A Corpsmember's Roman Holiday

This story originally appeared in LA Conservation Corps' E-Newsletter

Brian Langston, one of our outstanding corpsmembers who currently works in our Administrative Offices as an IT assistant, recently had the trip of a lifetime. He traveled to Rome, Italy in March for two weeks to run the Rome Marathon and to take in the sights of this historic city.

How did this come about, you ask? Well, it happened by chance, really. While attending Los Angeles Trade Technical College, a surprise speaker by the name of Judge Craig Mitchell came to Brian's class to talk about his difficult beginnings. He chronicled how he overcame the challenges of homelessness and illiteracy to become a school teacher, and then Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. Having a similar background, Brian was inspired by Judge Mitchell's story, and stepped outside of his comfort zone to speak up and ask the judge if they could keep in contact. To this request, Judge Mitchell invited Brian to join the Midnight Mission Running Club that he leads each week.

The rest, as they say, is history. Just by reaching out to a potential mentor for guidance, Brian went from running casually with the group on Skid Row, to running in the 2014 LA Marathon, to running in this year's Rome Marathon. Brian says that he's inspired by all of the generous supporters of his journey, and continues on because he wants to show his supporters that investing in him was worthwhile.

As for his time in Rome, Brian says "it was a dream" and that taking this trip made him realize the importance of coming back to Los Angeles to "do better in life." He also remarked that taking this trip across the pond showed him that world is much bigger than he originally thought. It opened his mind to more things that he wants to do.

Brian hopes to inspire other young people to get involved with the running group, and to help them take advantage of the same life-changing opportunities that made such a wonderful difference in his life.

We look forward to great things from Brian in the future!

To learn more about Judge Mitchell and his running club, check out these links:

Skid Row Marathon
NPR Story: From Skid Row to Rome
LA Weekly Article: Ex-Addicts Head for Rome Marathon

Boiler Plate: 
Brian Langston, a LA Conservation Corps Alum, recently had the trip of a lifetime. He traveled to Rome, Italy in March for two weeks to run the Rome Marathon and to take in the sights of this historic city. How did this come about, you ask? Well, it happened by chance, really.

Your Chance to Win Fantastic Original Artwork & Support The Corps Network

A Very Special Opportunity

We are excited to announce that everyone who donates (or has donated) to The Corps Network’s CrowdRise Holiday Campaign will be entered to win an 11 x 17 inch print depicting original artwork from The Corps Network's new book, Join the Crew: Inspirational Stories of Young Adults in America’s Service and Conservation Corps! 

Through this artwork, we wish to highlight the work that The Corps Network does to tell the stories of the Next Greatest Generation and raise the visibility of our Corpsmembers’ accomplishments. The opportunity to be entered to win the Join the Crew artwork will end on December 31st, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. 

Thank you for supporting The Corps Network and now back to our originally scheduled email...

As participants in the Crowdrise Holiday Challenge, The Corps Network greatly appreciates your donation, which will support our work cultivating the “Next Greatest Generation” of Americans. Each week, we will highlight some of our 2013 accomplishments. In the final week of our campaign, we’re focusing on the work we do to tell the stories of our Corpsmembers – the many inspiring veterans and youth who serve in Corps every year. These Corpsmembers are the next greatest generation of American leaders. 

The Corps Network (TCN) expands the conversation around America’s youth and their stories of struggle, perseverance, and personal success. Every year, America’s Service and Conservation Corps engage over 27,000 young adults in meaningful service projects that provides them with the job skills necessary to pursue a number of careers in the 21st century workforce.

The Corps Network’s new book, Join the Crew: Inspirational Stories of Young Adults in America’s Service and Conservation Corps, tells how over 60 current and former Corpsmembers experienced personal growth and adventure through Corps programs. The chapters in Join the Crew showcase stories of young people from all walks of life who joined Corps to build their resumes; make a fresh start; try something new (like wielding a chainsaw!); help support their families; or re-adjust to society after serving time. A special chapter written by Corpsmembers adds additional insight into how transformational and influential Corps experiences can be. Join the Crew shows how service in Corps programs can help recent graduates find a meaningful career path; help troubled teens find stability; help veterans readjust to civilian life; and help so many others build self-confidence and leadership skills.

Another highlight of The Corps Network’s work in 2013 includes a resolution we introduced in the United States House of Representatives to honor the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and its accomplishments in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the CCC’s creation.

This year, The Corps Network also helped sponsor the National Council of Young Leaders. Created in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, the Council is tasked with informing policymakers, business leaders and funders about the issues faced by America’s young people. Council members 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 offer enormous potential for our economy and our future if they are provided the opportunity to get on track. The Corps Network’s representation on the National Council of Young Leaders brings Corpsmembers to the table to discuss some of America’s most pressing youth-related issues, including access to higher education and fair sentencing in the justice system.

Each year, The Corps Network honors 6 Service and Conservation Corpsmembers whose accomplishments and personal stories exemplify the positive services Corps provide for individuals and communities across the nation. You can click here to read about our Corpsmember of the Year Award winners from 2005 to the present – without question, all of the young men and women who serve in Corps programs have fascinating stories to tell.

Corpsmembers of the Year are selected by members of our Corps Council and honored at The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, D.C. The Corps Network encourages the award winners to continue the legacy of Service and Conservation Corps through our Corps Ambassador Program. This program provides participants the opportunity to access a variety of communications channels, including the chance to have meetings with members of Congress and write op-ed’s for local and national media sources.

We would love your help to continue working on behalf of The Corps Movement! We hope you choose to Channel Your Inner Santa and give to The Corps Network.

The Corps Network

Boiler Plate: 
We are excited to announce that everyone who donates (or has donated) to The Corps Network’s CrowdRise Holiday Campaign will be entered to win an 11 x 17 inch print depicting original artwork from Join the Crew.

Conservation Corps experience boosts skateboard business owner’s prospects

Edgar (pictured in the bottom row, gray shirt) with MCCC members. Also pictured is one of his skateboard deck designs

When he finished his first term as a Corpsmember with Montgomery County Conservation Corps (MCCC) in Silver Spring, MD, Edgar Romero felt it wasn’t time for him to leave the program.

“I wanted to stay because the Corps offers a lot of opportunities that I want to take advantage of,” he said. “I feel like my work here is not done yet. I think I could do a lot more: managing the photos, producing the videos, just making good quality content.”

Edgar is a self-taught expert in video editing and graphic design. He learned these skills in order to grow and promote Spruzi Skateboards, the business he started in September 2012. Edgar now uses his knowledge of editing and design software to help create movies and graphics for MCCC. He even designed a logo for the Corps (see below).

“I’ve always been interested in art and creating,” said Edgar. “My whole life, that’s how it’s been.”

Edgar was part of MCCC’s first cohort during the spring of 2013. He came to Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), MCCC’s parent organization, hoping to obtain his GED. At the time, recruitment was underway for the newly-created Corps and Edgar was a perfect candidate. He was intrigued to learn that becoming a Corpsmember would allow him to continue pursuing his GED while also gaining work skills and earning an income. 

“Basically I was looking for a new experience,” said Edgar. “I’d never really had much interest in conservation work, but I’m glad that I got involved because it’s been great.” 

Edgar enjoys having the opportunity to work on a variety of conservation projects with MCCC, but he says he is most interested in the construction projects. He likes applying math in real world situations.

“I’d say my favorite project was rebuilding a deck,” he said. “It was an old deck and they told us to replace the wood. That involved a lot of measurements and cutting. A lot of precise work. I like doing those types of projects when you have to use your brain to do the job well.”

In the future, Edgar wants to get involved in real estate. He is interested in eventually buying, renovating and selling old houses. For now, he wants to continue building Spruzi Skateboards. He started the business around the time he dropped out of high school (due to the fact that he was too far behind in his credits to realistically graduate on-time). Between leaving school and starting the GED program at LAYC, Edgar focused his energy on Spruzi. He now has a business partner and reports that they experienced no profit loss during their first year.

“I started off by just producing skateboard decks,” said Edgar. “I would design them on the computer and then send them off to the manufacturer. They would print those designs on a piece of wood that was eventually shaped into a skateboard deck. They would mail them back to me and I would sell them out here on the streets…This is something I want to pursue…I can never see myself doing anything else other than running a business.”

Edgar says that MCCC has helped him become a more confident businessman. As a Junior Crew Chief Leader, he has developed his leadership skills. He also enjoys having the opportunity to network and gain experience as a public speaker.

“I remember I did this speech one time for the council members that run programs like MCCC for the county. I had to do a speech in front of them about my experience in this program and what it has done for me,” said Edgar. “I was really nervous to go in front of the room; my heart was beating so fast. But learning how to deal with that should be very important to me because as a businessman that’s something you need to know how to do – talk in front of a lot of people, give them your ideas, and not be scared. If I’m nervous about doing something, I just tell myself, ‘You’ve got to do it.’”

Because he passed the GED exam this past summer, Edgar now has free time to use his unique skills to help promote the Corps. He sometimes spends class days updating the Corps’ Facebook page, curating photos, and editing videos.

Now that he has his GED, Edgar is beginning to research local colleges. He hopes to get his AA degree and eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, maybe in computer science. For the time being, Edgar is happy to continue serving as a Corpsmember with MCCC.

“[This] is a program that I want to be a part of for as long as I can. MCCC is like a family.”  

The Corps Network Releases New Book, Join the Crew: Inspirational Stories of Young Adults in America’s Service and Conservation Corps

Book features over 60 stories about current and former Corpsmembers from over 25 states.

A Corpsmember who survived the Rwandan genocide wins state award in Colorado


Photo taken from The Gazette of Coloardo Springs
Christian Ndushabandi at work - Photo taken from The Gazette 

Taken from The Gazette of Colorado Springs, CO - written by Carol McGraw  

When 19-year-old Christian Ndushabandi receives a Mile High Youth Corps award and gives a speech at the state Capitol Monday before a crowd of legislators, federal officials and others, his mother won’t be there.

Instead, Elise Lukambo is in the hospital having an appendectomy.

“I feel sad that she won’t be there,” Ndushabandi says. But he shrugs it off. A former school teacher, she taught him that in the grand scheme of things such disappointments are not earthshaking. Not like the Rwanda genocide and other warfare that tore the family asunder and set them on a path that has led Ndushabandi to this honorary moment.

Last week, he sat in his family’s Colorado Springs apartment below a photo of his late father.

He’d been working on the talk he will give, and plans to spend a few minutes speaking about his love of conservation. But part of that is how he got here, a journey that began with his family’s terror during the 100 days in 1994 when up to one million were killed in a civil war in which tribal Hutus laid waste to the Tutsis.

“I used to be ashamed to tell about the bad things that occurred. But now I am relieved to talk about it.”

He wants to tell his family’s painful story, he says, because, “The genocide is something not to forget. If people know, maybe it won’t happen again.”

It was early evening in the small city of Gitarama when Tutsis were dragged from their homes and herded into the streets by Hutu killing groups, some of them neighbors, armed with knives and machetes.

Lukambo, who was pregnant, was attacked. A machete cut deep into her shoulder and the back of her head and neck. She fell and was thought dead.

Ndushabandi was only a year old at the time. In the mayhem, his Hutu babysitter pretended he was hers, strapped him to her back and fled the carnage. The toddler was returned to his family two days later.

But it wasn’t over. A week later, his father Cassien Ndushabandi, a superintendent of schools, was murdered in his office.

Lukambo later married her husband’s brother, as is custom. They were living in the Congo, and again the warfare hit. He was killed during the ethnic strife.

Alone with four children, Lukambo sought help from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They ended up in Colorado Springs and received resettlement help from Lutheran Family Services, Rocky Mountain Refugee and Asylee program. The agency helped with a variety of social services, including an apartment, food, medical services and enrollment in school. Lukambo received surgery for the debilitating injuries that plagued her.

Floyd Preston, Lutheran Services program director, says, “They are all troopers. She is a sweet lady who has been through tremendous trials with faith and persistence to survive.”

He adds, “Christian has been the rock of the family. His award is testament to their new beginnings.” 

Ndushabandi graduated from Palmer High School last year. He learned English quickly, a feat he attributes to the two years of seasonal work with Mile High Youth Corps in Colorado Springs. “I had to learn. No one knew my language.”

Nancy O. WIlson, director of the regional Mile High Youth Corps, says Ndushabandi was one of 10 youth in the state chosen for the award because of his outstanding work ethic and leadership. “He’s a remarkable young man who got a job right away with us to support his family. And he realizes the importance of education.”

The corps trains youths 17 to 24 to do conservation work. Ndushabandi built trails in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and worked on erosion control efforts in the Hayman fire and Waldo Canyon fire burn areas.

When he first did trail work, he could not imagine what it was for — in his former country, he explains, “We did not hike for fun, we hiked because we had to.”

Corps workers receive weekly living stipends and are provided with Americorp scholarships of $1,468.

Ndushabandi is the major breadwinner for his mother, two sisters, 18 and 15, and brother, 12. “I worry about it a lot,” he says.

He worked in a pizza restaurant and is working part time in the cafeteria at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School. His mother, who is taking classes to learn English, works two day a week in food services. Her disabilities prevent her from full-time employment. They plan to become U.S. citizens.

He writes almost daily, putting down his family’s memories as well as their experiences now. “I want to write my mother’s story in a book,” he says.

Ndushabandi is studying at Pikes Peak Community College and plans to attend medical school to become a surgeon. “I saw how they helped my mother. I’d like to give back and visit Africa, too and help where it is needed.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw


Corpsmember Success Story: "William Got Serious" - American YouthWorks

Adapted from a post on the American YouthWorks website: July 12, 2012 - Rachel Matvy

In 2009, after dropping out of school, William came to American YouthWorks’s public charter high school, the Service Learning Academy. William, who was 18-years-old at this point, was of an age when many young people would already have graduated.  Through the Service Learning Academy’s self-paced program, he completed his high school credits in two years. However, William had difficulty passing the State test. While he studied, he joined AYW’s award-winning green construction program, which is designed to create pathways out of poverty for at-risk youth. He gained job skills and earned a small living stipend while he prepared for the test. In addition to job skills, William learned to give back to his community by building energy efficient homes for low-income home buyers.

It is important to note that American YouthWorks continued to serve William even though he had “aged out” of the school.  This meant that American YouthWorks no longer received State funding to serve him.  Through AYW programs, William earned his diploma and industry recognized job training certifications.   He ate breakfast and lunch every day in the AYW cafeteria and his son was cared for in the on campus child development facility.  All of this was provided at no cost to William or his family.  

William started at American YouthWorks in a place of uncertainty, and on June 30th, William will walk across the stage with his fellow students!  He’s graduating with job skills and is currently working with the City of Austin as an intern.  William is achieving his dream: to have a viable means to support his wife and son.

It is through generous gifts from donors that American YouthWorks is able to provide these types of desperately needed services to at-risk youth in Austin so that there will be more success stories like William’s.

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: Luis Cruz


From the October 2012 edition of Corps Conection - the Sequoia Community Corps Newsletter 
Luis Cruz has been an outstanding member of the Sequoia Community Corps for five years. After a friend told him about the Corps, Luis joined to learn valuable job skills.  Luis has learned how to complete projects such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC repair and more. 
One of Luis’ most memorable experiences as a member of the Corps is assisting a disabled Porterville resident.  She was unable to find work and wasn’t comfortable in her home.  Luis helped install new windows, doors and a stove.  The resident was extremely grateful and Luis was very happy to help someone that really needed it.
After he completes the Corps, Luis hopes to use his skills to help people and to find employment in the construction industry.

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.”

Corpsmember Success Story: Diana Carrillo


Diana could not speak English when she left her home of Mexico City and came to America. Now, after spending three years living in the States, 25-year-old Diana is a confident English-speaker with her eyes set on college. None of this would have been possible, she says, if not for her involvement with Conservation Corps North Bay in San Rafael, California.

Before joining the Corps, Diana's lack of a high school diploma and her limited English made it difficult for her to find a job. This was extremely frustrating for her as she needed to make money to support her then 4-year-old daughter. Fortunately, Diana heard about how Conservation Corps North Bay taught ESL and could help her gain job skills. She was particularly excited to hear that Corpsmembers at CCNB could work and earn money while completing their studies.

As a participant in Conservation Corps North Bay’s educational program, Diana earned her GED and is just a few credits away from obtaining her high school diploma. In addition to what she learned in the classroom at CCNB, Diana also learned how to use a chainsaw and is now an expert sawyer. She earns money by working with CCNB crews on environmental conservation projects that have involved everything from habitat restoration to fire and flood prevention. Diana currently works with CCNB’s recycling program and earns enough money to support herself and her daughter.

After she passes the California High School Exit Exam, Diana hopes to begin attending the College of Marin in January 2013. While studying she will also earn money working at CCNB’s organic farm on the College of Marin’s Indian Valley campus. Diana is not entirely sure what she wants to study, but she says she really enjoys her conservation work at CCNB and is considering pursuing a degree in environmental studies.

When Diana emigrated from Mexico with her family to try and find more opportunities, she had no idea what the future held for her in California. Three years later, she is well educated, employable and self-sufficient.

“I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Now I have time for work, for study, and for my daughter.”