Going with the flow: a field trip

A guest blog by Katy Avila, Research, Health/Wellness Teacher/Curriculum Specialist at Civicorps

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. It was our last day of the term and we planned a field trip for our Health & Wellness class to the Tilden Little Farm to spend some time in nature and feed the animals. In our class we learned that getting outside and connecting with the natural world is good for our health.

We left the school around 9am, and drove 20 minutes from downtown Oakland to the Tilden Little Farm. Julissa was our navigator and DJ for the car ride. We drove on windy roads deeper and deeper into the hills, where the forest grew thick with trees all around us. We were all having a great time until we pulled up to the parking lot and saw a big sign with blinking lights that said: “PARK IS CLOSED; FIRE DANGER.

Suddenly we had a dilemma: what are we going to do with our time now?

Without a plan, we drove through the Oakland Hills. It hardly looked like Oakland at all anymore. We reached roads that gave us a glimpse of the flat, golden plains beyond the hills into Contra Costa County. We reached peaks so high that we had to pull over to witness the amazing view of the bay (and have a mini-Instagram photo shoot in front of it). Then, with the skyline of the city in the distance, we knew what to do next; we would drive all the way into San Francisco.

We sat in the inevitable traffic on the Bay Bridge and found ourselves at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was hotter on this side of the bay, and we walked in the sunshine through shops that sell seashells and props for magic tricks. We ate cookies and then saw a sign for Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze. Curiosity piqued, we walked up the stairs to find ourselves at the entrance of a neon colored room booming with loud music. We all looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it!”

The maze was disorienting. We ran into mirrors and stayed close to one another so we wouldn’t get lost. We took pictures inside the maze, and had so much fun we went through it a second time. At one point we legitimately did not know how to get out and started to panic. With each other’s help we finally escaped, dizzy from all the wrong turns and bright lights. We took a quick walk down to Pier 39 to see the sea lions, and then it was time to head back to school.

As a teacher, I’m always thrilled to have new experiences with the students to get to know one another better. The Corpsmembers are often teaching me lessons without knowing it. This trip taught me how to be flexible, spontaneous and curious—and how to turn a disappointment into an exciting adventure.

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Journey to Graduation - Civicorps Grads December 2019

Join Civicorps’ December 12th Class of 2019 Graduation Ceremony at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts | RSVP

Xiana 

I really hope I don’t trip on stage when I receive my high school diploma. It’s been a journey to finally accomplish it. For me growing up, I didn’t think this would have been possible. I clearly remember my 6th grade teacher telling me that if I don’t complete my homework I wouldn’t graduate, so I believed that. I was never good at school and struggled to finish assignments. There came a time in my senior year where I knew I couldn’t finish my credits, so I stopped going to school.

Civicorps has been that second chance opportunity I needed. It was here where I took my learning into my own hands. I was able to study and grow in my education at my own individual pace. I wasn’t restrained by homework assignments and the teachers made sure I understood the material. The counselors and support staff were here for me. If I wasn’t feeling well and missed school, Aaron or Natasha (case counselors at Civicorps), would call me and check in on me. They showed they care and I loved that. It helped me believe in my abilities and to feel accomplished as I was passing my classes.

And as I walk proudly on that stage to receive my high school diploma, I proudly march off to the next chapter in my life. I will be going to community college where I hope to transfer to my dream school, UC Davis, and study polymer fiber science. I dream of incorporating my degree, love for textile and fashion and start a business producing workout clothes. So while my goals may or may not change, having goals is key because no matter what, I will always be aiming to accomplish them!

 

Rakeem

Being at Civicorps, I have been able to be more confident in myself. I have found a place where I truly felt support. When my mentor saw an ad about Civicorps, I hesitated to apply… because for me high school was like a prison. But in the first few weeks of being here, I got to meet and connect with my peers who I could relate to. I liked that. I wasn’t the only one who had struggles, and seeing them work hard for their education, along with the academic support, was the push I needed to believe in my abilities to learn.

A year ago I truly believed I didn’t need school. But going through it all, I was able to become stronger mentally and spiritually. I have become a better person, my confidence has improved a lot. I can talk to anybody and not be nervous. Civicorps has definitely allowed me to come out of my shell. My vocabulary has improved so much that I can think outside of the box. This has allowed me to explore my creative side and discover my love for performing and writing rap lyrics.

My dream is to become one of the biggest rappers in the world. I want to make an impact through my music. (Follow my YouTube channel: HAZBANGER). And well, as I graduate this week, I look forward to continue working hard and staying focused on my music career.

Marquise

Prior to Civicorps I was working security, but with not having a high school diploma, I was deterred from advancing. Years were going by where I supported my son financially, but I was not accomplishing my goals. I needed to go back to school. So I finally made the decision to start Civicorps in the summer of 2018.

When I did start Civicorps, I suffered the loss of my brother. But his spirit kept me motivated to continue to achieve my dreams. I am grateful Civicorps’ counselors were there to provide me support as I went through this tough ordeal. Since then, I have moved away from negative energies and focused on positive outcomes. I turned my pain into motivation for success. When I took my NWEA math exam, I felt the presence of my brother next to me. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief and success knowing he was guiding me.

This December 12th I will receive my high school diploma, I will walk that stage feeling proud of finally accomplishing this goal. I don’t regret taking my time. At my own pace, I was able to understand life and I am grateful for the teachers and staff at Civicorps who guided my path to success. I will be enrolling at Merritt College where I hope to begin my nursing career.

Ruben

I was in my car scrolling though Instagram when I saw an ad for Civicorps. In that moment I made a decision that I needed to change the direction of my life. I must admit that I was never the best student. In high school I was getting into fights, I was distracted and unfocused. No one in my family had graduated from high school, so I didn’t think I would be the exception.

Coming to Civicorps, I found structure. I found a support system that believes in my abilities. I’ve never learned so much in my entire life until coming here. I passed tests, a feat I never thought I could do. I would come in early to study and leave late to learn more. There was just an honest support structure that allowed me to believe in myself. Even though studying was tough, if you work hard enough you can achieve it. I finally understood that.

I will be graduating with honors and breaking a cycle by becoming the first one in my family to graduate high school. I did this for me, for my mother, and for the future I hope to have.

I am the change I want to see for my life.

After Civicorps I plan to study at community college. I have an interest in business and real estate, and hope to transfer to a four year university like UC Davis, CSU East Bay, San Jose State or SF State. My options are limitless and I am ready to proceed forward!

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To participate or to really participate?

What is democratic participation and why is it important? That’s a question many of our students have when they see it listed on their graduation requirements. Simply put, it’s the participation in democracy. This graduation requirement permits Civicorps students to be actively and civically engaged in their community. Whether it’s speaking in front of City Council and/or being present in the audience, attending a town hall, and/or sitting in a Civicorps board meeting, they are engaged and involved in the decision making of policies that affects their community.

“I felt good standing up in front of City Council and talking about my goals from my start at Civicorps, to where I am now, and what is next to come.” – Kelvin Holmes, Corpsmember, Dec. 2019 Grad

Throughout the year, students have a multitude of opportunities to participate in democratic activities. Civicorps staff announce opportunities to complete this requirement at community meetings or are posted in our social media pages like Facebook and Twitter, #DemocraticParticipationOpportunity.

“We know that when people are civically engaged, when they understand what their rights are, when they understand that in a democracy you can challenge governments, you can challenge policymakers, and you can… actually shape and form future policy, I think it changes the perception that a lot of young people have about where power is.” Ilhan Omar, U.S. Representative

Kelvin Holmes shares his Civicorps journey to Oakland City Council ^

Enoc Peraza, Jesus Fernandez and Earnisha Thornton, Civicorps Dec. 2019 Grads; Tessa Nicholas, Executive Director; Rodney Dunn, Dean of Students, were among those who spoke to the Council for the City of Oakland on October 15, 2019 <

Photo Credit: Denisha DeLane

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Five Fabulous Interns, Eight Amazing Days at Yosemite Spike

by guest blogger Danny Swift, Job Training Supervisor

A week ago, five Conservation Interns – Avante, Joshanette, Isiah, Rosalinda, and Ta’ron – returned to the JTC mentally and physically exhausted, but above all, proud.

They had just returned from an 8-day “spike” with the California Conservation Corps
(CCC) in Stanislaus National Forest, an area just outside Yosemite that was ravaged by the 2013 Rim Fire.  The crew powered through 10 hour work days like absolute champs, starting with 6:00 AM wake up calls, hour-long PTs (physical training), and a deep drive into the wilderness where they cleared fallen trees to get our trucks through dirt roads, dug out tons of brush to preserve young seedlings, and downed huge trees to thin out overly dense parts of the forest. This work was no joke.  Alongside Corpsmembers, CCC reps from across the state and members from the Greater Valley Conservation Corps, our interns’ efforts were geared towards promoting and preserving the health of the forest.

In the short amount of time we were there, our crew members showed obvious improvements in their work ethic, teamwork, and leadership skills.  It was awesome to see firsthand their transformations as they worked with and learned from other Corpsmembers, Crew Leaders, Specialists and Supervisors from the CCC’s and GVCC.

Exploring Tuolumne Meadows and hiking Lembert Dome

So, What Was It Like?

I had the chance to ask the crew to talk about their experience with the Spike – whether that was a favorite part of the trip, something they learned, or anything that stuck with them – and this is what they had to say:

I’ve learned a lot about forest restoration and how to preserve the trees.  One of my favorite moments was when I jumped in the water at night with my brothers [at the Rainbow Pools]. Best part of my experience was hiking up those giant granite mountain tops. -Avante

Ta’aron and Rosalinda clearing brush around conifer seedlings

 

 

One thing I learned about the trip was work gets done faster as a team . We saw how the CCC worked as a team and got the work done faster. My favorite part about this trip was the experience about trying new things. It was a tough trip but we got to meet new people. Civicorps should have more of these trips and encourage corps members to go.  -Rosalinda

The fun experience I had on the trip was when we did the hike. Even though my body was hurting it was just was just fun to do it. -Ta’Ron

 

 

Joshanette makes felling trees look easy

The fun part about the trip was the people I’ve went with got to learn new things about them, tell stories about our past and had s’mores, got to dance all night with these kindly people who were also there with us, got scared to death, got to climb to the top of the mountain and see some beautiful views and waterfalls, and loved the FOOD there! -Joshanette

 

What I learned was to not complain. Also, I know now that we work hard but there is always harder work out there. I know that there will be people you meet and relate to you just from energy or experience. I had fun with everyone especially because we jumped into a lake at like 7 or 8 PM.  What else was fun was the fact that we all got things that we didn’t think we would get but it was worth it. (PS: Nature is amazing, thanks for letting me go.) -Isiah

 

 

Sunset on our final night

Determined to Persevere

As for me, this experience demonstrated what our Corpsmembers are truly capable of if they allow themselves to step outside of their comfort zone. The Conservation Interns I had the pleasure of working with were determined, persevering, and strong. They exhibit what many Civicorps Corpsmembers bring to work each day, showing again that they are more than able to pursue opportunities like these after our program if they take a chance and have faith in their own abilities and devices.  I could not be more proud of what these five individuals accomplished and am excited to see what they do next.

I have to give a special shout out to Steven Addison for setting the tone the first couple days of our trip and for believing so much in our Corpsmembers.  I also want to give props to the staff at San Jose Family Camp (especially the cook Ruben), and all the Corpsmembers and Supervisors with the CCC who were all welcoming and made us feel at home.  THANK YOU!

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What's new at the Job Training Center?

A new parking lot!

Stop by and check out the new parking lot at our Job Training Center. We refurbished our parking lot, removing existing pavement and installing new asphalt, restriping new parking lines, and installing a 7′ high heavy grade iron fence and gate. This renovation project will improve safety and security for our trucks.

Brian Hickey, CFO/COO at Civicorps shared this about the project:

“Our new parking, fence and roof greatly improves the working environment, safety and security of our job training facility.  Our staff and Corpsmembers have raved about our old asphalt lot which was riddled with holes being replaced by new asphalt or even reinforced concrete in some areas.  Our old cyclone fence which was leaning and was topped by ominous barb wire has been replaced by a decorative iron fence.  Finally, our old roof which fared poorly in last winter’s downpours  has been replaced by a brand new metal fabricated roof which is both aesthetically pleasing and will be sure to prevent the significant leaks experienced in years past, which in turn protects our interior, prolonging the useful life of the structure.”

The Michaels Organization and Oakland Housing Investors were kind enough to donate the use of their Red Star Lot which is adjacent to the JTC on Mandela.  We used this lot for overnight parking of our job training and recycling vehicles as well as staff and Corpsmember parking during the day.  A huge shout out to them for lending us their property. Thanks for being great neighbors!

Funding for this project was not possible without the support of The Joseph and Vera Long Foundation and Proposition 68. Civicorps appreciates their continued support of our work.

Interested in a site visit and tour of our Job Training Center? Email the Development team at Civicorps at marketing@cvcorps.org!

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"Just Keep Doing You"

Like many of our current staff, Monique “Mo” Williams joined the Civicorps family as a Corpsmember (technically, she joined the East Bay Conservation Corps, as we were called in 1999 when Mo first came through our doors). Over the following 20 years, she left Civicorps twice – but both times she came back.  She’s worked on just about every crew and touched every part of our conservation work with our key partners around Alameda and Contra Costa counties: East Bay Regional Parks District, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), Caltrans, the City of Oakland, the City of Berkeley and the list goes on.

During her time as a Corpsmember, Monique promoted to Crew Leader at the Job Training Center.  A string of promotions over a dozen years followed: Assistant Supervisor, then Supervisor, then Coordinator.  At a certain point, she decided to leave the Corps to try something new at one of our partner agencies, Alameda County Flood Control. It turns out her heart wasn’t in it, and Mo realized her passion was to help young adults.  As a result, she returned to Civicorps as Lead Supervisor, and a year later was moved up once again to Coordinator. In sum, Civicorps has spent 20 years valuing Monique’s enormous skills and expertise; in 2017, Civicorps recognized her as Staff Member of the Year.

Is your head spinning yet?  But wait, there’s more!

In July 2019, Civicorps promoted Monique yet again to JTC Coordinator.  There’s just a magic to Monique that’s hard to capture in words.  But we’re trying anyway!  We interviewed Mo to get a glimpse into her world….and for the world to get a glimmer of Mo.

Q: What’s your secret sauce?  How do you influence Corpsmembers? 

A: I tell Corpsmembers to keep going, don’t stop. Set your expectations, don’t let my expectations be yours. Make sure you keep striving.  A lot of these young adults are coming in with a lot of trauma, so you have to really motivate them and show them that it’s okay to be successful.  It’s okay to walk away, and it’s okay to be good; it’s okay to be great and to be positive. You don’t have to be this tough person or this “gangster” just to be fly. Just keep doing you.

Q: How would you describe your leadership?

A: I was born with it!  I’ve always been caring, caring for the well being of others, and very motherly.  I will stand for what is right. There is no favoritism, what is right is right. It’s what I believe in.

East Bay Regional Parks District and Doing Our Best

Q: Tell us about the most memorable project you worked on with our longtime partner, the East Bay Regional Parks District?

A: I worked on a crib wall in Sibley [Volcanic Regional Preserve]. It was challenging, that’s why I can still remember it. The trail was washed away and we had to haul these long poles. It was teamwork, we had to move together and pace ourselves to bring this material up to the site. After we got the material, we used a saw to dig into the earth and install them. It took us a week to finish, but the amount of energy and strength… oooh, I can still remember it and I was a Corpsmember, hard but memorable, and that was 20 years ago!

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you like to give to Corpsmembers?

A: Be truthful to yourself, be truthful to your calling. We can all go out there and make more money, but be honest with yourself. The world is happening, and we need more people to be honest, caring, and wholesome. You don’t have to be angry, be all that you can be and do your best.

Lightning Question Round!

Q: Who’s your inspiration and why?

A: I’ve been at Civicorps for 20 years and I probably will be here as long as Cornelius [Shields] has been here [30 years!] I don’t see the light dimming any time soon. Cornelius handed me my application!  He is like Yoda, I’ve never seen him upset, never in a bad mood. Always greeting people with open arms. That is amazing to me.

Q: What’s your favorite East Bay bakery?

A: Me! I am the bakery. You’ve had my peach cobbler and banana pudding. I can bake many things, sweet potato pie, red velvet… I have a list because I can’t free style it: lemon cake, chocolate cake, carrot cake, cheesecakes, peanut butter pie, oatmeal raisin cookies. I am the bakery.

Q: What’s your favorite piece of Civicorps swag?  Is it a Civicorps hat? Tote bag?  A t-shirt?  A coffee mug? 

A: I love Civicorps’ culture. It never changes. People can leave and come back and not much has changed. We will continue to work hard towards the community. That’s the swag!

We think you’ll agree Mo’s last answer encapsulates why she is so well loved and respected by her co-workers and Corpsmembers alike.  Monique, Civicorps loves you back.  We have been extraordinarily lucky to have you in the family for 20 years.  Here’s to the next 20!!

 

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