Building a Climate Army: an Interview with Bob Doyle

Robert E. Doyle is a 43+ year veteran of the parks and natural resources field, currently serving as General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. Doyle has received numerous awards and recognition for his many decades of leadership in conservation, park policy advocacy, public health and public lands, climate action initiatives and industry innovations.

He also has the distinction of having served as a founding Board member of the East Bay Conservation Corps (now Civicorps).  In honor of his impending retirement from EBRPD, and to celebrate his role getting the East Bay Conservation Corps (EBCC) off the ground 37 years ago, we reached out to Bob.  We talked about the early days of EBCC, the important role of the Conservation Corps movement, and his insistence that to combat climate change, we need a climate army.  Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.  

 Learning about the early days

Tell us about your role in the founding of the East Bay Conservation Corps.

Bob Doyle: At the time, I was in charge of administration and growth of the trail system at East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), including building trails with trial crews and new property clean-up.  I met (EBCC founder and CEO) Joanna Lennon through another local conservation corps, she told me she was creating a new one to serve West Contra Costa County and Oakland.  She had such a dynamic personality and she was very driven; she pulled together a powerful Board of practitioners and professionals.  At first, the Corps’ focus was on service projects and there wasn’t an educational component.  Towards the end of my tenure on the Board, Joanna’s focus became adding a GED program for people of color and from low income communities.  My role was on the contract side helping to connect with other organizations to hire Corpsmembers for projects at EBRPD.  As I moved up the ranks at EBRPD, I would always encourage others to keep the contract with EBCC.

What was the composition of the original Board?  What was your focus?

BD: The founding Board was a powerful group of people including Walnut Creek State Senator John Nejedly, Robbie Yohai (editor’s note: Robbie remains on the Board to this day), some lawyers, and notably, the National Park Director William Penn Mott.  He would fly home from DC to attend EBCC meetings, and my job was to pick him up at the Oakland Airport.  I was a sponge during those drives, and I learned so much about the national parks under the Reagan Administration; I was like a kid in a candy store listening to his stories! Bill Mott had such generosity of spirit, like a lot of parks people who are committed to service and youth.  It was exciting and altruistic to give our time to serve on the Board, as evidenced by Bill Mott’s attendance.

Everything that’s happening now in our discussions around environmental justice and equity was happening then with that Board and staff.  I enjoyed coming into the [EBCC] building to meet Corpsmembers and hear their stories about bringing home their first paychecks to their mom, meeting those who came from single parent households or had kids of their own.  Their stories were so emotionally compelling.  I was always extremely pleased to see young people of color having a positive experience at the Corps and then getting jobs at EBRPD.  We’ve had many over the years.  In my field, we are always looking at diversifying parks jobs so we can encourage a diversity of park goers who see themselves reflected in the staff.  In order to do that, there has to be a portal, and that’s what EBCC did and what Civicorps does.  All the local Corps are not only providing jobs, but opportunities for training, education and betterment for Corpsmembers as well as their families and community.

There is billions of dollars of work to be done in the state park system.  State parkland hasn’t had the investment it needs, for which Corps type work is perfectly suited. 

Civicorps has enjoyed a longtime partnership with EBRPD for our land conservation job training work.  How did the partnership come to be? 

BD: Recycling was uncommon in parks back then [early-to-mid 80’s].  Our early efforts were to work with the waste management companies to navigate how to do more recycling in parks.  EBCC developed some of the first efforts and provided recycling in the parks.  We started engaging the Corps in three pilot projects in the big heavy use parks, and then that spread to the Corps getting the contracts in other areas.  For example, the City of Hayward, the East Bay Municipal Utility District as well as CalTrans then took on EBCC for contract work.  The recycling program became a whole separate department and ultimately became almost equal to the land contracts department.

We are all keenly aware of the importance of fuels management.  Tell us about the work Corpsmembers do and how it fits into EBRPD’s planning for wildfire mitigation and prevention.

BD: Investment in land stewardship, fuels management and jobs are critical.  We need an army of young people!  Both the State of the California and the Federal government need to provide much more funding if we’re going to make a dent in wildfire mitigation.  In California, we have 100 years of the well-intentioned forest management philosophy “woodsman spare that tree,” and now we’re paying the price.  It is not sustainable to have an ever-growing fire season with only thinning and controlled burns for the forests. We should be investing in people working in forestry, folks who can work a huge variety of jobs on public lands.  The volume of land is overwhelming and the urban interface — cities encroaching on the forests — is only growing.  We need the education, the training and a variety of skills to get people working in forestry in addition to firefighting skills.

Governor Newsom just came out with a plan to invest more deeply in conservation – I applaud the plan, but it’s got to come with money to invest in people to do the work.  There is money for restoration and land acquisition but often not enough money for hiring.  There is billions of dollars of work to be done in the state park system.  State parkland hasn’t had the investment it needs, for which Corps type work is perfectly suited.  If we’re going to get serious about climate change we need a climate army and the California local conservation corps are perfectly positioned to step in.

Looking ahead to the future

If you were to design the ideal conservation career pathway for Corpsmembers with EBPRD and beyond, what would it look like?

BD: The National Park Service has a great program at the UC Merced campus where they secure summer jobs for students at parks like Yosemite and Sequoia.  It’s almost like a union journeyman-apprenticeship pathway.  To be successful, the students have to be interested and motivated, and have to see people like themselves onsite already so they feel welcome.  There are lots of jobs and it’s a priority for the parks that their workforce reflects the communities they serve.

What Civicorps is doing in terms of interviewing skills should help Corpsmembers get comfortable talking to people from all different backgrounds.  It’s important to have the ability to open up a dialogue with all folks, as is true in the world at large right now.  Employees have to have excellent communication skills to interact with many different types of people.  Civicorps is giving its participants a real boost by offering hard job training skills, and should continue to focus on teaching soft professional skills, too.

We understand you’re retiring from EBRPD in the near future. Congratulations!! How will you spend your time in the next phase of life? 

BD: I’m retiring at the end of this year! Unfortunately, I may not be able to have a big in-person party.

I’m planning to spend my time hiking and camping; it’s time for me to enjoy the fruits of my labor and spend time with my family.  I’ll do some consulting too – and I’ll always engage in advocacy.

Speaking of advocacy, what parting words of advice would you like to share?

If we truly are committed to environmental justice and attracting more people of color to parks, we need to provide well maintained, safe and accessible parks.  Civicorps can be a big part of that.

Now is the time to really push for funding and jobs to combat climate change. We have the tools to do that on public lands but we need to scale up dramatically and provide the training and education as part of that.

Civicorps is a great example of successful community based environmental justice.  There will always be challenges both environmental, social and economic, but the path Civicorps is on is the right one for a brighter, more equitable future.

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Got E-Waste? We Got You.

Conservation, youth development, education and job training.  These have been the key components of Civicorps’ mission since 1983, with our Recycling program added in 1987.  Did you know that we added E-waste collection to our Recycling services in 2017?  Civicorps collects old or broken electronics and disposes of them responsibly so that no toxic metals or chemicals seep into the soil at recycling or garbage sites.  Our fabulous team, led by E-waste Coordinator Tarkan Guldur, collected a whopping 150 tons of E-waste last year.  

A couple years ago, Civicorps started donating old computers and laptops we’d collected to Tech Exchange, which refurbishes and redistributes technology to support digital equity for low income communities.  We quickly saw an opportunity for Corpsmembers to learn new skills, and created paid internships at Tech Exchange.  As Joel Peña, Director of Sales and Support at Tech Exchange said in 2019:

“The partnership with Civicorps and Tech Exchange is an example of how two nonprofits can work together to address climate goals and workforce development. Civicorps Recycling recycles our IT assets from East Bay industries. And by hosting two Civicorps interns, we equip them with IT skills. We look forward to continuing this exciting and ongoing partnership!” 

In July 2020, thanks to a generous grant from StopWaste – a public agency reducing waste in Alameda County – Civicorps doubled the number of paid internships at Tech Exchange.  I’m proud to share this grantee spotlight on StopWaste’s website.  As Rachel Eisner, our Director of Development and Communications said:
 
“The grant funding allows us to make a difference on several levels. Our Corpsmembers learn job skills that are in high demand, we are helping bridge the digital divide among Oakland students, and we’re extending the life of computers, saving resources and preventing e-waste. We’re so grateful to StopWaste for partnering with us.”

So if you’ve got E-waste, you can not only dispose of it responsibly, you can take pride in knowing that you are supporting a cleaner environment and job training for East Bay youth!

Filed under: Blog, News

#WalkforBLM

It’s another eerily smoky, hazy day in the Bay Area. We continue to live through challenging times – a time of wildfires and COVID-19 – and the country also continues to be rife with racial injustice. While we are unable to resolve these crises alone, as a community we can take active steps to promote and work towards racial justice.  As Tessa has previously written, Civicorps supports the Black Lives Matter movement, stands in solidarity with those demanding police reform, and is working to be an anti-racist organization. 

Last week, Civicorps paused operations to add our voice to the many speaking out against police brutality and the systemic oppression impacting our communities of color.  This beautiful crowd of about 25 Corpsmembers, our Board Chair and staff stepped out to proclaim Black Lives Matter on our first #WalkforBLM.

We took a spirited walk from the JTC through West Oakland to 15th and Broadway where we took in the compelling murals, enjoyed shouts and honks of encouragement from passersby, and danced to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” reverberating out of Oscar Grant Plaza. 

In a time when so much feels out of our control, it was exhilarating to come together with our Civicorps family to stand up and speak out. 

We’re planning to make our #WalkforBLM a regular occasion; we hope you can join us next time.

In the meanwhile, we hope everyone stays safe, healthy and connected. We’re glad to be in community with you.


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From Corpsmember to Board Member

Eduardo J. Chaidez spends his days providing the public with meaningful connections to the natural, social and cultural history of California.  Creating hands-on educational programs, leading tours and conducting outreach, Eduardo is a multi-faceted professional.  Is he an anthropologist? Perhaps a curator at a museum?  If you guessed Interpretive Park Ranger for the National Park Service, you are correct!

Eduardo serves at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, CA. The National Park Service seeks to tell the story of this country through its cultural and natural resources: who we came to be as a country and the people who shaped its direction. Eduardo believes it is of utmost importance that people with a similar background to his have an opportunity to shape how the story of our country is told.

Rewind Two Decades

Twenty years ago, Eduardo was a young adult without known prospects.  A kid from deep East Oakland and the son of an undocumented mother of four who survived domestic abuse, he could have let statistics define him.  Instead, he forged his own identity. He paved a fruitful professional path for himself through determination, commitment, and the guidance he found at Civicorps.

Upon entering our program in 2002, Eduardo found the community and encouragement he needed to confidently explore new horizons.  He became a Crew Leader, worked on a backcountry trail crew in Yosemite, and traveled on a unique adventure to Senegal, West Africa with Civicorps staff and other Corpsmembers.  He earned his high school diploma with us in 2003, and used the tangible skills he learned at Civicorps to work in landscaping and construction while taking courses in horticulture to advance his career prospects.  Working full time doing manual labor and taking community college courses part time was not an easy path, and balancing the two took nearly a decade.

Eduardo’s life then took a traumatic turn when he lost his oldest brother Alex to gun violence.  At that point, he decided to dedicate himself full time to his studies at Merritt Community College in Oakland, and then transferred to UC Berkeley.  He earned a joint Bachelor’s degree in Art Practice and Ethnic Studies from Cal.  He subsequently earned an MA in Visual and Critical Studies from the prestigious School of the Art Institute in Chicago.  Ultimately finding his way to the National Park Service, Eduardo is now enjoying a career that blends his passion for natural conservation and cultural history, and taps his talent for storytelling and public speaking.

A Unanimous Decision

And now, the Board of Directors at Civicorps will benefit from Eduardo’s leadership.  He was unanimously nominated and elected to the Board, and participated in his first Board meeting on July 15, 2020.

I have always believed that my life’s path would have been totally different if it had not been for the Corps. Giving back to the Civicorps community has been a goal of mine for some time and I believe this is a perfect opportunity to do so.

– Eduardo J. Chaidez

As a Civicorps graduate, Eduardo brings an extremely valuable – and particular – perspective to the Board. He is a product of and embodies Civicorps’ mission. He earned his high school diploma, gained job skills that gave him a direction in life, pursed and achieved higher education and is currently on a family sustaining career path. Through his experiences, he has honed his commitment to personal and professional excellence.  Eduardo hopes that by joining the Board, he can continue to cultivate an environment of inspiration for current and future Corpsmembers. 

“I really love the perspective that Eduardo will bring to the table as a Board member,” muses Tessa Nicholas, Executive Director. “I’m so impressed that he took such full advantage of the opportunities the Corps offered him. I’m inspired by his journey beyond Civicorps; his work in conservation and education brings him back full circle to us, and makes him the perfect fit for our Board.”

Welcome home, Eduardo!

Filed under: Alumni News, Blog, News, Notes from Tessa

Journey to Graduation - Civicorps Grads June 2020

Last week, Civicorps was honored and humbled to share messages of hope and joy as we celebrated the enormous achievements of eight students who received their high school diplomas at our June 10, 2020 graduation ceremony.  We congratulate our Spring 2020 graduating class and celebrate their resilience and accomplishments! Read excerpts below from a few of the powerful graduation speeches they delivered.

Naomi

You have to get up every single day and make sure you never quit on yourself.

I went through a rough road to get here today. The first time I saw Civicorps was on an Instagram ad. I gave it a try and when the orientation came, I stepped into the building and saw the morning circle with all the students sitting down. I wanted to turn around and leave, I felt so scared to be there and in that moment I knew I wasn’t going to graduate because of how insecure I was. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I could do it.

Civicorps was different from any other school I’ve been to. Every staff member I met was just so nice and supportive, something I didn’t really experience in other schools, and something that I knew I needed in order to keep going. I want to thank every single person who inspired me here and who supported me in ways I didn’t know anyone would ever do.

After I close this chapter, I will open a new one for college. I hope to get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and also take an EMT course, just in case I change my mind. Hopefully five years from now I will have graduated from college and started my career. Today I can say I believe in myself when in the beginning I did not. Thank you to my friends and family!

Nichelle

I made a promise to myself I’d get it done.

I came to Civicorps last year, with the mindset that anything you start from this day forward you finish, and I did just that. Obtaining my high school diploma was the first thing I have ever done for me, I made a promise to myself I’d get it done. I left a $26 hour job, passed up a Muni job, I traveled hours a day, downsized my living, and survived a pandemic while still fighting racism and police brutality. Man, I deserve this!

Three strengths that I developed at the Corps are patience, working in a team, and academic skills. In the next six months I hope to enroll in college. A year from now I hope to be doing an apprenticeship in construction inspection. Five years from now I hope to be done with college for radiology and have a house. I’d like to thank my whole Civicorps family for making this experience worth it. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. I love y’all.

Jesus

Never give up!

My overall experience at the Corps was nothing but great because I have been learning how to make myself more mature and responsible, and learning new skills.  Before the Corps I used to think that things were easy. Now I know that to get things you want in life you have to have patience. That taught me to have patience for myself and others, and to advocate for myself. Three key strengths I developed while at the Corps are responsibility, respect, and collaboration.

My goal for the next six months are to try to get a union job or work for the City of Oakland. One year from now I hope to be at a more stable place in life. Five years from now I want to be traveling in Paris, France.

To be honest I never thought I would be able to graduate. My hopes were always down. Knowing I’m graduating now keeps giving me energy to do more.  I learned that if you need help, it is always going to be there, you just have to look for it.  I want to thank everybody at the Corps who helped me through my journey here and my family as well for keeping me motivated.  Never give up!

Mirna

I want to be a role model and impact my community.

My overall experience at the Corps has been hard. But I did it. Corps has helped me and supported me mentally, physically, and emotionally.

The teachers & counselors at Civicorps put me into different programs and helped me become a sober person. I had to acknowledge that I needed the help. Civicorps has taught me that I don’t have to rely on anyone else; that I can be independent and look for other kinds of support, instead of waiting on family to help when there are other types of family. Three key strengths I developed are communication, thinking about others besides myself, and advocating for myself.

My goals for the next six months after graduation are to save up for a car, enroll in community college, spend more time with my son, work less, and focus more on school. In five years I would like to have graduated from San Jose University. I want to be a counselor or therapist. I want to be a role model and impact my community. I really strongly believe that I can do that in the future and that’s what makes me want to keep going.

My most memorable experiences at the Corps were all of the staff and teachers.  I am more open about my learning disability now and feel comfortable asking questions when I need to. I am also more open to finding other people who are like me, so I can talk to them and feel more comfortable when I am outside of school.

I would also like to thank my son. He is the reason why I am doing all of this. When I get my masters I want him to be proud of me for pursuing my goals. Thank you.

Will

Failure is not an option.

Being at Civicorps has been a roller coaster to put it lightly. While on that roller coaster, I gained a lot. I got to travel places and see things that I had never been able to see before. I improved academically, like coming from barely being able to keep up in the math class when I first arrived, to assisting my teacher and teaching in Geometry Two class. I’ve impressed staff with my writing skills as well as my public speaking skills. One of the most important things I’ve gained is a new mindset where failure is not an option, where simply trying is not a goal, where success is the only option and outcome.

But just as with all roller coasters, with ups come the downs and with all that I’ve gained, I’ve also lost a lot. Specifically I’ve lost a lot of people, close family.… One loss in particular was more significant than the others. My younger brother, whose picture I’ve brought with me, passed away June 10, 2018. …After talking to a few family members I decided that I would dedicate graduating to my little brother who did not have the chance to do so, and I stand here today with my brother’s picture, smiling on the very day that he left this earth, proud of myself knowing that I fulfilled that promise I made.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me to fulfill that promise, family members, other Corpsmembers, as well as staff. I especially want to thank my children who gave me a reason to want more. Thank you.

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Thoughts on Justice for our Black Communities

by Tessa Nicholas, Executive Director

In solidarity, we want to add our voice to the many speaking out against police brutality and the systemic oppression impacting our communities of color. As we all deal with the reality of yet another Black man (#GeorgeFloyd) and woman (#BreonnaTaylor) being killed at the hands of police we all must take pause. We must all recognize the injustice and the long history of racism that creates the current dynamics and makes it nearly impossible for Black communities to navigate their daily lives, let alone achieve their dreams. There is power in acknowledging the work that needs to be done at all levels to address the inequity around us.

At Civicorps, we are committed to our mission of uplifting young people and providing them with the skills and networks needed to reach their college and career goals. We provide the safe place and holistic services to help youth heal from trauma, build upon their positive assets and resilience, and pursue to their dreams. Our work is rooted in the belief that education and workforce development are powerful tools to promote racial and economic equity. Therefore, we are also committed to looking at our internal processes and culture in order to move the dial on diversity, equity, and inclusion, while creating space for our staff to educate themselves so that we can work both inter- and intra-personally to combat racism and racist practices.

It is my hope that our partners, funders, friends, and family will join with us to speak out against injustice and continue to find ways to support and protect communities in need. The journey toward equity is not easy or quick, we must be ready to take big and uncomfortable steps forward. I know that together we can achieve great things, and that all of us will benefit as our communities of color are provided the resources, opportunities, and safety they have been deprived of for far too long.

To our Black partners and colleagues, we see you, we hear you, and your lives and dreams matter.

Some useful resources:

California Education leaders speak out against racism

5 Ways to Show Up for Racial Justice Today

President Barack Obama on How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change

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