Another Grad Goes Wild

It’s exciting to introduce a new guest blogger, Civicorps’ Lead Counselor Natasha Vinakor, who shares another story about the backcountry:

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Road Trip to the Eastern Sierras

It was a great road trip. I tagged along with Job Training Coordinator Steven Addison as he delivered Shaniya Burks to her summer job with the Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps. Neither Shaniya nor I had ever been to the Eastern side of the Sierras, and it is spectacular. Snowcapped peaks over high mountain desert. Hot springs scattered around, as well as small to medium sized towns.  Going over the Sierras, we wound back down the other side on roads that only recently re-opened after a very snowy winter. We drove by raging rivers and the extra mineral filled Mono Lake.

It was supposed to be a 6 and a half hour trip, but we stopped for food and supplies, to take pictures, and to touch snow. We didn’t roll into her camp until 9 pm. Shaniya met her Crew Leader Valerie, who gave her a briefing and showed her new home for 8 weeks: her tent.  Shaniya’s crew had already set up her tent for her!  She was nervous and then less nervous, and then excited. Steven and I camped nearby for the night and said goodbye to her over breakfast with her new community. They were shy with each other at first, but quickly started to bond. Shaniya is going to have a great summer.

Shaniya’s Journey

Shaniya came to Civicorps in February of 2017 when she was 18 years old.  She made the Honor Roll, and earned numerous awards such as Crewmember of the Month and Hardest Hitter in English and Science classes. As a Conservation Intern at our Job Training Center, she earned a promotion to become a Crew Leader. Throughout her time at Civicorps, she took advantage of an array of extracurricular activities.  In December 2018, she earned her high school diploma.  Now 20, she has grown from a shy and reserved young person into a leader and an explorer.

When I was the same age as Shaniya, I was a Corpsmember in the Montana Conservation Corps — big sky country — and fell in love with big mountains. Steven has put in many years with the California Conservation Corps, as a Corpsmember then as a Crew Leader and Supervisor for Backcountry crews.  Steven’s friend Agnes Vianzon started the Eastern Sierra Corps with the mission to bring more women of color into wilderness jobs.  Steven started recruiting after getting word that they needed folks for the summer.  It felt awesome to be bringing Shaniya out there to this beautiful location. We can’t wait to see what’s ahead for her!  It’s good when life feels full circle.

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A Backcountry Graduation party

The Klamath Crew Celebrates One of Their Own

Earlier this month, we saluted our Spring 2019 graduates as they prepared to walk the stage to receive their high school diplomas.

Here’s a little secret we’ve been keeping: while 19 students graduated on June 6, only 18 walked the stage.

The 19th was working on the Klamath Crew in the Shasta-Trinity Forest. Busy clearing downed trees and widening trail corridors, he missed the graduation ceremony.  He loves to chop firewood during chore time and go on weekend backpacking trips to explore his majestic surroundings. Back in April, we said farewell to this mystery man as he departed for the California Conservation Corps‘ prestigious Backcountry Trails Program. He is none other than Sahsae Robertson, of course!

Though he was physically far from the graduation ceremony, Sahsae was most definitely with us in spirit.  Last Friday, Civicorps’ Job Training Coordinator extraordinaire Steven Addison paid Sahsae a visit to present him with his high school diploma.

The Big Flats Campground Party Zone

The Big Flats Campground at Coffee Creek turned into a festive backcountry graduation party with hamburgers, cake & cookies and rootbeer soda on the menu.  According to Steven, Sahsae’s crew made sure a good time was had by all. Their camp is in a lovely location with a beautiful meadow and surrounded by snowcapped mountains. Steven says Sahsae was “all smiles during his party, playing Coffee Pong and stuffing himself with all the treats folks sent him” via a hand-delivered care package.  His last view of Sashae was of him hiking away at 6 a.m. with his crewmembers for a weekend backpacking trip.  In sum, the man is a happy camper.

What’s the Backcountry Trails Program Like, Anyway?

Lest you think the Backcountry Trails program is ….ahem…a walk in the park, note that Corpsmembers perform physically demanding manual labor in spartan living conditions.  There are no modern conveniences or luxuries (e.g. warm showers, beds, laundry machines, indoor bathrooms and plumbing). Personal electronics are not permitted while in the program.  While in the BCTP, Corpsmembers live and work in remote, isolated settings and personal communication with people outside of the program is extremely limited and infrequent.  In addition to trail work, Corpsmembers participate in regular camp chores, position-related trainings, physical training, daily curriculum and education, environmental awareness, cooperative living skills, and exploration of surrounding wilderness areas. In short, it’s an extraordinary experience, and it’s one during which a graduation party with an outside visitor is a rare treat!

Sahsae will continue serving in the Backcountry Trails Program until late September.  We’re so proud of him, and we can’t wait to see what new adventures he’ll embark upon with his diploma in hand!

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A Journey to Graduation

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

Check out photos from graduation day this past June 6.

JAZMINE

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

I was super stoked.

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

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

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

KEVIN

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

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

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

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

NORMA

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

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

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

¡Merritt College, hay nos vemos!

CHRIS

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

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

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

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

JOSH

At such a young age, Joshua Ballard didn’t have any plans for the future. He wasn’t focused in high school, nor did he value his education. It wasn’t until he joined Civicorps that he understood the impact of obtaining his diploma. He recently got accepted into the California Conservation Corps’s Backcountry Trails Program. His experience was short lived, but he returned to Civicorps to walk the stage and receive his high school diploma in June. He is working as a Civicorps Conservation Intern and is preparing to enroll in the Marines.

WILLIAM

William Scott shares that before Civicorps, he felt he was misunderstood. He didn’t know how to hone his emotions to express himself thoughtfully. He lacked patience, self-motivation, and discipline. But while at Civicorps, he accepted guidance from his teachers and supervisor to improve on his character. He is now well organized, responsible and articulate with his thoughts which has improved his communication and people skills. On June 6, Will received his high school diploma. And while his goal is to someday attend college, he knows he is not ready and wants to take time to work on his dog breeding business.

Josh is with his mom and uncle at graduation.

Will is excited to be holding his high school diploma!

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Book Club: Wisdom from Playwright, August Wilson!

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

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

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

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

“Something is not always better than nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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Oh, The Places You'll Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Natasha strikes a pose with Sahsae and Josh

 

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Civicorps goes to Sacramento

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

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

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

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

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

 

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