Connecting our Corpsmembers to Conservation Careers

How are Black folks building community power in East Oakland?  How do you get a job at East Bay Regional Park District?  Do you like refurbishing electronics?  Ever thought about majoring in Conservation & Resource Management at Merritt College?  These are just a few of the questions and topics discussed at our annual College & Career Fair on April 9.

Dozens of Corpsmembers and staff participated in the Fair (over Zoom of course) with a full roster of presentations from an array of vocational and college partners.  Our friends from Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, the Contra Costa Water District, Merritt College’s Conservation and Resource Management program, EBMUD, Black Cultural Zone, EBRPD and Tech Exchange joined us for a lively and interactive morning of presentations and conversations.

Eduardo Drops Some Knowledge

We’re a tad biased, but we were especially excited to welcome alumnus (Class of 2003) and current Board member Eduardo Chaidez to the Fair.  The eagle-eyed reader will remember that we profiled Eduardo upon his appointment to the Civicorps Board in July 2020. At the College & Career Fair, Eduardo gave an in-depth presentation about his path to becoming an Interpretive Park Ranger for the National Park Service.

Eduardo explained that because the National Park Service (NPS) employee roster is 77% white, they do lots of outreach in colleges to recruit staff of color.  While studying as an undergrad at UC Berkeley, Eduardo did a Latino Heritage Internship Program through NPS.  He notes that he wouldn’t have even considered the internship if he hadn’t already been exposed to national parks and conservation work, starting at Civicorps in the early 2000’s, followed by a stint in the Backcountry Trails Program.  In fact, Eduardo says the Backcountry Trails Program changed his life.

It really showed me there was a whole world out there; it changed my perspective on a lot of things for a kid from deep East Oakland.  It taught me the importance of protecting nature and the meaning of conservation.

Fast Forward to 2021

As an Interpretive Park Ranger working at the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, Eduardo shared his perspective on how he engages visitors about Muir, aka the well-known “old white guy who lived a long time ago.”

It’s difficult to get people connected when they see a photo of Muir with President Teddy Roosevelt at Yosemite, taken upon the establishment of national parks. Eduardo takes care to share the bigger picture by looking at the other side of the story – there were indigenous people cultivating and inhabiting the land in Yosemite for centuries before John Muir arrived.  As well, Eduardo pointed out, a regiment of Buffalo Soldiers was assigned to protect Yosemite during Roosevelt’s visit.  The 9th Cavalry Troops were among the first ones to protect Yosemite, Yellowstone and Sequoia National Parks from poachers, wildfires, and they built trails and roads as well. They were arguably the first park rangers, after whom the modern ranger hats are modeled.

The history of people of color and the outdoors runs deep….

….so concluded Eduardo, as he invited Corpsmembers to reach out to him directly with questions about working for the National Park Service.

In all, it was a terrific day of forging connections and sharing inspiration for careers in conservation.  Thank you to all our friends and partners, and especially to Eduardo, for coming to share your knowledge!  Hats off to you!

 

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Marina Loves Her Steel Toe Boots

Marina Orozco has experienced life at Civicorps from lots of different angles.

She enrolled as a full time student on March 4, 2020 – just 2 weeks before Alameda County went into its first Shelter in Place. Six months later, she started a paid internship at our Job Training Center (JTC) while going to school part time.  She was part of the crew driving to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley every day to distribute groceries to families in need.  When our Food Intern went on temporary leave, Marina stepped up to cover for her. And when our Academy Intern left for college, she was tapped to fill in for him.

Did we mention she’s still working part time at the JTC on the CalTrans crew, AND going to school to earn her high school diploma?  And she’s getting almost all A’s and earning Hardest Hitter class awards despite the challenges of learning remotely through Distance Learning!  Marina’s drive to succeed is so powerful, she juggles all of these responsibilities while single parenting 4 children under the age of 9.

“If you take advantage of the opportunities at Civicorps in the right way,” says Marina, “you can definitely get somewhere.”

Marina has nothing but positive words about the staff at Civicorps and the support she has received since she arrived.  Everyone has been warm and welcoming, and folks are always ready to teach her something new and help one another.  But Marina reserves her highest praise for her JTC Supervisor, Marisela Saeteurn, with whom she has bonded deeply.

“Marisela is like a mother hen” gushes Marina.  “She teaches the right way to do everything. She makes it fun even though she’s strict. She says ‘get the job done the way I teach you, and we’ll have a good day’; most of our days at JTC are good days.”  Marina loves her time at our Academy (where she earned her Class C learner’s permit recently through Avery’s Driver’s Ed Seminar), and with Marisela’s crew working for CalTrans.  After all, as she puts it, she gets to switch off between dressing like “herself” and wearing her steel toed boots!

The day we spoke was a hugely important day for Marina – she had just discharged from parole, after having been on either probation or parole for 15 years.  “I’m finally done with the system,” she glows, “but I don’t think I would have done it if I wouldn’t have enrolled here, because Civicorps has taught me to be responsible, have great communication, and create safe boundaries.  Taught me to be smart in different ways – I’m really happy.”  “Civicorps is like home to me,” she continues, “I don’t ever want to find another job.”

Congratulations Marina! We’re not only proud of you, but we stand in awe of your accomplishments.

We are so excited to see you on your way to earning your High School Diploma and your Driver’s License this coming year.  Even if you do find another job outside Civicorps someday, your Civicorps family will always be here for you.

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So, You Wanna Be a Park Ranger?

Pop Quiz: which one of these parks has a conservation contract with Civicorps?

a) Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park
b) Vasco Caves Regional Preserve
c) Roberts Regional Recreation Area
d) Las Trampas Regional Wilderness

If you answered all of the above, you are correct – virtual high five!  Civicorps’ Land Management social enterprise operates in all of these public parks and preserves and many more around the East Bay.

Yup, we’re serious about maintaining and improving our parks.

That’s why we’re so excited when our Corpsmembers explore careers in public land management.  This spring, Civicorps is thrilled to support 3 young adults enrolled in West Valley College’s Introduction to Park Management course.

Interning at Civicorps exposed Hector Abarca, Jr. to a potential career pathway in parks management, and he was inspired to take the Intro to Park Management course to build on his growing knowledge of conservation work.  In addition to learning about the history of our national and state parks, Hector enjoys the camaraderie.  Says Hector:

“It’s good to see others [in the class] interested in the same thing; others who want to soak up the same kind of knowledge.”

Before Civicorps, Hector wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his career.  Now, his eyes are open to a potential career path as a park ranger.

Keep on soaking up that fantastic parks knowledge, Hector!

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Committed to Conservation: Steven Addison, Job Training Coordinator

Civicorps is very proud to announce that our very own Job Training Coordinator Steven Addison was recently appointed as a board member for both the Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps (ESCC) and the California Invasive Plant Council (CAL-IPC).

As Job Training Coordinator, Steven’s main focus is to help facilitate Corpsmembers’ experience and growth while at Civicorps.  Steven draws a lot of insight from his extensive backcountry experience from his time with the California Conservation Corps (CCC), the Backcountry Trails Program (BCTP) and working on National Park Service’s trail crews in Yosemite and Big Bend National Park.

Steven met the now Executive Director of ESCC, Agnes Vianzon, when they were both BCTP supervisors for the CCC.  While working together, they had many conversations concerning the nature of leadership, stewardship of the wilderness and how best to engage a more diverse population, usually late into the night over a pint or two.

Back then, she talked about starting a conservation corps. Coming full circle a decade later, Agnes invited Steven to join the ESCC board.

At ESCC, the youth benefit from an immersive opportunity to live and work in remote wilderness locations throughout California on their WILDlands and SEKI Crews.

“Within her corps, Agnes is trying to produce the next generation of leaders for the CCC, local corps like Civicorps, and state and federal agencies,” explains Steven, “by developing leadership and hard technical skills and a sense of wilderness stewardship.  She’s also trying to make the wilderness more accessible to women with programs like WIW.  Agnes is working with agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, N.P.S. and CA State Parks to commit to expanding their own staff to be more inclusive.”

For Steven, with his years of work with different crews in the outdoors, he sees the importance of giving opportunities to diverse groups. Even during his short time on the ESCC Board he has learned that ESCC is trying to provide equity, diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces.

“It’s important, but not in the tokenism sense. I represent someone coming from a multi-ethnic urban experience who happened to fall in love with the mountains because of random opportunities.  Opportunities that Agnes and ESCC are trying to make less random.  I feel that Agnes understands this, as a queer woman of color, she represents her own unique perspective and experience in this space and she is trying to open the door wider for people like her and me.”

Growing Up, Naturally

Steven understands the importance of access and opportunity on a personal level. He grew up in the Bay Area spending many hours outside playing and working in local parks and exploring creeks. His love for the natural world blossomed during a multi-week high school experience in the Six Rivers National Forest, which sent him on a path of working closely with the land.

Three months after graduating high school, Steven joined the CCC at the Del Norte Center, located at the Mouth of the Klamath River. His favorite projects were salmon restoration and trail work.  As a Backcountry Corpsmember to eventual Backcountry Supervisor, Steven spent many seasons working with crews.

“The mountains are magic, is what an old supervisor of mine would say, and they are.  However, it’s the people in those mountains that drew me back year after year.  The stories, laughter and the daily struggles.  Don’t get me wrong the amazing adventures together were also a part of the experience, whether climbing a 12,000 ft. peak or star-gazing in the desert it was all magical.

“It was all about community, I suggest people check out the podcast ‘This American Life’, episode 727: Boulder vs. Hill.  It features a CCC crew working at a fire camp. The laughter, the connectedness and raw energy can be heard listening to the crewmembers, those same things can be heard with our crews, here at Civicorps.”

Putting Community and Connectivity in Action

It’s this community and connection that drew Steven to his second board position with CAL-IPC.

Steven attended an invasive species training in southern California before the pandemic. The training provided ways to identify invasive plant species, their proper removal, and also introduced him to a new community of land managers.  This led Steven to work with CAL-IPC to host a series of training for Civicorps’ supervisors and crewleaders last spring.

 

Beyond a general interest in carnivorous plants, Steven hopes to learn more about invasive species and how CAL-IPC can further partner with the work Civicorps and local corps all over the state do.

When asked what he would like to say to someone interested in land management or conservation work, Steven responded:

“Get your hands dirty, get out there do the work. At JTC we have 3 college students—the fact that they’re in college learning environmental studies but want to get their hands dirty with practical work I think that is inspiring and I hope Corpsmembers can learn from them.”

We think YOU’RE inspiring, Steven, and we are so lucky to have you teaching and leading by example at Civicorps.

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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Presenting our 2020 Winter Graduate, A Dash of Real Nice

In a year marked with challenges, one Corpsmember is closing out 2020 on an uplifting note.  We are elated to announce Enoc Peraza Garcia’s graduation from Civicorps Academy!

Last Friday, Enoc presented his research report, marking the completion of his portfolio. With a finished portfolio, Enoc’s academic journey with Civicorps has come to an end. “[It] finally means turning to a new stage in my life,” Enoc revealed.

Before Civicorps, Enoc pursued a career as an electrician. But, he found it wasn’t his calling. What eventually brought him to Civicorps was a desire to get his high school diploma and open up his job opportunities.  At Civicorps, Enoc was able to pursue both. Through his Corpsmember journey, Enoc gained leadership and team management skills, such as analyzing what needs to be done in any given task or learning how to defuse tense situations. 

“I’ve picked up things that I believe will help me become a better professional at whatever career I pursue.”

And then, he expanded on those goals. Enoc met his personal health goals, got to kayak and camp at Angel Island, and capstone his portfolio via one of his favorite pastimes. With a passion for video games, Enoc chose to deconstruct the video game Dark Souls for his research paper, scrutinizing the action role-playing game as a work of art.

Enoc expressed pride on his research paper. Not only was it a challenging topic to tackle, but Enoc also appreciated that the analysis came from his own words. At his presentation, Enoc brought an easy-going air about himself. Those who know him know of his social and down-to-earth demeanor.

Still clad in his work clothes, fresh from the day’s project site—albeit maintaining a still-perfectly coiffed hair, no less—Enoc presented his personal reflection of his Civicorps journey, responding to the question: “How would your supervisor and co-workers describe you?”

“A goofy, hardworking person with a dash of real nice.”

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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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