Advocating for Corpsmembers Near and Far

In studying criminal justice as an undergrad, Masters of Social Work student Sy Harris realized that the young adults in the juvenile justice system are not adequately supported.  Sy observed that these young adults weren’t wholly aware of their own legal situation; or, their well-being and health issues went unaddressed.  These realizations fueled Sy’s desire to go into social work.

Sy is one among this year’s interns in Civicorps’ support services department, joining during the pandemic while working on their MSW at the University of Southern California.  The reality of the past year, however, has Sy communicating remotely from their home in Virginia. It’s not without its difficulties, but flexibility is a must. During the pandemic, Sy gives guidance by “showing [Corpsmembers] how important it is to maintain their stress to be able to function, [or to] seek help without feeling judged or anything like that.”

“[We communicate] through phone calls, text messages, email—depending on where they’re at and how best to get a hold of them,” says Sy. “Sometimes if I’m being ghosted, it means they don’t want to be bothered.”  Thankfully, Sy has the patience and the training to meet Corpsmembers where they are.

Through education and job training, Civicorps gives young adults the opportunity to build their own futures. Beyond our core mission exists wrap-around support that provides holistic, trauma-informed care for youth.  In fact, it’s the depth and breadth of our support services that truly distinguish Civicorps from other job training and educational programs.

Sy Harris, Master of Social Work candidate at the University of Southern California.

(From left to right) Corpsmembers Roderick, Jasmine, and Daisy are joined by Lead Counselor Natasha in building a community garden beside the Job Training Center in West Oakland.

Providing Many Types of Mental Wellness Support

Civicorps strives to create a safe space to find support for Corpsmembers in reaching their goals, overcoming challenges, and healing from trauma. On-site counseling and continual support means youth have access to two full-time Case Counselors, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and a Master of Social Work (MSW).  Civicorps’ Outreach and Retention Specialist and Dean of Students also provide continual motivation and guidance as our participants progress through the benchmarks of the program.

Beyond the onsite staff readily available to assist Corpsmembers, Civicorps engages MSW interns like Sy to provide additional support. Civicorps has long time relationships with MSW programs at several Universities, which enables us to welcome graduate students as interns. In this way, the hands on learning in social work counts towards the completion of their program. MSW internships at Civicorps typically last an academic year.

“MSW interns are given a small case load,” explains Lead Counselor Natasha Vinakor. “[They] focus on a select few to really give someone the care and attention they need.”

“Pre-pandemic, MSW interns were placed at the [Job Training Center] working with conservation interns,” recounts Natasha. “They were meeting in-person sometimes and going out with crews. At the Academy, MSW interns would sometimes sit in classes and make in-person appointments.”

Now, building a relationship takes time. MSW interns must do so without having ever met someone in real life. Sitting in classes, for example, helped students get used to and be more comfortable around each new cycle of interns.

“But the interns do a great job doing everything they can, and for some Corpsmembers, it’s been a lifeline,” says Natasha. “There are some great successes, [especially] once people understand that they’re counselors, that they’re there to support them even though they’ve met only through the phones.”

And because of the pandemic, MSW interns are more accessible without sticking to a nine to five in-person office hours. In that way, Corpsmembers get support and answers quicker.

Advocates For Everyone

Sy sums it up simply: “A social worker is ultimately an advocate for everyone, but with schooling behind them.”

“The most crucial ability is to listen, be non-judgmental, and to be able to be present with the person. Even today people don’t even have friends who can be present like that and those are the crucial things a social worker has to learn and continuously re-learn in some situations, because you have internal bias that throws you off.”

Mental Health Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness –

Family Education and Resource Center –

In Natasha’s words: “Social work aims to support those in the greatest need to try to create an equitable society, which is why research is constantly changing to reflect better practices.”

Indeed, just as MSW interns gain hands-on experience, Civicorps benefits from a new crop of MSW interns every year.  And with interns coming into the Corps with fresh eyes, under the supervision of our expert support services team, Corpsmembers receive the support and resources they need to help navigate a variety of challenges and reach their goals.

Do you share our vision for a world where all youth have the education and resources needed for college and career success?

Join us! Add your name to our list here.

Filed under: Blog