We Hosted a Famous Former Girl Scout (Mayor Libby Schaaf) at the Corps

On a recent rainy Thursday morning, a crew of Corpsmembers working at MLK Jr. Regional Shoreline Park welcomed a special visitor.  Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf stopped by! She chatted with East Bay Regional Park District staff, Civicorps Supervisors and Corpsmembers, observed their project site, and imparted a little wisdom.

The famously Oakland-born-and-raised Mayor asked questions about our work (fuel load reduction and brush clearing), commented on the importance of wildfire mitigation (last week marked the 30th anniversary of the Oakland Hills Fire, which destroyed 3,400 homes including her father’s) and welcomed questions in turn.  One Corpsmember asked her how she got her start in politics (through volunteering and community service, said the former Girl Scout and AmeriCorps Project YES alum). Another asked her a surprising (albeit very important) personal question: does she get enough sleep? The answer: no, but the Mayor took the opportunity posed by this query to discuss the virtues of self-care.

Women Who Wield Chainsaws

We were proud to introduce the Mayor to our fabulous Conservation Supervisors Jeff Chilcott and Ryan Waters, and to our amazing Corpsmembers: Crew Leader Anthony Silva, Dennis Turner, Erica Bradley and Josiah Crochet. Mayor Schaaf was especially impressed with the women on the crew, Crew Leader Martha Alva Velasquez and Nicole Smith, both of whom flexxed their chainsaw skills (the Mayor wanted to be sure she stood next to a chainsaw-wielding woman in the group photo!)  And we were very happy to demonstrate the conservation work we do to keep Oakland safe and beautiful. In fact, we work around the greater East Bay to engage young people through paid job training on critical conservation projects.

Mayor Schaaf, we welcome you to visit any of our projects anytime (though we can’t let you use a chainsaw without proper training and PPE.)  See you at the next project site!

Want to continue reading about what our Corpsmembers are up to? We’ll be thrilled to share. Add your name to our list here.


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We're Featured on The Corps Network Blog!

We’re excited to be featured on The Corps Network’s blog this month in a great piece, Preparing the Bay Area for Fire; Preparing Young Workers for Careers. The Corps Network is, of course, the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, of which Civicorps is a proud affiliate.

Read on for The Corps Network’s “Corps Story” about the Corpsmembers at Civicorps working hard to keep the East Bay safe through fuel reduction and fire mitigation.


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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.

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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.

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