Tackling Homelessness One Tiny Home at a Time

Now, our Corpsmembers are joining the City of Oakland’s efforts to shelter our unhoused neighbors.

Thanks to the Oakland City Council and Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas’ tenacious efforts, a new “co-governed encampment” is being built at an empty lot on East 12th Street.  Our Corpsmembers are helping to construct “tiny home” small shelters designed to be a stepping stone out of crisis and into stability.  The shelters are provided by Pallet, a social purpose company on a mission to build equal opportunity access to housing and employment.

We were very excited to welcome Council President Bas to the tiny home site this week to see the fruits of her labor. And we’re so pleased to be part of a coalition of city partners, longtime neighborhood advocates, and the Housing Consortium of the East Bay helping to transition our neighbors into dignified shelter. We’re honored to support Oakland’s health and vitality, and proud to engage Corpsmembers in this critically important community work.

Our Corpsmembers’ typical day involves heading out with a crew to work as Conservation or Recycling Interns.  They’re out in the field doing fuel load reduction, trail maintenance, running recycling routes, collecting E-waste, learning the trade and earning tool certifications along the way.

Every now and then, a different type of project comes along that allows Corpsmembers to step into special service opportunities. During the spring and summer of 2020, for example, Civicorps answered Governor Newsom’s call for volunteers to respond to the dire increase in food insecurity around the Bay Area. Corpsmembers worked at food banks in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, helping to produce nearly 2 millions pounds of food in the first few months of the pandemic.

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Summer 2021 Corpsmember of the Quarter: Naji Lockett

Civicorps is proud to announce the Summer 2021 Corpsmember of the Quarter: Naji Lockett!

Naji has made incredible strides in the last few months in his leadership capabilities, becoming a Crew Leader 2.

“The first time Naji went out for Crew Leader Training he didn’t get it. But that didn’t discourage him. The very next Crew Leader Academy took place and he did unbelievable. He took that time and perfected his craft,’” said Monique Williams, Conservation Program Coordinator who runs the Conservation Crew Leader Academy.

Whether interacting with sponsors, driving Civicorps vehicles or rallying his crew of fellow Corpsmembers, Naji has stepped into his CL2 role with courage. His willingness to take on more responsibility while remaining humble among his peers is a rare combination.

Naji is a prime example of what a successful journey as a Corpsmember looks like.  We’re excited to see Naji continue to grow and thrive!

What is Corpsmember of the Quarter?

Every quarter, staff vote on a Corpsmember who demonstrates personal growth and program success to receive this prestigious award. At the end of the year, one among the Corpsmembers of the Quarter are nominated for Corpsmember of the Year with the Corps Network, the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps.

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.

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A Tuba in One Hand, A Saw in the Other

When Operations Intern Bryan comes into Civicorps’ Job Training Center at West Oakland in the early mornings, he has a routine: open the parking lot gates, open the warehouse doors, and essentially get everything ready for the incoming Corpsmembers to head out for the day.

As part of Operations, Bryan helps to maintain all equipment and facilities used by the Corps at the Job Training Center, led by Sergio, Civicorps’ Operations Coordinator. Bryan is one of two Operations Interns, each of whom is personally selected by Sergio on a rotating basis for the role. 

For this newest incarnation of this pair, Bryan and fellow intern (and new Civicorps Academy grad) Victor, support Sergio in his work.

Like the producers of a film set, the Operations team at Civicorps helps to make things happen at the Corps. A broken tool needs fixing? Need the materials to build a community garden?

The Ops Team has you covered.

A Dependable Jack of All Trades

Much like at the Job Training Center, at home, Bryan is very handy.

“I do a lot of carpentry projects. My dad gets side gigs like making fences and that’s what got me into that. I also like building furniture. It’s more of a hobby. Whenever my siblings ask me for something, if I can make it, I’ll try it.”

When asked where he got this interest from: “I started with Legos.”

Last thing Bryan built for his siblings: a bookshelf.

Helping collect dumped tires throughout the East Bay and bringing it back to the Job Training Center for pickup.

Helping collect dumped tires throughout the East Bay and bringing it back to the Job Training Center for pickup.

Favorite tool to use: chainsaw, particularly preparing the chain for the chainsaw.

At 19 years old, Bryan is just beginning his professional journey. And yet, Bryan brings with him a willingness to learn and explore.

Having seen an ad online for Civicorps, Bryan applied. In no time, Bryan was wearing a red hat, signaling his position as a Conservation Intern.

During the Conservation Program’s orientation, Bryan learned about the Operations department and inquired. Sergio advised Bryan to stick with the crews at their project sites to learn more about the organization and see if the interest was still there after some time.

After a couple of months, and impressed by the work Bryan put in, Sergio promoted him.

“He’s one of those Corpsmembers with perfect attendance, shows up early, and works hard. [Bryan] demonstrated through his behavior and actions that he could work in Operations and the promotion happened naturally,” remembers Sergio.

Because the Operations team takes care of every tool, vehicle, equipment and room in our Conservation Program, the role requires someone reliable and resourceful. One day you can be re-chaining a chainsaw, the next you’re building furniture for a new office space.

Bryan seems to fit all these molds.

“[Operations] pretty much runs the shop and does anything that needs to get done in order to facilitate the crews’ work,” says Bryan. “I also like taking out tires. It’s pretty cool since I’ve been to places in Oakland that I’ve never been to [before].”

The Musical Influences of Sinaloa

Having a creative mind is helpful when finding solutions to different tasks at the Job Training Center. What’s more, Bryan’s hobbies extend beyond creating furniture.

Growing up, Bryan enjoyed learning new instruments and making music. Starting as part of a church band, he eventually joined the marching and jazz bands in high school.

“I enjoy putting myself through the challenge of learning an instrument. The tuba was the most challenging,” recounts Bryan.

What is banda sinaloense?

This type of brass, woodwind, and percussion band hails from the Sinaloa region of Mexico.

On his free time, Bryan makes music as part of a banda sinaloense.

“In the banda, I play the tuba. But I can play the drums and trumpet. “

Bryan was connected to his current banda through mutual connections. Playing most of the time during the weekends, Bryan gets to be at different venues.

“Most hours we get to play during weekend are for quincinearas. We do still play night clubs every weekend and on Cinco de Mayo we play at a festival in Richmond. For the Day of Dead, we play Oakland,” tells Bryan. “The point of our music is to get people hyped up and get them to dance.”

And where does he enjoy playing the most?

“I enjoy playing at festivals in Richmond because that’s where I’m from and the people I know see me play every year.”

Ever the enterpriser, Bryan wants to go into metalwork. Bryan’s curiosity and originality will no doubt find him reaching new heights.

“I plan to go to San Francisco Ironworkers Union, I want to do that apprenticeship soon.”

As for the Job Training Center, the work that Bryan and the Operations team do at the Corps is pivotal to making their fellow Corpsmembers’ journey happen. Providing young participants opportunities for family sustaining careers would not be possible were it not for bright Corpsmembers like Bryan whose work is essential to keeping our Conservation Program up and running.

Sergio himself sums it up best:  “Operations is responsible for all material items that make the Corpsmember experience. Without Operations doing their business, there is no Corpsmember business.”

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

Journey to Graduation – Civicorps Grads Spring 2021

We’re incredibly proud of the graduates who walked down the Preservation Park stage on June 16. Here are a few reflective words from our terrific Class of Spring 2021:

Angela Alarcon

It feels unreal to graduate. I didn’t think I would overcome such a big step and huge accomplishment.

Before, I was taking care of my disabled Father in El Salvador. He has been a priority my whole life.

I came to the states to visit my Mom and it was at that time when the pandemic hit. There was no way to go back. I had been a primary caretaker and now I had to find a way to start over and figure things out.

Now that I’m graduating, I would like to go to college, hopefully start in the fall. I’d like to get into psychology, to definitely work with kids.

Mickey Jones

I’m excited and nervous to graduate.

I’m excited to make it through the pandemic since it was stressful working while juggling zoom classes.

I’m also nervous because graduation is finally here.

Now that I have a diploma, I want to go to a two-year college, then transfer to a four-year. Ideally I’d go to Laney College then transfer to UCLA. My goal is to become a counselor. I don’t want to take a break and get off track.

I want to be a counselor because growing up, I endured a lot of challenges. I went through a lot but I was still able get through it but if I had the support or guidance, it would probably have been easier. I can help young adults and teens to get through a rough spot in their life because I know how it feels and they’ll have someone to talk through to help get through things.

My overall experience with Civicorps is that they helped me to be responsible. I was going through a lot but from the Job Training Center or having Natasha and Aaron to talk things through with, Civicorps helped me to grow.

Alfredo Ramires

I feel good about graduating. At Civicorps, I learned that I can do anything that I want to.

I was on a mission to graduate and get my diploma. I needed it. I wanted it. I just wanted to take advantage of the school.
All the staff helped me out in a lot of ways, always keeping up with me to make sure I was on time with everything. Classes were on Zoom [during the pandemic] and it was easy to get it all done with.

Next steps, I want to go to college in Sacramento. It’s not too far and I have family there.

Esmeralda Ramirez

I’m excited and happy to graduate.

It was challenging for sure working [as a paralegal] at the same time and going to school. But I kept focus, prioritizing my time and schedule while talking about my needs with employers to get my classes done.

Getting my high school diploma encouraged me that it’s never too late. It doesn’t matter how old we are or how many obstacles there are because we can overcome it all. Looking further into my education, I want to go into immigration law.

My family and I are immigrants and had to go through the process. Immigration lawyers do a lot and sometimes they don’t get rewarded. It’s like a doctor saving a person’s life because when people flee from their country, it’s because of some danger or something is threatening them. So, legally living in a country that has more protection gives them a second chance at life.

Being an immigration lawyer would let me help others get their voice. I speak three languages: Spanish, English, and Mam. I’m used to interpreting and helping my community to be their voice.

I get this inspiration from my Mom, who only speaks Mam. I look up to her. She suffered discrimination but now I can say she’s a strong woman that taught me and my sisters to not be afraid.

Symone “Mo” Ward

I feel super nervous and anxious to graduate, it’s a surreal moment.

It’s been a super long journey, beginning two years ago. I didn’t think I was going to take 2 years, but I had to do this for my son.

Speaking to everyone and all my counselors, moving forward I want to do an apprenticeship or internship. I want to further my career while continuing my education or learning.

Civicorps helped me figure out that I want to eventually be in the automotive industry.

Mo’s favorite type of cars: Anything fast

Mo’s dream car: Tesla

Missed our past blog posts? Read more about the Class of 2021 here:

Enoc Peraza Garcia

Terk Johnson

Milton Silva

Congratulations Class of 2021!

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Spring 2021 Corpsmember of the Quarter: Milton Silva

We’re proud to announce our Spring 2021 Corpsmember of the Quarter, Milton Silva!

Milton’s motivated and goal-oriented approach finds him closer to graduation and an all-around asset at the Job Training Center (JTC), which earned him Civicorps’ prestigious award.

“Milton has been impressing his teachers for the last several months with his determination to walk the stage in June,” said Yvette Arroyo-Agredano, Interim Head of School.  “He is consistent with his classes, putting in work at the JTC; he is focused, persistent and determined.”

When Yvette gave Milton the checklist to his path to graduation, it was as if a fire inside him was lit. And within three months, Milton crossed off each item. On June 16, Milton will receive his high school diploma.

“Seeing what I needed to do gave me more courage, it helped me to be able to know what I’m doing. [It] helped me ask teachers for help,” said Milton.

His English Teacher Joseph Bradshaw took notice: “Milton has shown a deep dedication to his continued growth. He has taken charge of his education, and has made great strides toward graduation. In class, he is focused, serious, goal-oriented and not afraid to ask questions or to seek help when he needs it.”

With his tests passed, Milton’s academic journey culminated in a research presentation. Milton chose to focus on animal cruelty and the lasting effects of poaching. With the pandemic still a reality, he gave his presentation to staff virtually, cementing the last steps to obtain his diploma.

Milton’s motivation stems from his family. “My brothers are proud of me for graduating. My Mom always wanted me to graduate high school.  All I needed was a little help to get there on my own and I came to Civicorps [which] gave me the opportunity.”

What is Corpsmember of the Quarter?

Every quarter, staff vote on a Corpsmember who demonstrates personal growth and program success to receive this prestigious award. At the end of the year, one among the Corpsmembers of the Quarter are nominated for Corpsmember of the Year with the Corps Network, the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps.

Your donation helps create success stories like Milton’s.

Beyond the work he does with crews on project sites, on his free time, Milton continues to volunteer in building a community garden beside the JTC.

“His motivation and follow-through have been a highlight for the Academy this term as we watch him move closer and closer to graduation,” said Math Teacher Michelle Cascio.

It’s this motivation that Milton carries with him at the Job Training Center as well.

“Danny, my crew leader, he’s always there to help me whenever I need help,” recounts Milton. He’ll pull me aside, ask me if I need help with anything. It helps get me motivated.”

Looking beyond graduation, Milton takes advantage of the resources around him. When out on the field with crews, Milton has the chance to work alongside program sponsors. This allows him the opportunity to ask questions about potential career paths he could take, such as obtaining class A and B Driver’s Licenses.

“For me, I felt like Civicorps helped me to communicate, learn to socialize more. As far as work-wise, it helped me to be more professional—working in a team, how to manage a team. This program made me think outside the box. I used to be anti-social, I didn’t like to talk to people but here I feel like I met a lot of cool people here that have that same positive mindset. Listening to the advice the staff give me helps me to figure out that I want more. Now, I want to travel and meet new people. For my first time traveling, I want to go to Puerto Rico—my Dad says we have family out there.”

Congratulations on the Corpsmember of the Quarter award, Milton!  We’re proud of you and can’t wait to see where your travels take you.


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, Student Spotlight

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 – https://www.nami.org/Home

Family Education and Resource Center – https://ferc.org/

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