Summer Jobs Program at Conservation Corps North Bay Helps Youth and the Environment

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Summer Jobs Program at Conservation Youth Corps North Bay Helps Youth and the Environment

Armed with a hoe, Marques Mingus walked through a field in the flood protection area south of Napa searching for such vegetative nasties as the yellow starthistle.

The 18-year-old is a summertime invasive plant battler. A few quick hacks sent a thistle flying to the ground and removed much of its root.

“I want to know if the people who live here will actually see a difference,” he said, looking at the homes of an adjacent neighborhood.

His newly trained eyes see a big difference – several acres with much less yellow starthistle, Harding grass and curly dock. No longer choked with plants belonging to other parts of the world, this patch of seasonal wetlands has room for California native plants such as creeping wild rye to recover.

Mingus is part of the nine-member Napa Youth Ecology Corps, a second-year job training program spearheaded by the Napa-Lake Workforce Investment Board. These young adults ages 18 to 24 don green hard hats, then help Napa County’s environment and themselves.

Napa County and California as a whole have long been under siege from invasive species, be they plants, insects, mammals or fish. Invaders came with Spanish grain shipments in the 1700s. Today, they arrive in the state on ships and cars and a myriad of other ways.

The 800-acre flood project area bounded by the Napa River and Highway 29 south of Napa has been hard hit. Invasive plants such as Harding grass outgrow the natives, bringing about more consequences than just a different look.

“The native grasses produce better habitat for wildlife and insects,” said Shaun Horne of the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. “Harding grass isn’t necessarily a food source for some of the native insects.”

Battling invasive species during the heat of the day and helping the environment is hard work. But it has payoffs for the Youth Ecology Corps members.

For one thing, they have a summer job that pays $9 an hour. They work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for eight weeks, on this particular day under Horne’s supervision.

Mingus wants to be a cook and hopes to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. For now, he’s glad to be part of the Corps.

“Just to get some general work experience and keep me busy during the summer,” Mingus said.

As a bonus, he’s learning about the natural world. He’s taken out weeds before. Now, when he aims a hoe and sends an invasive species to its death, he knows its name.

Adriana Ortiz, 18, used to look at fields such as the one she stood in and see what she thought was a natural landscape. Now she also sees the invasive plants that don’t belong there.

“It’s good we’re helping,” Ortiz said as she paused from her weed-whacking efforts.

She also sees the personal benefits.

“I like trying new things,” she said. “I’m not sure what I want to do with my life. I like the outdoors. It’s nicer than being locked up in an office.”

Ortiz noted that the Youth Ecology Corps gives her the chance to move onto the California Conservation Corps. But what she’d really like to do is become a special effects makeup artist. Instead of killing vegetative invaders, she might someday be making people look like extraterrestrial invaders for the big screen.

Stephen Dworak, 18, took a hoe to a thistle in the flood protection area.

“I feel it is a way to help the community and the ecosystem where I live and also a way to get used to a job,” he said.

He’s learned about invasive plants, and he’s learned about the hard work that one must put into a job, Dworak said. That’s been a good experience as he waits to enter Napa Valley College and aim toward a career in computer science.

“It’s nice to be out here and kind of get a workout for the day,” Dworak said.

Without the Youth Ecology Corps, most of those invasive plants would remain in the flood project area, Horne said. The district would probably fight only one of the worst, most aggressively spreading plants there – the white-flowered perennial pepperweed.

The Corps will also work on Salvador Creek in Napa and in a St. Helena habitat restoration area. It will spend a week working for the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

All of this is in keeping with the Napa-Lake Workforce Investment Board’s mission under the Federal Workforce Investment Act to help develop the local workforce.

Jeri Gill of the Workforce Investment Board said the idea for the local Youth Ecology Corps came from similar programs in Riverside, Marin and Sonoma counties. The youths work in the field for four days a week, then spend the fifth day learning about job interviews, resume writing and other job-seeking skills.

“It’s developing the skills they need, that employers have told us they want,” Gill said.

The Youth Ecology Corps program costs $65,280. Of that, $32,640 comes from the Napa Lake Workforce Investment Board, $28,560 from the Napa County Flood District and $4,080 from the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

Author: Barry Eberling

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Combating Climate Change by Restoring Ancient Forests

College of Marin Gardener Rodney Craig, left, and students from the Conservation Corps North Bay, plants a coast redwood saplings cloned from some of the largest ancient trees in the world on Monday, April 22, at the College of Marin. College of Marin is one of eight locations in the world and the only location in the U.S. to receive the plantings in a global event spearheaded by the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. Earth Day plantings will also take place in British Columbia, Ireland, Australia, Wales, New Zealand, Germany and England. (College of Marin photo/Shook Chung)

The College of Marin, a partner of Conservation Corps North Bay, is one of eight locations worldwide participating in an effort to expand the distribution Giant Redwood trees.

Taken from the Marin Independent Journal,

The College of Marin became a focal point Monday as part of an effort by a nurseryman from northern Michigan and his sons who have snipped branches from some of the world's biggest and most durable trees with plans to produce clones that could restore ancient forests and help fight climate change.

Now comes the most ambitious phase of the quest: getting the new trees into the ground.

Ceremonial plantings of two dozen clones from California's mighty coastal redwoods took place Monday in seven nations: Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany and in the United States at the College of Marin as part of its Earth Day observance.

"I know the trees will thrive here," said Tom Burke, landscape manager at the College of Marin. "We've had redwoods in this area since God planted them."

The three small sprouts, arriving in hollow carpet tubes for their protection, were planted by students in the Redwood Grove on campus during a ceremony.

Among the speakers was broadcast journalist Dana King, a former CBS news anchor who serves on the board of directors of the Archangel project.

"This is a really simple thing to do — to plant trees to help the environment," said King, noting the college was selected because of its existing trees. "If we want to start to reverse climate change, we can start by planting a tree."

Although measuring just 18 inches tall, the laboratory-produced trees are genetic duplicates of three giants that were cut down in Northern California more than a century ago. Remarkably, shoots still emerge from the stumps, including one known as the Fieldbrook Stump near McKinleyville, which measures 35 feet in diameter. It's believed to be about 4,000 years old. The tree was about 40 stories high before it was felled.

"This is a first step toward mass production," said David Milarch, co-founder of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, a nonprofit group spearheading the project. "We need to reforest the planet; it's imperative. To do that, it just makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees that ever lived."

Milarch and his sons Jared and Jake, who have a family-owned nursery in the village of Copemish, Mich., became concerned about the condition of the world's forests in the 1990s. They began crisscrossing the U.S. in search of "champion" trees that have lived hundreds or even thousands of years, convinced that superior genes enabled them to outlast others of their species. Scientific opinion varies on whether that's true, with skeptics saying the survivors may simply have been lucky.

The Archangel leaders say they're out to prove the doubters wrong. They've developed several methods of producing genetic copies from cuttings, including placing branch tips less than an inch long in baby food jars containing nutrients and hormones. The specimens are cultivated in labs until large enough to be planted.

In recent years they have focused on towering sequoias and redwoods, considering them best suited to absorb massive volumes of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change.

"If we get enough of these trees out there, we'll make a difference," said Jared Milarch, the group's executive director.

Archangel has an inventory of several thousand clones in various stages of growth that were taken from more than 70 redwoods and giant sequoias. NASA engineer Steve Craft, who helped arrange for David Milarch to address an agency gathering, said research shows that those species hold much more carbon than other varieties.

The challenge is to find places to put the trees, people to nurture them and money to continue the project, Jared Milarch said. The group is funded through donations and doesn't charge for its clones.

The recipients of Archangel redwoods have pledged to care for them properly, he said. The first planting of about 250 took place in December on a ranch near Port Orford, Ore.

"A lot of trees will be planted by a lot of groups on Arbor Day, but 90 percent of them will die," David Milarch said. "It's a feel-good thing. You can't plant trees and walk away and expect them to take care of themselves."

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 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.”



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

Winner: Conservation Corps North Bay

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

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

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Diony Gamoso

***Update! Click here to find out what Diony has been up to since accepting his award.***

Diony Gamoso started at Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay) as a Crew Leader on the Natural Resources Crew. He came to MCC with a variety of technical skills and was looking for opportunities to expand his abilities to include education skills.  He immediately demonstrated a thirst for learning, interest in the projects, compassion for the corpsmembers, and a genuine interest in contributing to MCC.  As the supervisor of a Project Regeneration Crew, Diony led high school aged students in conservation projects.  Recently, he was promoted to the position of Education Department Assistant where he has supported the Education Program by planning and facilitating place-based field education lessons and has been helping his fellow corpsmembers make progress towards earning their high school diplomas.  Diony has also taken on a variety of new tasks and projects which have been very beneficial to MCC. 

-- “The Marin Conservation Corps has given me so much opportunity to grow personally and professionally.  I have been given a chance right here and now, to explore what I thought were only far-off, future, career dreams.”

(written in 2005)

2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Matthew Rainey

In his role as Field Education Facilitator for his Marin Conservation Corps (now Conservation Corps North Bay) crew, Matthew teaches a weekly lesson, assists teachers with classes at project sites, and helps orient new Crewmembers. Matthew also has a life lesson to share:

“I feel like I am an excellent example for people, showing what they can overcome if given a chance.  Hard work and determination can take anyone to great places. As long as they make the choice to change and work towards that change, anything is possible.”   

When he came to MCC’s Natural Resource Crew in May 2007, Matthew was unemployed, homeless, with a criminal record and no high school diploma. He had just had a baby and knew it was time to make some changes in his life. 

“I felt that becoming a father was the start of responsibility for me," said Matthew. "I was looking for an opportunity to show my family, as well as myself, that I was ready.” 

Matthew had taken four of the five GED tests while in prison but had such low confidence that he never even checked the results.  When the Corps checked his scores, they discovered he had passed all four.  This gave Matthew the confidence to take and pass the last section, earning his GED.  Matthew saved enough to buy a car within a few months of joining the Corps. He slept in the car for an additional three months while saving enough to finally get his own apartment in September. Even while living in his car, Matthew maintained an exceptional attendance record - gaining work skills, leadership experience, and the respect of his crew, supervisor, teachers, parole officer and family.  

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.”

Corpsmember Success Story: Carmen Curry

Without a high school diploma or GED and with little work experience, 21-year-old Carmen Curry found it very difficult to find work. That all changed, however, when Carmen joined Conservation Corps North Bay.

Carmen heard about the Corps from her brother who had participated in a CCNB program for middle school and high school students. Intrigued by how the Corps offered job training and assistance for those trying to further their education, Carmen joined CCNB in August 2011.

After taking classes through CCNB’s educational program, Carmen passed her GED test on the first try. She has already passed the California High School Exit Exam in Math and English and is just a few credits away from earning her high school diploma. Carmen said her peers at CCNB have been extremely helpful and supportive throughout her educational experience.

When she's not in the classroom, Carmen is out in the field working alongside fellow Corpsmembers on various conservation projects. CCNB taught Carmen how to use a chainsaw and paid her to work on habitat restoration, creek cleaning, and other efforts to help protect and maintain the natural beauty of local parks and public lands. Carmen became such a skilled sawyer that she is capable of prepping a gas-powered chainsaw in just 46 seconds.

Carmen plans to attend Berkeley City College in January 2013. She hopes to take classes in early childhood education and eventually pursue a career as a preschool teacher. Carmen says she has been interested in becoming a teacher for a long time. After watching her brother struggle with reading, she feels she has ideas about how to make learning more engaging and exciting for students who would otherwise get frustrated in school. Carmen also feels she is well-equipped for a teaching career because she knows she can relate with students who are experiencing a tough time at home.

In addition to job skills and an education, one of the most important things Carmen gained from her experience with Conservation Corps of North Bay is self-confidence. Carmen says she was once very shy and quiet, but now she feels like a leader and is happy to be able to set a good example for her children.

“If you’re really in a rough spot, the Corps’ the place to go,” said Carmen.

Carmen has a 3-year-old son and a second baby due in February 2013. She lives in Richmond, California.

21st Century Conservation Service Corps Federal Advisory Committee Has 2nd Formal Meeting


Last week, members of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Federal Advisory Committee (FACA) met formally for the 2nd time in San Francisco. On the first day of the meeting, committee members visited the San Francisco Conservation Corps as well as several worksites sites of the California Conservation Corps and Conservation Corps North Bay.

FACA members had the opportunity to interact with Corpsmembers from each Corps (CCC, CCNB, and SFCC) as well as CiviCorps in Oakland and the Student Conservation Association. According to Mary Ellen Ardouny, Vice President of External Affairs for The Corps Network, “All of the FACA members agreed that hearing directly from the Corpsmembers about their life experiences and the opportunities that the Corps had provided them, was the most powerful part of the trip. It really drove home the need for a 21 CSC and focused us, with renewed enthusiasm and determination, on producing a quality report for the Secretary.” The FACA has been charged with providing the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior with a set of recommendations for establishing at 21st Century Conservation Service Corps by July 1, 2012 — a very quick turnaround considering that the Committee met for the first time in February.

With this pressing deadline in mind, the second and third days of the meeting were focused on establishing a framework for, and the parameters under which a 21st Century CSC would ideally be implemented. The next formal meeting of the FACA is scheduled for May in Denver, Colorado. Between formal meetings Committee members will make progress on their work via regular phone calls.

The Corps Network Participates Public Lands Summit


Photo of Glacier National Park 
via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

The Corps Network, along with member organizations Student Conservation Association, Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Conservation Corps North Bay, Montana Conservation Corps, American Youth Works, and Southwest Conservation Corps, participated in a national summit with the Public Lands Service Coalition concerning the implementation of a 21st Century Conservation Corps. 

President Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar have pushed to include more youth in plans for our nation’s public lands, and this summit was a discussion between youth corps from across the country and the land management agencies that oversee the public lands. Agency staff from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, and the Corporation for National and Community Service met with corps staff to plan how best to get our nation’s youth into the outdoors. 

For more information on the PLCS or the meeting, please contact
 Mary Ellen Ardouny at The Corps Network.