Where are they now? Updates from The 2014 Corpsmembers of the Year

 

Jon Brito 

Since the conference I have completed my fellowship with Hawaii Energy through a program of Kupu, called RISE. Through various technical retrofits and behavior changing programs, we helped save tens of thousands of kWh from Hawaii's electrical grid. This saved barrels of oil used and reduced CO2 emissions across the board.

I am still in school, still working towards my Electronic Computer Engineering degree on Maui through the University of Maui. I am also working on a GIS certification.

Something I have gained through my experience in the Corps is some amazing networking opportunities. Doing my GIS certification has led us to map out some of Maui's premiere environments and preserves. There is also this need to continue my work in conservation even though I currently am not directly employed.

I still continue to volunteer at the fishpond, and have cleared a whole shoreline of the invasive mangrove. Roughly 3 acres have been removed from the time I started at the fishpond. Currently I am still looking for more volunteer opportunities, but I am lucky because on Maui they are plentiful.


 

Edgar Galvez

Hi, everyone. This is Edgar Galvez - I attended The Corps Network 2014 conference as a Corpsmember of the Year. Let me tell you, that conference was amazing. I had a blast in DC, and getting to know the other Corpsmembers of the year. After the conference I came back home and started working for the union.  There have been so many projects that I’ve been working on, like schools, freeways, bridges. It's been incredible to see how things are built and destroyed.

I also go back to Fresno YouthBuild and talk to the new Corpsmembers that are coming in about my life, and how the Corps changed my life, and how it could happen to any of them if they truly believe in themselves.

The other wonderful thing that happened after the conference is that my wife just gave birth to my baby boy, Damian. It's truly a blessing.

What I gained from the conference is public speaking experience. That was my biggest fear or obstacle, but ever since I read my speech in front of all those people I believe in myself more. When it's time to speak in a group or conference, I think I can handle it now. 


 

Eliseo Nunez 

I woke up this morning and noticed my doormat was backwards. Instead of wondering what happened, right away my love for life made it clear.

“Welcome to planet earth, anything is possible!”

Since my trip to D.C. I’ve really been putting in the time and effort to make San Diego a better place. Clearly it has not only been an amazing opportunity for me to grow, but I feel that I have planted thousands of seeds. For starters, I am now a full time supervisor with San Diego Urban Corps. I find it hard to forget where it all began. My plan is to be the best supervisor I can be and to keep furthering my education. When it’s time to go, I’ll have such an amazing bag of tools I can use out there to keep making my city a beautiful place.

The San Diego Union Tribune has written two articles about me, the city council has awarded me with my own day in early March. Last night I just got a certificate of appreciation signed by an honorable judge here with the superior court. Everyone asks who, what, why?

Well, going back to my doormat. Nothing has changed, I welcome each day with open arms. I do my best to find the gain in the pain, the good in the bad, and the happy in the sad. Thank you guys for sharing these special moments with me and I pledge to continue to take it one day at a time!!!!!


 

Linda Santana

Since the conference, I’ve moved back to Los Angeles, CA. During the summer, most of my time was spent volunteering at a high school and doing things with my family. Most recently I got a job working for an afterschool program. I work with 2nd grade students, not only helping them with their homework but also providing them with other activities that will allow them to be successful.

As I reflect back on the past year and my term with RMYC, I can’t help but feel grateful for the experience the Corps provided me with. It inspired me, gave me confidence and provided me with personal growth. Although currently I’m not working in an outdoor/ conservation field, the skills I learned have helped me tremendously. My leadership skills have improved, I’m more assertive when it comes to getting things done but I’m also conscious of when I need to step back and allow others to do their job. I learned to have patience and let things go. Living in L.A. my personal as well as professional lifestyle are different but I still find time to go on occasional hikes and am trying my best to live a healthier and more fit lifestyle. 


 

 

Ruby Simonian

After my California Conservation Corps experience, I am now working for State parks in the beautiful redwoods of northern California. I will always take my corps experience with me in my future endeavors and will forever be grateful for my past excursions. I plan on continuing school and working towards my goal to become an ecopsychologist.

 

 


 

Candace Washington

Since the conference I have continued being actively engaged in public environmental events. Shortly after the conference I was invited to New York City for a fundraiser for Civicorps by Reeta, she is on the board of directors for Civicorps.  In May I was asked to be the emcee and say a speech to over two hundred people for Civicorps’ Gala. This was also an event to raise money for corpsmembers who graduated and went off to college.

I am still enrolled and attending community college where I am earning my credits needed to transfer. Currently I am working at the City of Oakland Environmental Services division; I received a one year extension. I was also offered a possible permanent position that pays twice as much as what I make now with the City of Oakland Public works call center. I have accepted the offer and I will start next year once I have a full two years of public experience.

How the Founder of Vermont Youth Conservation Corps got his Start in the Corps World

 

Taken from the Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa newsletter, Corps Update, April 2013

Thomas Hark’s Corps experience stretches back to the federal Youth Conservation Corps, where he served as a crew leader in 1979 in Young Harris, Ga. It was an experience that changed his life. Hark applied to Minnesota’s state youth program a few years later and was hired as the camp director in 1984 and 1985. He was instrumental in bringing together what were then two  summer youth camps: one based at St. Croix State Park and one for deaf and hard-of-hearing members at Tettegouche State Park. Today’s Summer Youth Corps remains an integrated program with about 15% deaf or hard-of-hearing participants.

Hark went on to found the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in 1986. That first year, four youth served for six weeks. Since then, programs have grown steadily and now include a year-round program for the blind, high school leadership, a robust traditional summer program and agricultural leadership/farming programs. Hark said Conservation Corps Minnesota was the stepping stone that allows him to do what he loves doing now. “I pinch myself every day. I do not think anyone could be as lucky as I have been, to spend their life in education AND conservation!”

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.”

How Sequoia Community Corps helped Marcos Molina build a better life for his wife and children


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2008 Corpsmember of the Year,
Marcos Molina


Marcos receiving his award at The Corps Network 2008 National Conference in Washington, DC.
 

Marcos Molina, a former Corpsmember with the Tulare County Youth Corps (now the Sequoia Community Corps), won Corpsmember of the Year in 2008 for his commitment to service and self change. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Marcos and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2008 National Conference.

Marcos Molina is very honest about where he might be today if he had never joined the Sequoia Community Corps.

“I’d probably be in jail or dead,” he said.

Marcos heard about the Corps (which was then called the Tulare County Youth Corps) from a cousin. It was 2007 and Marcos was unemployed and involved in the court system. He and his wife and their two young daughters lived in a single room in his mother’s house. Marcos had dropped out of high school, but having a young family to support motivated him to get an education and turn things around. Marcos was quick to sign up for the Corps when he found out that the program offered a chance to work while also earning high school credits.

“In high school I was a troublemaker. I was hanging out with the wrong people and the wrong crowd. And when I came to the Corps I was around different kinds of people and it was a whole different story. I just decided that I was tired of that no good life,” said Marcos.

Adjusting to the culture and the expectations at the Corps wasn’t easy for Marcos. Many of his supervisors were concerned he wouldn’t make it through the program. It was with the personal attention and support of one particular supervisor that Marcos was able to not only finish the program, but excel.

“My attitude was a big problem. Especially my attitude towards other people,” said Marcos. “I wasn’t really used to working with a supervisor and other Corpsmembers. Where I had worked before it was always ‘just a job’ and I was like ‘boom, boom – get it done.’ But then at the Corps there were different rules you had to follow, you had to have a good attitude, and there were attendance rules. They were teaching us the right way to do our jobs and handle problems.”

Marcos’s dedication paid off. He became an Assistant Crew Leader and was eventually promoted to Crew Leader. Marcos was not particularly interested in construction work when he came to the Corps, but through his time as a Corpsmember he learned every aspect of concrete work, chain link fence installation, landscape maintenance, and heavy equipment operation. He even became a Certified Construction Trades Trainer and taught new Corpsmembers how to operate heavy equipment.

These days, Marcos is a Supervisor with the Corps in the Weatherization program. With his various professional certifications, Marcos is qualified to train new Corpsmembers how to safely install energy efficient appliances, install new doors and windows, and generally make sure homes are as weathertight as possible.

“When they made me a supervisor, that really helped me out a lot – moneywise and all around. Then I could do more things with my family that I couldn’t do before because of the money,” said Marcos. “Now, since I was a Corpsmember too, I know how to approach the Corpsmembers because they’re in the same shoes that I was in. I know how to help them out. If they have any questions I’ll try to help.”

Marcos sees a little bit of himself in the Corpsmembers he trains. He realizes that many of them join the Corps without construction experience or knowledge of tools. It’s a good feeling for him to be able to take them under his wing and pass on the skills he learned at the Corps. Marcos maintains contact with the Corps’ mentors and supervisors who took the time to help him when he was a new Corpsmember.

“Some of them taught me a lot of the knowledge that I know now. I like to keep in touch just to get some words of wisdom every now and then,” said Marcos.

While with the Corps, Marcos earned his high school diploma, obtained his driver’s license, and bought his own car and apartment. Today, Marcos has a mortgage on his own home and multiple cars. He has considered going to college, but for now his main concern is making sure his family is provided for and comfortable. Marcos is very conscious about setting a good example for his daughters. He sometimes volunteers at their school and always makes time for family activities.

To young Corpsmembers and to youth thinking about joining a Service and Conservation Corps, Marcos says:

“The sky is the limit. That’s how I see it. There’s no stopping point, you should always try and reach for better things for yourself. So keep your head up and don’t let anything keep you down. If you put hard work into what you want to do, you’ll get it done…You can get stuff done no matter where you’re from or what your situation is.”

A Good Environment: James Zmudzinski shares why Fresno Local Conservation Corps is the place for him


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2006 Corpsmember of the Year,
James Zmudzinski


James at The Corps Network 2006 National Conference in Washington, DC
 

James Zmudzinski, formerly a Corpsmember with the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2006 for his commitment to service and self-improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about James and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2006 National Conference.

James Zmudzinski started working at a young age. His dream was to build up his savings and eventually own an auto mechanic shop. However, there was a time when this goal seemed impossibly out of reach. James had never finished high school and barely earned enough money to support himself. As James says, he started making bad decisions and often got into trouble. When he realized it was time to get serious, James joined the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps (LCC).

James quickly became a vital member of LCC’s Flood Control Basin Maintenance Program. His supervisors saw that he was a self-starter and appreciated his positive attitude. When he wasn’t working with the crew, James proved his dedication to self-improvement by taking full advantage of the life-skills courses offered at LCC. He also applied himself in the classroom and eventually earned his high school diploma through the Corps’ charter school. He then took a few college classes with the AmeriCorps Education Awards he earned as a Corpsmember. James says his overall experience as a Corpsmember and student with LCC was significantly better than his previous high school experience.

“The part of this program that worked for me was…well, basically all of it,” said James. “The people that work here, the case managers…if you need help with anything or if you think you’re going in the wrong direction, they’re always there. It was like everybody had open arms, so it was an easy place to be.”

James worked his way through the ranks at LCC. He was hired to be a Crew Leader and eventually earned his current staff position as a Supervisor. James has now spent over seven years with the Corps.

“I like the environment here. I started from the bottom and made my way up. Working with the youth in the area – that also made me stick around,” said James.

As a Supervisor, James leads LCC crews that assist with grounds maintenance projects for housing authority properties. His crews mow the grass, trim trees, prune bushes, and generally make sure the grounds are in good condition. James is now considering opening his own landscaping business.

Though he sees landscaping as a good way to make money, James still has his heart set on becoming a certified mechanic. He says he is practically a partner in the mechanic shop where he currently helps with auto repair work. His passion is restoring old cars.

“I’ve got to have cars in my life,” said James.

Between working at LCC and working on cars, James participates in a car club in his free time. Many of the club’s members are people James grew up with. They get together to attend car shows and host barbeques and family functions. Around the holidays, they participate in Toys for Tots and distribute food to families in need. James wants to be a positive role model and set a good example for his two children.

“My actual father was never around, so I’ve been serious about being there for my kids,” said James.

James isn’t sure where he would be today if he had never found EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps. As he says, “I hope I would be in a good place, but it’s hard to say. If I didn’t get the job here, the way I was going I would’ve been nowhere good.”

To you people thinking about joining a Corps, James says:

“It’s an experience. It can change you and hopefully it will. There are people here who can get you the help you need. It’s worth the time. Just give it a try. It’s not for everybody, but at least you get some experience out of it.”

Creating a Career Path: How Centennial Job Corps helped Jessica Johnson discover new talents


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2012 Corpsmember of the Year,
Jessica Johnson


Jessica receiving her award at The Corps Network 2012 National Conference in Washington, DC
 

Jessica Johnson, formerly of Centennial Job Corps of Idaho, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for her commitment to service. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Jessica and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2012 National Conference.

Jessica Johnson heard about the Centennial Job Corps from her grandfather. He helped construct the buildings of the Corps’ Nampa, Idaho campus and thought that Jessica – an ambitious high school graduate – might make an ideal Corpsmember. Jessica looked into the program and decided she might as well give it a try. Sure enough, Job Corps was the perfect fit for her.

Jessica started at Job Corps learning office administration skills through the organization’s Business and Finance Program. She was quickly recognized as a hard worker and a positive role model.  Her success in the business program allowed her the opportunity to also begin training for Centennial’s rigorous firefighting program.

“I thought the fire crew sounded pretty awesome, so I checked it out – and it was pretty awesome,” said Jessica.

Jessica earned a stellar reputation with the fire crew bosses and her peers. She was dispatched on every fire call as a result of her skill and reliability. After Jessica completed her service in the Idaho Corps in May 2010, she was accepted to Advanced Fire Management training with Schenck Job Corps CCC of North Carolina for the fall of 2010. Her excellent job performance at Schenck resulted in her recruitment by the Boise Regulars for a seasonal firefighting position in Boise National Forest.

“When I was on a crew here in Idaho I was the supply manger. I kept track of our inventory and whatnot,” said Jessica. “I also helped with basic operations and making sure things were done safely.”

After completing the 2011 fire season with the Boise Regulars, Jessica spent the winter at home helping her family with babysitting and chores. Jessica has always enjoyed looking after her four nieces and nephews. She spends most of her free time with them and is always conscious of setting a good example.

For the 2012 fire season, Jessica was hired to be part of a wild land firefighting crew in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest. During her time in Oregon, Jessica was able to open her FFT1 task book. The Fire Fighter Type One Task Book is a log kept by a wild land firefighter as he or she works towards becoming a Squad Boss. Jessica spent this past summer participating in Squad Boss training and leading small groups of firefighters in their assignments. She hopes to eventually become an official Squad Boss; a position that would put her in charge of about four to eight other firefighters.

“Squad Bosses are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the crew and making sure that whatever assignments you’ve been told to do, you and your crew accomplish those things,” said Jessica. 

Jessica’s goal is to find year-round employment with a Forest Service firefighting crew. However, she’s not impatient to find such a job. She plans to start looking for a permanent position in about two to three years. Until then she wants to continue gaining experience through seasonal wild land firefighting jobs.

“I want to make sure that I really know and understand the job that I’ll be doing,” said Jessica. “I want to be qualified for it and not just run around with a title that I shouldn’t have. I don’t want to jump into anything.”

Jessica currently lives at home with her family in Idaho and continues to help with the babysitting and other household jobs. She plans to get another firefighting position when the next fire season comes along in the spring and summer.

Jessica maintains contact with some of her peers from Centennial Job Corps’ firefighting program who have also pursued wild land firefighting jobs. She also keeps in touch with some of the Corps’ staff.

“The staff there was awesome and very helpful and really motivating,” said Jessica.

To other young people thinking about joining a Corps, Jessica says:

“Use everything to your benefit and realize that’s what the Corps is there for. If you have questions, just ask the staff. If you run across someone who you aren’t necessarily on the same page with, just try talking to different staff members. Remember that not everyone communicates in the same way. Do what you need to do and follow the rules even if they’re silly and just make the whole experience your own.”

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.”

 

Finding a Way to Serve at Home: How a veteran found meaningful work with Southwest Conservation Corps

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2012 Corpsmember of the Year,
Mike Bremer


Mike Bremer, formerly of Southwest Conservation Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 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 2012 National Conference.
 

There's one bet Mike Bremer isn't sorry he lost...

When he first met his wife she was serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA.  After hearing about the program Mike joked with her about how she must be “some kind of hippie.” His wife reacted by making a bet with Mike that she could find an AmeriCorps program that he would enjoy. Mike shrugged off her challenge, but it wasn’t long before she stumbled across a description of Southwest Conservation Corps’ Veterans Fire Corps.

Mike served in the Army Infantry in Iraq. When he got home he felt like his life lacked a purpose. He struggled for a number of years to find meaningful employment.

“I refueled jet aircraft. I didn’t like that. Machinist - I tried that, too. House painting - didn’t like that, either,” said Mike.

The Veterans Fire Corps program was associated with AmeriCorps – an organization that Mike’s wife was familiar with. On top of that, the Corps was accepting any and all veterans. Mike thought he should give it a try. He ended up serving as a Corpsmember from May 2010 to April 2011.

While in the Corps, Mike worked in three different districts of the San Juan National Forest and also for the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management. He completed fuels mitigation projects, pile burning, and area burns. He received high ratings in chainsaw safety training, wildland fire fighting, and behavior classes. Mike’s exceptional ability with a chainsaw also ensured that he could become the sawyer for his crew, an integral and coveted position, especially for a first year firefighter. Based on his performance and the strong bonds he made with his fellow Corpsmembers, the staff of Southwest Conservation Corps promoted Mike to Crew Leader the following spring.      

“With the Corps, I was able to get back to service – that’s when I’ve been at my best. It was good to be with a group of great vets – we all could share our experiences,” said Mike.

After completing the Conservation Corps program, Mike says most of the vets on his crew ended up taking jobs in wildland firefighting. Mike was hired by the U.S. Forest Service as a seasonal wildland firefighter and sawyer for San Juan National Forest in Colorado. He then got promoted to be a fulltime firefighter for the Forest Service with a hand crew in northern California. He is currently part of an apprenticeship program based out of Six Rivers National Forest in Eureka, California. The program gives Mike the opportunity to travel throughout the country and gain experience with different types of wildland fires.

Though Mike is very happy with his current position, the job is definitely not an easy one: between May and September of 2012, he ended up working about 800 hours of overtime - about 100 days of extra work. Mike says he and the guys from the Veterans Fire Corps have maintained contact and swap stories about their experiences in the field.

“We saw some pretty extreme fire behavior this past season,” said Mike.

As part of his apprenticeship, Mike will attend the Fire Academy; a month-long program in Sacramento that trains firefighters for future leadership positions. Mike definitely sees firefighting as a career he wants to stay with.

“I’d like to stay in fire operations as long as my body will hold out,” said Mike.
 
Firefighting had never been on Mike’s radar until he joined the Veterans Fire Corps. He feels like he would probably be in “some lame job that [he] hated” if his wife hadn’t helped him find the Corps. Mike says he would strongly recommend the Corps experience to other veterans who might be struggling to find meaning in civilian life.

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Mike says:
 
“Just hang in there and do a good job every day. You never know – it could lead to bigger and better things.”

 

How AmeriCorps helped Ladine Daniels find personal success

Sadly, Ladine "JR" Daniels passed away in his sleep in early November 2014. JR was a loved and respected member of the Corps community. He will be greatly missed. Click to read our tribute to JR.
 


Content below originally published in February 2013 
 

JR, formerly a Corpsmember with the Sustainability Institute, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about JR and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2012 national conference.

Where does Ladine “JR” Daniels see himself in the future?

For starters, he plans to have his weatherization business, IMSEI (IM Southeastern Independence), off the ground within the next two years. He hopes his future is full of opportunities to learn new and better ways he can help people in his community save money and the environment. Unrelated to growing his business, his main goal is to become known in his community as someone who works to expand opportunities for youth.

“I want to become a mentor to kids who are heading down the path that I went down,” said JR. “I want to let them know that it’s not worth it.”

Earlier in his life, JR was convicted of a felony and served time in jail. He was content to accept his jail sentence so he could have a clear slate and start over again once he was released. However, after completing his sentence in 2009, JR realized that starting over again wasn’t so easy for a young man with a record.

With the help of his church in Charleston, South Carolina, JR connected with Pastor Larry Bratton, who at the time was in charge of a nonprofit called BDB (Breaking Down Barriers). BDB, which helps community members overcome barriers to employment or services, helped JR find his first stable job after his release. However, Larry Bratton left BDB to become the Social Justice Advocate for The Sustainability Institute; a Charleston-based nonprofit that offers weatherization services to local residents and trains young people to become home performance professionals. JR eventually joined The Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps as an AmeriCorps member.

JR spent six months in the Energy Conservation Corps, gaining hands-on experience in home weatherization techniques. He was a standout Corpsmember from the beginning, offering guidance and friendship to younger Corpsmembers. His success led to a job offer from Carolina Green Energy Systems, an energy retrofit company in Charleston.  JR enjoyed his job with Carolina Green, but he was interested in starting his own weatherization business. He ended up leaving the company to avoid a conflict of interest.

As JR works with his partners to get IMSEI weatherization company up and running, he continues to work for the Sustainability Institute. He is currently a Crew Leader, but he will soon be hired as a fulltime Supervisor. On top of administrative duties, his main responsibility is to manage and organize crews. He trains Corpsmembers in weatherization techniques and helps run harassment training, OSHA safety training, and a financial literacy class.

On top of building his business and working at the Sustainability Institute, JR is also trying to reestablish Breaking Down Barriers, the organization that helped him find employment when he got out of jail.

"Our focus is not just youth, it’s for anyone who has any type of barrier. Like if you need help with painting your home but you’re not financially able to, that’s a barrier. If you’re a single mom and you need help finding a home, that’s a barrier. If you’re an ex-convict, that alone is a barrier,” said JR. “We want to provide training to whoever needs it, but we also to want to provide services. For instance, I might be hot off the street and I need a job. We’ll teach you how to paint. Then we have someone who needs their house painted but doesn’t have money to paint it. We can kill two birds with one stone.”

In addition to JR’s work schedule and his involvement with Breaking Down Barriers, he volunteers with the NAACP, ushers at his church, and helps out at a recreational park near the Sustainability Institute. He also serves with Philan Tree, a fellow 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, as a member of the National Council of Young Leaders. The Council, formed in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, is comprised of low-income young adults from across the country.  JR helps represent the voice of young people who have been involved in the justice system.

“My whole thing with the justice system is that it’s pretty hard to find second chances, even when what you did was so long ago,” he said. “Why should something I did six years ago – knowing that I’m not the same man I used to be, knowing that a lot of things have changed over these years – why should that hold me back from finding a job that I’m totally qualified for?”

Through the National Council of Young Leaders, JR has met with such public figures as Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Ronnie Cho, the White House Liaison to Young Americans. JR is very grateful for his experience with the Sustainability Institute and AmeriCorps. Without these organizations he feels he would have never had so many opportunities and he would not be as successful as he is today.

“I’ve had all types of people calling who want to do an interview with me…from Charleston, from the Aspen Institute in New York, from people in DC – this is all because of AmeriCorps. I understand I had to put in hard work, but with the opportunities that AmeriCorps gave me it was easy for me to just fly with it,” said JR. “All of it has been a blessing to me. The way the Sustainability Institute gives me support and puts their trust in me, the way they fight for me is really amazing. Any type of help I need – like I needed an apartment. I was staying with my mom when I got out of jail in 2009 up until the fall of last year. They helped me find a place of my own. They meet all my needs. They’re not your average employers.”

It’s not just the people at The Sustainability Institute that JR appreciates; he is also grateful that his AmeriCorps experience exposed him to the weatherization business.

“I just love this work. The smile I put on a homeowners face when the electric bill comes and they’re saving a couple hundred dollars. Knowing that I had something to do with that is really powerful,” said JR. 

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

“I think the thing I would need to tell them is to make sacrifices. Starting off, you won’t even make as much money as you’d make at McDonald’s, but the experience, the training, the career development that you get in AmeriCorps will pay off in the long run…I would tell someone trying to join that it’s one hundred percent worth it. I would show them the change it makes. I would take them to the neighborhoods that I used to hang out in and show them the people I used to hang around with and I’d even take them to jail and show them where they’re headed if they continue with the life they’re living now. Then I’d show how I’ve been able to improve. I’d show them all the awards, all the committees I’m on. With just a little time – not even two years – I’ve gotten my own place, I’ve been nominated to be on councils, I was a 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, I travel a lot and I don’t even have to pay a dime for it. I just think that AmeriCorps is a very good thing that made a huge difference in my life, and I think it could do the same thing for them, too."

 

 

 

Representing Native American Youth: How Philan Tree works to improve opportunities for young people in her community

 

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, 
Philandrian Tree

Philandrian Tree, a former member of the Coconino Rural Environment Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for her commitment to service. Read below to find out what she's been up to since accepting her award, or find out more about Philan and her Corps experience by reading her bio from our 2012 National Conference.

Philan Tree’s association with The Corps Network did not end after she received her Corpsmember of the Year award at our National Conference last February. Along with Ladine Daniels, a fellow 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, Philan was nominated by The Corps Network to be one of the 14 founding members of the National Council of Young Leaders. The Council, formed in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, is comprised of low-income young adults from across the country. The council members have diverse backgrounds, but they are united by how they have all had transformative experiences with youth programs like Year Up, Public Allies, Youth Leadership Institute, and YouthBuild, USA. The Corps Network is proud to have Philan and Ladine as our representatives on the council.

“So far it’s been a really good experience,” said Philan. “Just working with the different council members…I’ve been able to learn a lot about what other programs are out there. I’ve been learning about the different issues the council members face because they’re from different parts of the country. Then, from there, we came together to make recommendations to bring to elected officials and appointed officials in the government. It was interesting to work together to make those recommendations. Overall it’s been a really good learning experience.”

The Council’s purpose is to inform policymakers about the challenges faced by low-income youth and to offer suggestions for what can be done to ensure all young Americans have access to opportunities. As a member of the Council, Philan has had the chance to visit the White House and meet with a number of top officials. “We met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, we met the president of the Ludacris Foundation…It’s also been great to work regularly with Dorothy Stoneman, the president and founder of YouthBuild USA,” said Philan. “We’ve had a lot of access to good people that can give you a lot of insight into how programs operate. I feel like I’ve learned a lot… A lot of the meetings that we’ve had with the Departments, they’ve really been very welcoming and very receptive to our ideas and recommendations.”

The council members were chosen for their diverse backgrounds. Some of them have experienced homelessness. Some of them have struggled through drug addictions. Some have spent time in prison. Each council member brings their personal experiences to the table. Philan acts as the voice of rural and Native American youth.            

Before joining the National Council of Young Leaders, Philan already had experience working on behalf of Native American peoples. When she was in college at Northern Arizona University, she and a colleague drafted a grant proposal for a home weatherization program that could help residents of Coconino County’s Native American reservations. Someone from the University’s AmeriCorps office was so impressed by the proposal that she referred Philan and her colleague to the City of Flagstaff Budget Manager as well as the Senior Program Manager at Coconino Rural Environment Corps (CREC). The Corps quickly offered AmeriCorps mentorship positions to Philan and her partner so they could access the resources they needed to make their plan a reality.

As a Corpsmember, Philan was instrumental in securing Memorandums of Understanding between Coconino County and two chapters of the Navajo Nation; the Leupp Chapter and the Tonalea Chapter. Because of these MOUs, CREC was able to employ 17 Navajo Nation AmeriCorps members to work directly with their chapters to install energy efficiency measures in homes in underserved Native American communities. Philan also procured a Resolution of Support from the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation allowing for CREC’s Energy Conservation Corps (ECC) to provide home weatherization to many families on the Navajo Nation lands of Coconino County.

As a result of Philan’s leadership, over 200 homes received much needed repairs and upgrades. Philan used her Navajo language skills to help inform elderly reservation residents about services they otherwise might not have known about. She led CREC’s first fully Navajo crews in translating informational materials and developing phrases to help explain weatherization techniques. Philan personally helped many residents fill out their applications for the weatherization program.

“I just really appreciated all of the support that everyone gave me back home. A lot of the chapters supported me, a lot of the people in the community really supported me. If it wasn’t for all that support, a lot of what we did wouldn’t have happened,” said Philan. “It was important to show them [reservation residents] that they can have a say in how programs are delivered. They would give suggestions and they would give feedback on how we should go about delivering these services and their ideas were well received. Often they were right and we would implement what they said. They had more of a direct say in how they wanted the services to work for them.”

After leaving the Corps, Philan took an internship with a local elected official on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. She then moved to her current position providing communications and government relations support for the Navajo and Hopi tribes in her district.

“I work with the local governments on the reservations as well as their communities. I’m the point of contact for them when they have questions. I’m working on both sides to see when the county can provide a service or provide assistance, and then figuring out when we have to refer tribes out to another agency or program,” said Philan. “There’s just a lot of government-to-government relationship building between the county offices and the local leaders…A lot of my work is just finding the best ways to get services out to the residents on the reservations.”

Philan hopes to continue in this line of work. She wants to see more services reach Native American communities. She wants to see more support for Native American students. When she’s not at work or involved with the National Council of Young Leaders, Philan makes time to chair a grant advisory committee that works on behalf of Native students in the local school district.

Philan feels that her experience as a Corpsmember with CREC helped prepare her for what she’s doing now and what she wants to do in the future.

“Now I have experience with what programs work and why they work. When I look at other projects and opportunities coming in, I know what questions to ask. I got some good supervisory experience,” said Philan.

To other young people thinking about joining a Corps, Philan says:

“Just look around at the different types of Corps because they’re not all the same. And think about where you want to be. The overall experience can be really fun if you take advantage of it and utilize all the opportunities.”

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