A Journey to Graduation

Here at Civicorps, we witness daily moments of resiliency and determination among our students.  Because our program is year-round, we have the privilege of being with our Corpsmembers day after day, month after month and in many cases, year after year. Their personal and educational triumphs are many, but few occasions are as meaningful to our students as the day they receive their high-school diplomas.  Twice a year, a new cohort of graduates walks the stage.  Today, we invite you to take a small glimpse into their journeys with these four portraits.

Join us for graduation, RSVP.

JAZMINE

It all started with an Instagram post. After leaving high school, I enrolled in online school, but it just didn’t work out. Three years went by and I just knew I needed to figure out a way to earn my high school diploma. And God heard my plea because two weeks later, I saw Civicorps’ Instagram post.

I was super stoked.

I saw myself moving up in life, being successful, accessing higher education, and expanding my world with knowledge and opportunities. What once was a dream, is now becoming reality!

The entire Civicorps Academy really has motivated me to fight for my dreams. I saw how my classmates were going through different obstacles to be at school, but their drive to be at the Academy inspired me to finish strong.

When I cross the stage, I will feel like I can finally be free to live my life and be who I want to be. I will work hard towards my Bachelor’s in psychology or sociology. I will pursue being a social worker, school counselor, or therapist. And ten years from now I can see myself running my own business and having my own family. But before then, I will work hard to get into a good university. UC Berkeley is the dream!

KEVIN

When I was 17 I was unmotivated and irritated with school. I started working but it was my mentor and manager who made me realize that a high school diploma is a onetime thing. Work will always be there… having a high school diploma will only guarantee me a better job.

My sisters who are first generation graduates and have Master degrees, also encouraged me to go back to school and strive for my high school diploma. If they could see my potential, I knew I could do it.

It’s taken me 3 years to reach this goal! I am grateful for Civicorps staff who gave me a second chance to finish strong. Walking on stage to receive my high school diploma means power, it means knowledge, it means educated. It may be a piece of paper, but it will take me places in life.

I plan to move to Sacramento and hopefully work for PG&E. I want a nice life, save money, buy a house and start my family.

NORMA

Cuando era pequeña, yo estudie hasta el sexto grado. Yo no quería  dejar mis estudios  pero en mi país de Guatemala, para seguir teníamos que pagar. Mi familia no tenía los recursos, y desde los 13 años empecé a trabajar. Finalmente, las puertas de la educación se abrieron cuando llegue a los estados unidos a los 17.

Mi trabajador social me informe sobre Civicorps. Yo la verdad, cuando vine aquí, pensaba que no lo iba lograr por el idioma. De una u otra manera, mis maestros me dijeron “¡Tú puedes, vas a lograrlo!” Al escuchar esas palabras, ellos me hicieron ver la fuerza que yo tenía para seguir adelante. Con el apoyo de los maestros y el staff, encontré una motivación que me empujo a lograr mis metas, ahora éxitos.

No tengo mi familia conmigo, pero es por ellos que orgullosamente recibiré mi diploma. Y mi camino no termina hoy. Seguiré estudiando, y lograre cumplir mi sueño en recibirme como asistente médico o enfermera. 

¡Merritt College, hay nos vemos!

CHRIS

When I walk the stage to receive my high school diploma, I will be in tears. I started Civicorps in 2014, so as you can imagine, it’s been a long time coming. My goal was to finish and obtain my high school diploma quick, but personal matters required me to leave Civicorps.

Often times I would start something and never finish. And while I took a break, I came back. This will be the first time that I can say, I did it! I completed something that I can be proud of.

I struggled going to school. I had a tough time as a teenager, and by receiving my high school diploma I am proving to myself that I deserve this. No matter what you do, it’s not how you fall but how you get up. That’s a valuable lesson I learned at Civicorps and will always keep in mind.

My dream is to become an auto mechanic. And now that I have a high school diploma, I will enroll at Alameda College’s Automotive Technology program.  Step by step I will work hard to achieve that. Civicorps allowed me to get my driver’s license, my high school diploma, and I know they’ll be there for me as I start my auto mechanic career.

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Book Club: Wisdom from Playwright, August Wilson!

“Something is not always better than nothing.” – August Wilson, How I Learned What I Learned

Civicorps’ book club meets every Wednesday during lunch to share insight and discussion of the book selected for the term.

We recently read August Wilson’s Fences, a play about an African American family in the 1950s tackling issues on race, family structure, death, and economic mobility. So when the book club had the opportunity to see an actual August Wilson play on stage, we jumped at the chance to see it.  Seven Corpsmembers went to the Ubuntu Theater Project’s production of Wilson’s autobiographical one-man play, How I Learned What I Learned.

During the play, the actor playing Wilson shares an inspiring quote that resonated with Corpsmembers. In the scene, he shares that no matter how much you are earning, if you are being mistreated or disrespected at work because of your skin color, having no job is better.

“Something is not always better than nothing.”

I resonated with the quote [above], because I could understand him going through jobs and quitting because I use to do that a lot between 18 and 20. I didn’t feel like my former employers were respecting me as a black person and as a woman. Even though he’s older, history still repeats itself. He acknowledged that we can change it. We can change our perspective, and other people’s perspective of us. We are not the loud and rowdy ones, we just express ourselves differently. It’s not what you see, but how you see it. – Malajah, Corpsmember

The theatre really can provoke you to think beyond your years and experience truth often gone unnoticed or forgotten. This play opened our eyes and allowed us to be in the same room with August Wilson, whose background is similar to Corpsmembers. He left school at the age of 15 and like many of our Corpsmembers, took a nontraditional path to discover his purpose in life. He is a reminder that through hard work and knowing who you are, there are no obstacles to success other than yourself. The play was filled with advice that Corpsmembers could absorb/apply into their lives.

Whether it’s in a book or on stage, literature has the power to acknowledge our histories, question our realities, and change our futures. Civicorps is proud to host a book club that allows our students to think critically and deeply, and embody their realities through literature.

So if you are a Corpsmember, join us at the next book club, Wednesdays during lunch!

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Corpsmember of the Quarter: Monique Peña

As Food Intern, Monique has done an incredible job with Civicorps’ food program, bringing in savory, delicious foods, and offering a variety of healthy meals to Corpsmembers. She is consistently concerned about quality and about the well-being of the community. She provides breakfast and lunch to Recycling, the Job Training Center and to the Academy. Monique really connects with all programs at Civicorps; truly, this place would not run without her! She graduated this past December, and we couldn’t be more proud of her achievements. We can’t wait for what’s next as she embarks in an entrepreneurial college pathway!

Thank you Monique!

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Oh, The Places You'll Go

A guest blog by Steven Addison, Job Training Coordinator at Civicorps

Sahsae (left) and Josh at the gateway of their new home

On Sunday, April 21, Civicorps said goodbye to Corpsmembers Sahsae Robertson and Josh Ballard as they took a leap of faith and joined the California Conservation Corps’ 40 year old Backcountry Trails Program (BCTP), a joint program with AmeriCorps.  Sunday was the perfect day to begin something new.  A clear blue morning and lush green hills lay ahead of us as we drove to the foothills of the Sierra Mountains to the CCC’s Placer Center.  Civicorps Lead Counselor Natasha Vinakor was the perfect co-pilot for this trip, because she assisted in navigating the excitement, anxiety and a wide range of emotions bubbling up for Sahsae, Josh and myself.

Sahsae (middle left), Josh (second from right) and Steven (right) meet two of the BCTP supervisors

As a former Backcountry Corpsmember, I too started my 5 ½ month journey in the mountains of Yosemite at the Placer Center.  21 years ago I set off on a life changing and career defining trip that led me to incredible sunrises, breath taking mountain lakes and some of the most physically demanding days of my life.

I can’t predict what exact adventures Sahsae and Josh are about to experience but I do know that neither will be the same if and when they return to Oakland.  They will each hike hundreds of miles, build countless early morning campfires, dip bone tired bodies in cool mountain creeks and lakes and make a crazy amount of sandwiches for lunch each day.  Both Josh and Sahsae will sit by a camp fire with their crew members late into the night talking, laughing and getting to know each other.  By no means will every day be great, some days they will have to drag themselves out of their warm sleeping bags into the cold and sometimes wet mornings, or haul their bodies that last 100 yards to get to the top of some god-forsaken trail.  Josh and Sahsae will cherish the letters and packages (we have addresses for both) delivered by the mule teams once a week along with the grocery order.  At some point they miss and crave home, friends, family and some specific food that will be out of reach.

Dr. Seuss wrote “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”.  For many reasons, we of the BCTP felt that he was speaking to us because of lines like “it’s opener there in the wide open air” and “ on and on you will hike, and I know you’ll hike far and face up to your problems whatever they are”. After dropping Josh and Sahsae off, I now know that Dr. Seuss was speaking to all who have attempted a season in the wilderness.

Special thanks to Dan Ramos at The North Face for hooking us up with much needed gear and clothing for this adventure, and to Sports Basement in Berkeley for the gift card.

 

Natasha strikes a pose with Sahsae and Josh

 

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Civicorps goes to Sacramento

They left Oakland at the crack of dawn outfitted in their Corps gear and prepped to tell their personal stories. They arrived in Sacramento early but bright-eyed, enjoyed the beauty of our state Capitol building and got ready to spend the day repping Civicorps.  Along with dozens of other Corpsmembers from around California, Blake Singletary, Monique Pena and Xiana Herrera confidently strode the halls of our state capitol yesterday on CALCC’s Government Ed Day.

Four lucky Civicorps staff – Tessa Nicholas, Joseph Billingsley, Rodney Dunn and Rachel Eisner – accompanied them and watched them shine throughout a dizzying array of meetings with legislative offices.  Thank you to the wonderful staff at the offices of Assemblymembers Tim Grayson, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, Jim Frazier, Buffy Wicks, Rob Bonta and Senators Nancy Skinner and Steve Glazer for warmly welcoming us and learning about our work.  And special thanks to the Assemblymember Kansen Chu himself for a terrific conversation along with our friends at the San Jose Conservation Corps.

Once a year, the 14 Corps represented by the California Association of Local Conservation Corps converge in Sacramento to spread the word about why CALCC is such an important part of transforming communities in California.  We are all so lucky to be part of a community that’s working on issues like conserving energy, finding cost-effective solutions to environmental concerns AND helping young people find alternatives to youth unemployment, incarceration and substance abuse.

Blake, Monique and Xiana powerfully represented what Civicorps offers to young adults by describing their individuals paths to our doors, and proudly listed their accomplishments in tool certifications, Honor Roll listings, and more.  As Xiana explained, “I was skeptical at first and thought this would be just another high school.  But I got told I had potential and it made me feel welcome.”  December 2018 graduate and current Food Program Intern Monique described how growing up in Oakland, she never felt the kind of support from schools or other institutions that she found here; “they want to see you thrive,” she said, “rather than put you behind bars.”  And Blake humorously described how he originally left our program after one week, but returned and is now poised to complete his requirements this year. “I have accomplished a lot that I wouldn’t have thought I could” at Civicorps.

We finished the marathon day of meetings with a fabulous photo op with all the Corpsmembers who traveled to Sacramento from up and down California.  The sun was shining, the friendships were blossoming, the #LocalCorpsStrength pride was bursting.  What a wonderful day!  It felt fantastic to spread our message about positively transforming our communities all over California.

 

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College and Career Fair 2019

Every spring, Civicorps holds a College and Career Fair to inspire and inform our Corpsmembers as they consider their futures after graduation.  We held our latest College and Career Fair on Friday, April 5.  During a series of presentations, students learned about new trades and certificated programs, asked questions, and had the opportunity to network with representatives from a number of Bay Area vocational and educational organizations. Many thanks to our partners who sent representatives to Civicorps to ignite our students’ imaginations about their future:

We also had the pleasure of learning from a panel of Civicorps alumni about their career pathways after graduation. Thank you to Effrey Jamal Simms, Class of 2013, independent graphic designer; Serena Saechao, Class of 2015, City of Oakland; and Roxanna Elias, Class of 2016, medical assistant. We are lucky to have received your valuable advice.

Our students are now on Spring Break, and we’ll be excited to welcome them back after a well-deserved respite.  We also look forward to meeting our newest group of Corpsmembers at our April 16 orientation.

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