2015 Corpsmember of the Year Harris Cox featured in San Francisco Chronicle article

Living in the Present Trumps Man's Bad Past

San Francisco Chronicle - Chip Johnson
February 16, 2015


Determined to keep a promise to his dying grandmother, Harris Cox came to Oakland’s Civicorps program at age 21, in search of a high school diploma.

Since then, he’s accomplished that and much more.

This month, Cox, 24, was one of five people honored as a Corpsmember of the Year by the National Corps Network, an organization with programs like Civicorps in more than 100 U.S. cities and more than 25,000 participants. He accepted the award and spoke at a ceremony held in Washington, D.C.

The organization offers job training, education, guidance and fellowship to young people, ages 18 to 26, whose lives have been derailed by bad choices, a lack of options or sheer circumstance. And it’s clear from Cox’s life story that he never really had a chance until he joined the organization.

When he was 6, an older brother who suffered from mental problems doused the boy’s shirt with rubbing alcohol and set him on fire. Cox was badly burned and spent the next six years in and out of medically induced comas while receiving skin grafts from his neck to his legs.

He awoke angry, scarred and alone from what he described as an endless walk in search of his own body. The day after he awoke, his grandmother, his rock, slipped into a coma and died.

Growing up in Merced, Cox started dealing drugs and running the streets. He was angry at the world, ashamed of his scars and plagued by nightmares from the childhood assault. He pondered suicide on more than one occasion.

“I wanted to die so bad that I picked on anyone who I believed was willing to take my life,” Cox said in an interview.

By the time he was 16, Cox had been shot in the face and a violent assault had earned him a three-year stint in a juvenile detention facility. His behavior soon led authorities to move Cox to an adult prison, he said.

When he was released at age 18, he followed his high school sweetheart to Oakland, where he resumed life as a drug dealer and became a father.

He started at Civicorps the same way all members begin: hard work, non-negotiable work hours and mandatory classroom instruction.

Clearing encampment

Cox was initially suspicious and distrustful, but tasked with work duties and armed with resources and camaraderie, he began to respond.

He began to thrive in and out of the classroom. Alongside fellow corps members, Cox built firebreaks and rock dams, and cut down trees for $1,200 a month. Then one day he came face to face with his own past when his crew was called on to clear out a homeless encampment.

“I felt guilty ’cause I know what it’s like to sleep on a bus bench or in a shelter, not knowing where your next meal is coming from,” he said. “I felt like we should be helping them.”

So while his colleagues cleared the camp, Cox went to a nearby grocery store and bought sandwiches for everyone.

Through Civicorps, Cox also found a way to quell the demons that dredge up the long-ago assault, plaguing his sleep and leaving him drenched in sweat.

About a year ago, Cox was introduced to the practice of mindfulness, a mental exercise that teaches people to focus on the present.

“Mindfulness creates space between your emotions and what you do,” said Laurie Grossman, an instructor who mentors Cox. “It’s awareness of the present moment without judgment.”

He took mindfulness courses at Kaiser Permanente and interned with Grossman, who teaches at Inner Explorer, an Oakland program.

In May, Cox started teaching mindfulness to kids at Reach Academy, an Oakland public school. This week, he starts a new gig teaching mindfulness to middle-school children in San Lorenzo.

Hoping to become pilot

“These kids are going through some of the same things,” Cox said. “You have to learn to live day to day, regardless of the household or the mom and dad you have to weather.”

When he’s not teaching or working, Cox is studying at Merritt College and hopes to learn to pilot an airplane.

It’s a fitting goal for a young man whose personal life has taken off.

Click here to visit original article.

An Interview with Ann Cochrane, a 2015 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner

An Interview with Ann Cochrane

This year, we at The Corps Network interviewed our two 2015 Corps Legacy Achievement Award winners to learn more about their experience and history in the Corps movement. 

Click here to read Ann's bio.  

How did you become involved in the world of Service and Conservation Corps? 

I started my career working with incarcerated young adult women in a group home in Boston back in 1977 and have always worked within a social justice setting. When I moved to SF, I learned about a job at SFCC as Administrative Director. Because the SFCC served a similar population to the agency in Boston - one I love to be involved with, I applied for the job. Just like the Corpsmembers, the Corps helped me grow as a professional and a person.

Who are some of your heroes? What did they do to inspire you?

Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, my mother. Each of them was a tenacious agent for change at great cost to themselves. Their words and actions challenged the status quo in a direct, passionate and eloquent way which I try to emulate.

What are some of your most memorable experiences from working with Corps programs?

-- Attending our largest high school graduation ceremony.

-- Spending a day with a small group of Corpsmembers visiting legislators in the State Capitol to educate them about the Corps' work and for the legislators to hear from the Corpsmembers directly how the Corps has impacted them and the community at large.

-- Learning from and being supported by my colleagues.

-- Bearing witness to the transformation of a Corpsmember and the moment when they recognize with pride what they have accomplished.


Which of your accomplishments as a leader in the Corps Movement are you most proud of?

-- Keeping SFCC alive and kicking for 26 years

-- Mentoring some amazing staff

-- Helping to successfully advocate for the California Corps to retain our Bottle Bill funding

-- Supporting, guiding and in some cases leading the Corps to remain dynamic, ever changing, and relevant to the needs of the young people we serve.

-- Serving on the TCN Board off and on for 12 years and being a member Corps of TCN. It allowed me to help shape the movement while also being able to incorporate what I leanred from those experiences into SFCC.

Given your experience, what is the primary piece of wisdom you could provide to Corpsmembers?

-- Figure out what your interests and goals are your life.

-- Learn as many skills as you can to support those interests and goals.

-- Surround yourself with people that will support your efforts to achieve those life goals and who will celebrate your success.

What is the primary piece of wisdom you could provide to staff members at Corps?

-- Be a good listener and observer in every aspect of your job.

-- Treat Corpsmembers as adults and with respect - it will help them grow and will garner respect in return.

-- Don't try to "save" anybody. The Corps provides the vehicle for Corpsmembers to grow but they do the heavy lifting.

-- Learn from your mistakes!

Ten or twenty years from now, what developments would you like to have taken place in the Corps Movement?

-- 10 years from now, I would like to see multiple Corps in every State.

-- The Corps will be a nationally recognized as an essential social policy model that addresses multiple important social needs and is worthy of public and private investment on a grand scale.

When not working, how do you like to relax and enjoy yourself?

-- Reading a good book

-- Going for a hike with a friend or my dog

-- Sharing a REALLY good meal with friends and family

-- Taking a run

-- Going for a sail

-- Attending a cultural event


An Interview with Paul McLain-Lugowski, a 2015 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner

An Interview with Paul McLain-Lugowski

This year, we at The Corps Network interviewed our two 2015 Corps Legacy Achievement Award winners to learn more about their experience and history in the Corps movement. 

Click here to read Paul's bio.


How did you become involved in the world of Service and Conservation Corps? 

I was fortunate to grow up in a home where service was a strong value, modeled consistently by my parents. I pursued studies that would prepare me for a life of service, completing a bachelor’s in Philosophy, then a master’s in historical and theological studies. After four years as a community organizer with the United Methodist Church, then a member of the Philosophy faculty at Fresno State University, I became acquainted with the work of the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission and was thrilled to obtain employment with this distinguished agency. After founding a shelter for homeless, runaway minors – named the Sanctuary, I was asked to head the formation of a local conservation corps in Fresno – not having ever before heard of Corps! At the time I had no sense of how prolific and transformative this experience would be for me, and the youth I had the privilege of leading.

Leaders in the California Conservation Corps were instrumental in providing guidance and resources as we formed the foundation for the local corps in Fresno. John Martinez, of the CCC, was a valuable and generous resource during our early days. Just as important were the early and enduring friendships I made among Corps directors in California and throughout the nation. Most significant were Sam Duran, Bob Hennessy, Ira Okun, Bruce Saito, Joanna Lennon, and Harry Bruell.  While the work was incredibly taxing, its rewards were so much more exhilarating than anything I had done before. Corps represent the best in models for youth development and are universally hailed for the results they yield. I’ve always been amazed that regardless of how much time an individual may have spent in the Corps it is that experience that is long lauded and remembered for the values and skills it taught, the friendships and bonds it made.


Who are some of your heroes? What did they do to inspire you?

My children are my heroes! They’re all carrying on the legacy of service in their own unique ways – as homemakers, law enforcement, fire protection, mechanical technician, Veterinarian, professor, and teacher – just think the impact they are having on their children, and their communities! They inspire me each day by their love, generosity, commitment, and vision.  They are my heroes.

Mentors have also had an inspiring role in my development, chief among them Joe Williams, the CEO who hired me at Fresno EOC. Joe was my picture of leadership, sophistication, class, fierce determination and hard work, loyalty, grace, and success. He had the Midas touch. Reverend Paul McCoy is another. Rev stood with me as Chair of our Advisory Committee for my entire tenure at the Corps. His constant encouragement, prudent guidance, smooth facilitation of agendas, and abiding calm through many, many storms – he is an anchor to me.

Others include Sam Duran and Bob Hennessy, my two closest friends, who know me like family. They were at the vanguard of Corps formation and legitimacy. They mortgaged their homes to make payroll. They got in trucks with crews, never shying from any part of the work of the Corps no matter how grueling or dirty. They won legislative wars we had no business fighting. Their lives were consumed by the Corps and the Corps is vibrant today because of their uncompromising commitment. Add Ira, Bruce, Joanna, Harry and others to that list.

My parents, immigrants who fled war, imparted indispensable values – hard work, determination, self-sufficiency, leadership, and faith. My grandkids are my thrill! Each so full of life, so curious, so accomplished so early in life. My wife incredibly prevailed over two serious bouts of cancer. She is the love of my life, my soul mate, confidant, sounding board, and business partner. She puts everything into perspective.

Deep appreciation goes to Brian Angus, our CEO, for honoring my work at the Corps, for our growing friendship, and for new, exhilarating leadership opportunities he’s created to turbo charge the work of Fresno EOC here and beyond. And I must add Shawn Riggins, my successor at the Fresno Corps. Shawn has demonstrated incredible grace to continue the legacy of the Fresno Corps; he reminds me of the importance of family, demonstrated so profoundly by his relationships.  


What are some of your most memorable experiences from working with Corps programs?

So many! Some quite humorous! Like frolicking outside all night long during NASCC’s Snowmageddon (late ‘90s) culminating with breakfast! Night tours of the monuments in Washington. And, of course the Dubliner, where we conducted a lot of late night Corps business J. Other memories: the incredible support the Corps family lent during the passing of my son; the amazing progress and accomplishments of our corpsmembers, notably Luis Chavez, believed to be the first corpsmember to hold elected office; our first YouthBuild grant (’95) which led to a transformation of our Corps; Government Education Days in California and Washington; the run of funding we secured in California, beginning with the doubling of the Bottle Bill, then Park Bond Propositions 12, 40, and 84; and CALCC meetings (vicious, frantic, entertaining, and productive)!


Which of your accomplishments as a leader in the Corps movement are you most proud of?

No one accomplishes anything without a terrific supporting cast. I’m very proud of the leaders I surrounded myself with; their dedication, loyalty, and consistently reliable and professional work placed the Fresno Corps among the elite youth development programs in the nation. Timing and a good bit of luck never hurt as well. I was very fortunate to work in a professional environment that lent me the freedom, encouragement, and resources to chase my dreams for the Corps. In retrospect, we planned a future for the Corps that went well beyond realistic because we just didn’t know any better. A lesson for our young leaders – think big, venture big before you recognize and are overcome by the minefields ahead of you.

I was honored to have the confidence of my peers to serve in numerous leadership roles, including a term on the board of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (NASCC), one term as CALCC President (state Corps Association), two terms as State YouthBuild Coalition President, and 14 years as President of the State Conservation Corps Institute (Conservation Corps State Museum).

We were profoundly honored by the distinguished progress of our corpsmembers, recognized by The Corps Network as Corpsmembers of the Year five of the first six years the award was made, and several other times since. The Fresno Corps was also recognized with three Projects of the Year.

Perhaps the most difficult of accomplishments was the visioning and construction of what became the Rev. Edward L. Swillis Neighborhood Youth Center, the headquarters of the Fresno Local Corps, dedicated and opened in the fall, 2009. The 66,000 SF $16 million campus comprised of an administrative/activity center, NBA-sized gymnasium, Vocational Training Center, and Charter School facilities was funded almost entirely by grants, while simultaneously maintaining and growing the existing operations of the Corps. Again, while the plan was visionary and bold, there were many who from the beginning and throughout the seven-year development period felt the project would never be completed. 25 grants to more than a dozen sources were written to fund the development while the cost of the project more than doubled, as it was constructed during the housing bubble. Anguish, long hours, pride, a talented team, and a commitment to purpose prevailed!   


Given your experience, what is the primary piece of wisdom you could provide to Corpsmembers?

Continue your education, don’t delay! I remember the first class of corpsmembers we enrolled in AmeriCorps. I was shocked that none were interested in the education award they would earn, that they had no plans for school, or college, that many felt they might not reach their 25th birthday. That revelation so moved us that we began a laser focus on improving our education services and to attract suitable talent to deliver these services. Today, I am so pleased with the academic services the Fresno Corps offers, with the quality, commitment, and number of graduates being produced each year. This must continue to be a focus of all Corps. Education is the single most important indicator of future earnings and one’s ability to move toward self-sufficiency. Education is much more than the content learned; it is the student’s association with others vested in the pursuit of skills for careers that bring fulfillment and prosperity. 

Surround yourselves with mentors and friends that help you learn and establish the life skills for a solid family foundation. Families are the essential unit of organization that impact the quality of life for a neighborhood and community.

Learn to budget and invest. Recognize that wealth is more a function of management than it is a matter of earnings. Live below your means and learn to become an investor. That discipline, coupled with time, produces a formula for explosive growth and prosperity. 


What is primary piece of wisdom you could provide to staff members at Corps?

I often told my staff that working for the Corps was a mission, not a job. Corps require undivided dedication to the needs and development of corpsmembers. Predictably, those who could not make such a commitment, moved on. The work was simply too difficult and corpsmembers will always quickly discern who genuinely cares about them and who does not. To those who regularly asked me about how the Corps might springboard them to greater career opportunity I always said they could grow their future at the Corps. Few other careers offer the kind of upward mobility the Corps offer. Corps enjoy strong legislative and funding support, they have the breadth and capacity within which abundant growth can and must take place. Working at a Corps is a privilege, an honor that must be respected. The promotion I got when I left the Corps left me lost and despondent for some time. I had fully planned to retire from the Corps.


Ten or twenty years from now, what developments would you like to have taken place in the Corps Movement?

I am so impressed by the leadership of The Corps Network and the Public Lands Service Coalition. At a time when resources are scarce, these groups, along with YouthBuild USA (the premier youth development groups in the country), have introduced new and innovative approaches to grow the Corps. While with fierce determination they protect funding that is in place, they’re now exploring avenues of collaboration with numerous related federal departments, with boldness and success. Weekly conference calls assure accountability. With such momentum there is no doubt Corps will grow into a much more mainstream element in a variety of areas including workforce development, education, energy, life skills, and family development. Corps in California have wonderful new opportunities in energy, with a Cap and Trade initiative that will make billions available for activities that address climate change and reduce the energy burden for our most vulnerable populations.

That groups continue to preserve the legacy of the FDR Corps is heartening. I would love to see the Corps recreate a 21st Century Corps with the appropriate scale and funding to help the large demographic of disenfranchised youth and returning veterans prepare to lead our nation. That this process is well underway now is thrilling to know! Leadership is always the key. Corps have always had strong leaders; cultivating the next generation of Corps leaders is paramount to realizing such expansion.  


If any celebrity or public figure were to become an advocate for Corps, who would you want it to be and why?

Doc Rivers would be a great advocate for Corps! One of my colleagues grew up with Doc in Chicago. Doc might be convinced to become involved with Corps. Oprah Winfrey is another, if someone had the connection to introduce us to her. I have tried to get to Kirk Kerkorian, President/CEO of Tracinda Corporation, an alum of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who was born in Fresno. He is 97, still active in business. I’ve had contact with Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame Cleveland running back and while he is active with youth similar to our corpsmembers, he is focused on the program he founded – Amer-I-Can. Members of FDR’s family may still have a passion for the Tree Army he introduced in 1933 and may want to promote the Corps.


When not working, how do you like to relax and enjoy yourself?

I’m fortunate to have a job I love, great colleagues, and the energy, and passion to enjoy it, so I spend a lot of time at work J However, with twelve grandchildren spread throughout California, all active in sports, music, and dance, we’re spending more time on the road, visiting with our extended family. I also have a number of hobbies and activities which I’ve enjoyed for many years. I played organized ice hockey until age 57, was the first Captain of the Fresno State University Bulldog Hockey team that still competes with major universities throughout the state. With knees and back less able, I now enjoy golf, biking, hiking, and fishing, especially with my son. I run an investment group, and control real estate holdings in several states. I’ve been invested in the financial markets since age 12, waking up daily to the ticker tape and new opportunities for investment. I enjoy teaching the markets to our Corpsmembers and have helped a number through difficult housing transitions. Philosophical discussions and lectures always interest me. Looking forward to much more travel. Originally from Canada and while attending high school at the New York state border, I became a huge New York sports fan. Love to get to the city as often as possible to see the Rangers, Knicks, Yankees, and Giants!  

2015 National Conference Plenary Speakers

Confirmed Speakers for The Corps Network's 2015 National Conference

Julie Chavez Rodriguez - Deputy Director of Public Engagement, The White House 
Julie Chavez Rodriguez serves as Deputy Director of Public Engagement. Over the past two years, Julie has served as the White House’s primary liaison to the Latino community and on immigration related issues. In this role, she has coordinated the White House’s efforts surrounding commonsense immigration reform and outreach to the Latino community on the Affordable Care Act, jobs and the economy, and education reform, among other Presidential priorities. Prior to joining the White House, Julie served as the Director of Youth Employment at the Department of the Interior and the Deputy Press Secretary to former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Before joining the Administration, Julie served as the Director of Programs at the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.

  • Plenary: Closing the Opportunity Gap
    - Monday, Feb. 9, 12:30 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.


Jonathan Jarvis - Director, National Park Service 
Jonathan (Jon) B. Jarvis officially became the 18th Director of the National Park Service on October 2, 2009. He began his career with the National Park Service in 1976 as a seasonal interpreter in Washington, D.C. Jon Jarvis moved up through the National Park Service as a protection ranger, a resource management specialist, park biologist, and Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources at parks such as Prince William Forest Park in Virginia, Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and North Cascades National Park in Washington. His first superintendency was at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho and he later served as the Superintendent of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska from 1994 until 1999. He became the Superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park in August of 1999. In 2001 he completed training in the Senior Executive Service Candidate Program of the Department of Interior and in September of 2002, became the Regional Director of the Pacific West Region.

  • Plenary: The National Park Service Centennial - Looking back, assessing the present, and planning for the future
    - Tuesday, Feb. 10, 8:00 a.m. - 9:15 a.m.


Karol Mason - Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice 
Karol Mason was nominated to be Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs by President Barack Obama on February 13, 2013. Her appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 25, 2013. As head of the Office of Justice Programs, she oversees an annual budget of more than $2 billion dedicated to supporting state, local, and tribal criminal justice agencies; an array of juvenile justice programs; a wide range of research, evaluation, and statistical efforts; and comprehensive services for crime victims. Ms. Mason previously served the Department of Justice as Deputy Associate Attorney General. At DOJ her primary responsibilities were to oversee the grant making components: the Office of Justice Programs, the Office on Violence Against Women, and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. In a cross-department initiative to address criminal justice issues in New Orleans, she led a team of representatives from each of the Department's grant components, as well as the Civil Rights Division, the Office of U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the DEA and the Community Relations Service. She led Attorney General Holder's Defending Childhood Initiative, and helped create its Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, bringing in the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services as partners. Ms. Mason was responsible for the implementation of the Combined Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS), which consolidates all of the Justice Department's tribal grants under a single solicitation.

  • Plenary: Tackling America's Greatest Challenges through National Service
    - Monday, Feb 9, 9:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m.


Clint Smith - Teacher, Poet (Keynote Speaker) 
Clint Smith is a teacher, poet, and doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University with a concentration in Culture, Institutions, and Society (CIS). He serves as a resident teaching artist in Boston Public Schools and a creative writing instructor at Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, MA. Previously, he taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland and served as a public health worker in Soweto, South Africa. His research interests includecritical pedagogy, mass incarceration, the intersection of art and activism, how literacy shapes the formation of adolescent identity, and youth civic education.In 2013, Mr. Smith was named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council. He has been featured in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Root, NBC News and is profiled in the book,"American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom" (Welcome Books, 2013). As a poet, he is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, an Individual World Poetry Finalist, and has served as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State conducting international workshops on cross-cultural understanding and youth empowerment. His poetry has been featured on TED.com, Upworthy, TVOne's Verses & Flow and at the IB Conference of the Americas, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

  • Plenary: Opening Plenary - Tackling America's Greatest Challenges
    - Sunday, Feb. 8, 2:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. 


Michael Smith - Special Assistant to President Obama and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for the MY Brother's Keeper Inititiative, The White House 
Michael is Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for My Brother’s Keeper at the White House. In this role he manages the president’s initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. Prior to joining the White House team, Michael was an appointee in the Obama Administration, serving as director of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a key White House initiative and program of the Corporation for National and Community Service that combines federal and private investment to help scale and replicate evidence-based solutions to complex social challenges. Michael reinvigorated and expanded the initiative, managing its largest funding competition, introducing its first Pay for Success grant program, and overseeing a portfolio of more than $700 million in public-private investments, supporting more than 200 impactful nonprofits nationwide. Before joining the Obama Administration Michael served as Senior VP of Social Innovation at the Case Foundation, where he oversaw the Foundation's giving and program strategy, and guided numerous sector-building initiatives and public-private partnerships, such as Startup America.

  • Plenary: Closing the Opportunity Gap
    - Monday, Feb. 9, 12:30 p.m. - 1:45 p.m.

Invited Speakers

E. J. Dionne
Journalist, The Washington Post

Secretary Anthony Foxx
U.S. Department of Transportation

Secretary Sally Jewell
U.S. Department of the Interior

Julie McEvoy
Deputy Associate Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

Wendy Spencer
CEO, Corporation for National and Community Service

Blair Taylor
Chief Community Officer, Starbucks Corporation

Secretary Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Corps Network's 2015 Award Winners


Every year, The Corps Network honors a select group of outstanding Corpsmembers and Projects, as well as leaders in the Corps movement. Click the links below to read about our 2015 honorees, who will be officially awarded at our National Conference in Washington, D.C., February 8 - 11, 2015. Congratulations to all of our winners and thank you for everything you do!

Corpsmembers of the Year 

Graciela "Gracie" Billingsley 
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Colorado - Steamboat Springs, CO

Harris Cox
Civicorps - Oakland, CA

Mokhtar Mohammadi
Onondaga Earth Corps - Syracuse, NY

Jasmine Romero
Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, New Mexico - Taos, NM

Jeremiah Ruiz
Urban Corps of San Diego County - San Diego, CA


  • Click here to learn more about the award.
  • Click here for a list of past Corpsmembers of the Year.

Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winners

Ann Cochrane
San Francisco Conservation Corps

Paul McLain-Lugowski
Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps


  • Click here to learn more about the award.
  • Click here for a list of past Corps Legacy Achievement Award winners.

Projects of the Year

Beach Buddy Adventure
Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps

Energy Corps
California Conservation Corps

GURLS Corps!


2015 Project of the Year: SEEDS' GURLS Corps!

GURLS Corps!
(Girls United in Resilience, Leadership and Service)



SEEDS, host to a Youth Conservation Corps based in Traverse City, Michigan, has for several seasons partnered with Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan (CFS) – a 76-year-old organization that provides foster care, adoption services, counseling and advocacy programs to over 3,000 people annually. Coinciding with the 2014 season, the Biederman Foundation – a local family-support organization, stepped in to support the expansion of this partnership. At the time, seven of CFS’s eleven teens aging out of foster care were young women. Five of these young women formed GURLS Corps!; an all-girl program SEEDS created to offer job training, mentoring and education to young women who are aging out of the foster  care system, struggling to complete high school, and who may have additional risk factors that could hinder a successful transition into adulthood. 

Teens aging out of foster care face a variety of challenges as they learn how to support themselves and live independently. Approximately one in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system and more than 20 percent will become homeless at some point after age 18. Additionally, only about 58 percent have a high school diploma by the age of 19, compared to 87 percent of non-foster youth. Young women exiting the foster care system arguably have it the hardest, as teenage girls are twice as likely as teen boys to develop adolescent depression and are much more likely to experience self-image issues.

GURLS Corps! – which stands for Girls United in Resilience, Leadership and Service – recruits young women from Elements; a CFS program that teaches independent living skills (like healthy eating, and driver’s ed) to foster youth ages 14 – 21. SEEDS has hosted all-girl crews in the past, but traditionally only 10 – 15 percent of their Corpsmembers are young women. However, having a girls-only program was important in order to address sensitive issues the young women face and avoid the sometimes complicated social pressures of a co-ed crew. As a result of more actively recruiting women, SEEDS increased their female enrollment to 41 percent.

GURLS Corps! members spent eight weeks developing green job skills through participating in a range of service projects, including taking lead responsibility of the SEEDS farm, constructing a boardwalk, building and maintaining trails and campgrounds, removing invasive species, and improving beaches. They also provided a service to the community by helping set up the 10th annual Traverse City Film Festival; a popular and highly acclaimed documentary festival founded by Michael Moore. These projects not only provided hands-on work experience, but also helped the girls develop a sense of civic pride. Additionally, the girls had the opportunity to work side-by-side with female mentors who have chosen careers in fields like agriculture, architecture, construction, biology, and land management. In exchange for their service, the teens received academic credit, a minimum wage income, and, for those 17 or older, AmeriCorps Education Award scholarships.  

"We are delighted by this recognition of our young women in foster care, who worked so hard and learned so much with SEEDS this summer,” said Jim Sherrer, CEO of CFS. “We know how special our youth are, and now many more around the nation will know, too.  Our partnership with SEEDS is one of which we are very proud, and we congratulate them on this award."

All five of the young women in GURLS Corps! successfully completed the program, earning resume-building credentials and vital soft skills. One of the girls enrolled in community college, two are set to graduate high school in May 2015, and the remaining two will start their senior year in September 2015. This is especially inspiring considering the instability and, in some cases, abuse and addiction the girls faced throughout their adolescence.

“The impact of the program on our young women participants was striking,” said Bill Watson, SEEDS Director of Youth Programs, “They learned about their own strengths and that they were not alone…They supported one another and shared the stories that led to their placement in foster care. They worked hard at the job of being a Corpsmember, but at the same time they worked hard at overcoming their individual challenges and at being survivors.”

2015 Project of the Year: California Conservation Corps' Energy Corps

Energy Corps
California Conservation Corps

In November 2012, California voters passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act (Proposition 39), establishing a fund to support projects throughout the state that improve energy efficiency and expand clean energy generation in schools. One such project is California Conservation Corps’ Energy Corps: a program launched in the fall of 2013 to help California schools conduct energy surveys and reduce energy consumption, while also providing Corpsmembers the opportunity to gain technical training in the energy field. 

The Energy Corps model is based on the idea that much of the energy work typically performed by engineers and energy analysts can, and should, be performed by entry-level employees. The goal is to open up new positions for young adults within the rapidly expanding energy efficiency industry. Energy Corps provides Corpsmembers with the skills and knowledge to complete these entry-level tasks and pursue advanced training. To date, nearly 250 California Conservation Corps (CCC) Energy Corps members have completed an 80-hour training in the fundamentals of energy use and energy efficiency; nearly 60 have completed an 80-hour course in basic lighting; 84 completed OSHA 10-hour training; and 76 finished the 12.5 hour Energy University online course.

Energy Corps members learn to work in teams to complete “whole building” Energy Opportunity Surveys, which evaluate the interior and exterior of a structure to identify current energy usage. Corpsmembers then visit schools, inspecting each building’s lighting, windows, heating, and ventilation and air-conditioning systems. The data the Corpsmembers collect about each school’s energy consumption is analyzed by energy industry experts who quantify potential energy saving opportunities and provide recommendations for how schools can implement energy and cost-saving measures.

In Energy Corps’ first year, Corpsmembers from 12 Crews in 11 locations conducted Energy Opportunity Surveys of 900 schools. They evaluated 7,400 structures and 36 million square feet of building space. The data from these surveys has allowed analysts to recommend actions schools can take to save more than 50 million kWh annually and millions of dollars. Not to mention, many of the schools where Energy Corps works are in low-income communities. Without the services provided by Energy Corps, these schools would likely not be able to hire an outside firm to conduct an energy survey, which is required in order to receive state funding to pursue energy efficiency projects.

In addition to conducting surveys, Energy Corps members also have the skills to install basic energy efficiency retrofits at the schools, including lighting and control upgrades. Corpsmembers also complement their training by providing presentations about energy conservation to students at the schools where they serve.

Through Energy Corps, the CCC is tackling some of America’s Greatest Challenges – including youth unemployment and climate change – by creating public service work and youth training opportunities in the energy sector. 

2015 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner - Paul McLain-Lugowski

Paul McLain-Lugowski
Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps

Click here to read an Interview with Paul *

Paul McLain-Lugowski has been an important figure in the Corps movement for the past 20 years. In 1995, Paul founded Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps (LCC) as well as the first YouthBuild program among California Corps. Since then, LCC has helped transform the lives of thousands of opportunity youth. 

Under Paul’s leadership, LCC generated an annual budget of nearly $9 million, enrolled over 350 Corpsmembers every year, and maintained a $3 million Fee-for-Service portfolio that provided Corpsmembers with vocational training opportunities in grounds maintenance, irrigation and concrete. Through LCC, Paul also introduced and led the state in re-entry initiatives for formerly incarcerated youth. Consequently, LCC has been awarded more contracts in this area than any other Corps or YouthBuild program in the country. 

Throughout his tenure, Paul helped LCC develop a glowing reputation in the community and expand its capacity to provide educational and service opportunities to at-risk young people. In 2010, LCC was awarded a Project of the Year Award for the development of their new campus: the $16 million, 60,000 square-foot Rev. Edward L. Swillis Neighborhood Youth Center. Paul envisioned, directed, and led the fund development for this project.

Paul has held numerous leadership positions in the Corps world. From 1998 – 2000, he served as the third President of the California Association of Local Conservation Corps (CALCC), presiding over the organization when its recycling allocation doubled to $18 million. He served two consecutive terms as President of the California YouthBuild Coaltion (2005 – 2009); served as a board member of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps (2004 - 2006); and, since 2002, has chaired the board of California’s Conservation Corps Museum.

Though Paul no longer serves as Director of LCC, his commitment to the Corps and to young people endures. Over the past five years, Paul created, and continues to lead, the Planning Office for LCC’s parent organization, Fresno EOC (which is the nation’s largest community action agency). He convinced Rep. Jim Costa (a strong supporter of Paul’s nomination for this award) to co-sponsor the Youth Corps Act of 2011, and continues to pursue California state and federal representatives to support important Corps initiatives. Paul is also a regular speaker on Corps-related matters, presenting to HUD, Inside-Out Summits, California State Assembly hearings, State Workforce Association Conferences, National Transitional Jobs Network, and the National Community Action Partnership. In his spare time, Paul also continues to formally and informally mentor many LCC Corpsmembers.

Shawn Riggins, current Director of LCC, said, “Paul’s passion for the Corps is without limit…It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of a giant.”  

2015 Corps Legacy Achievement Award Winner - Ann Cochrane

Ann Cochrane
San Francisco Conservation Corps

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Ann Cochrane began her tenure with San Francisco Conservation Corps (SFCC) in 1988, taking over as Executive Director in 1993. Now, as she enters retirement after 26 years as a champion of Corps and a prominent figure in the world of youth development, Ann can be recognized as one of the longest serving Conservation Corps Directors in the country. 

Ann holds a B.A. in Sociology and Law from Boston University and has also completed course work in Early Childhood Education at San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco. Prior to joining SFCC, Ann served as Executive Director of the Chinatown Community Children’s Center. During her time with the Corps, Ann also held multiple leadership positions with other organizations focused on youth development. She served on the boards of the California Association of Local Conservation Corps (CALCC), and Wu Yee’s Children’s Services in San Francisco, and served on the Youth Council of the Workforce Investment Board of San Francisco. Ann has also volunteered her time as a Client Advocate for W.O.M.A.N., Inc., and as a Legal Advocate for the Family Violence Prevention Project.

Ann served on the Board and Corps Council of NASCC/The Corps Network for 12 years, acting as the Board President in the 1990s and helping steer NASCC through changing times. In the 2000s, Ann served as the first Treasurer of the newly restructured Board.

During her tenure, Ann has helped thousands of young people change their lives through participation in SFCC and, by extension, the many other Corps that have modeled themselves off of SFCC’s urban conservation Corps model.

“Ann has brought consistent and steady leadership to the San Francisco Conservation Corps and the national Corps movement for more than 25 years,” said Harry Bruell, CEO and President of Conservation Legacy. “Her upcoming retirement is a true loss of one of the first leaders of the Corps movement.”