth Corps

Region-wide conservation removing invasive species and restoring native vegetation has been planned and will be carried out in a five-year action plan thanks to a unique partnership between Canyon Country Youth Corps (CCYC) and Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC): The Dolores River Restoration Program. The catalyst for the project was The Walton Family Foundation's Freshwater Initiative - and through technical guidance and funding, the Foundation expects to expand its efforts to four other tributaries of the Colorado River.

SCC and CCYC provided each Corpsmember with over 120 hours of training in chainsaw operations, basic GPC monitoring and data collection, river ecology, noxious weed identification, and introductory herbicide application training. Crews have contributed 4,500 hours monitoring and treating over 34 river miles. At the end of the program, SCC and CCYC assisted Corpsmembers in connecting with federal jobs.

These two initial Corps - SCC and CCYC - expect to codify the program model for replication by other Corps across the Colorado River Basin and other similar areas.

2012 Project of the Year: Paddle the Los Angeles River

 

Winner: LA Conservation Corps

The LA River is an important ecological, economic, and social concern of agencies and entities at federal, state, regional and local levels. It was recently included as one of seven city waterways in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, which spotlights federal efforts to connect city neighborhoods to the water.

Last year, the City of Los Angeles passed a motion requesting a report to investigate the feasibility of a pilot project for non-motorized boating on the Los Angeles River. The LA Conservation Corps (LA Corps), working with a variety of governmental entities and interest groups at all levels, developed a proposal for boating on the River within the Sepulveda Basin. The project, entitled Paddle the LA River, focused on safety, access, and environmental education. The U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued a license to the LA Corps, which allowed ten weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) of river access: from July 22 to September 25, 2011. The innovative pilot program represented the first time such an endeavor had ever been accomplished legally on the LA River.

The Paddle the LA River website went live on August 9, 2011 at 7:00 a.m. PST and within the first 10 minutes of launch, all 280 available seats sold out. During the first week of the program, the waiting list surpassed 350 people. To date, close to 1,000 people have signed-up on list-serve. These numbers clearly indicate that there is overwhelming interest by the general public for recreational activities such as this along the river.

The pilot program gave eight Corpsmembers the opportunity to paddle their way into a historical chapter in the revitalization of the LA River. The program also provided them with leadership skills, educational awareness, and knowledge of the River, enhancing their appreciation for wildlife and encouraging ongoing stewardship. Corpsmembers received a one-week certified training on River & Flood Water Rescue, Swift Water Rescue, and Low Angle Rope Rescue by certified staff from Mountain Recreation and Conservancy Authority (MRCA). The Corpsmembers and staff also received First Aid CPR training along with basic canoe and kayaking skills. Two educational workshops covered the river’s history, current management and governance, flora and fauna, water supply, water quality, and other related watershed issues. Corpsmembers benefited from scheduled guest speakers from a variety of government agencies and non-profit organizations who provided a wide range of expertise involved in LA River efforts.

As part of the project, a survey was developed to obtain participant feedback about their paddling experience and to measure the success of the program. Eighty-eight (88) participants completed the survey. When asked if the pilot program should be permitted to continue, 100% of respondents said “yes.” 100% of respondents also agreed that the program should be made permanent. All 88 participants indicated that the program impacted the environment positively while 98% found the program very informative.

As an additional note, a press conference was held to announce the launch of the Paddle the LA River project. The mainstream media was present in force. Local and international media provided exposure to a river that is normally seen as waste channel that guides water runoff as quickly away from the city as possible. These collective awareness measures helped raise consciousness of a presence of a river that exists within the city, containing a whole ecosystem, wildlife, plus water that connects and drains into the ocean. This media coverage was estimated to have been worth several million dollars. Several notable news outlets who produced reports about the project include NBC LA, ABC, the BBC, Univision, CNN, Time Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR), The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Huffington Post among many others.

As a result of the success of Paddle the LA River project, the LA Conservation Corps has been asked by city officials, river organizations, and community members to continue and expand the project in 2012.

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)

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