We're featured in this year's Share the Spirit campaign!

Thanks to our friends at the East Bay Times, Civicorps is proud to share this article, published December 5, 2021.

Share the Spirit: Facing tough times, Oakland residents get back on career track through Civicorps

by Shomik Mukherjee, East Bay Times

Photo credit: Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

Founded in 1983, the nonprofit finds clients through word-of-mouth and focuses on environmental work through a network of conservation corps across California.

OAKLAND — During a recent stroll through the large warehouse that Civicorps calls its headquarters and where so many fledgling adults find a way out of life’s setbacks, it’s sinking in on 21-year-old Jasmine Lagunas that she will soon need to leave.

“I really don’t want to go,” Lagunas tells Libbie Hodas, a manager at the nonprofit that has helped struggling young adults pick up paid work experience, complete their education and get back on their feet.

In Lagunas’ case, that time is now. She has ambitions of becoming a registered nurse, and her masterful use of chainsaws and pole saws — learned through Civicorps’ extensive training programs — could get her much needed income until she achieves her goal.

To read more, click here.

Filed under: Alumni News, News, Student Spotlight

One Stepping Stone at a Time

By Libbie Hodas

Just days before leaving Civicorps to start a position with Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation), Corpsmember Sami Kamin stopped to talk with us at our Job Training Center in West Oakland. Sami joined Civicorps this past spring when he was at a crossroads in his life. While seeking stability, he had not anticipated that Civicorps would become the starting point for launching a Conservation Career Pathway. We sat down to find out how this happened.

Civicorps Conservation Intern Sam Kamin

How did you get involved with Civicorps?

I started at Civicorps in March 2021. A social worker told me about this program. My first Conservation Crew worked with the sponsor East Bay MUD. From there I transitioned to a Crew working with East Bay Regional Park District. I also went to [train in Civicorps’] Recycling Program for about two months. When I found out I was getting this Caltrans job I came back [to the Conservation Program] to do a tool inventory and to sharpen my knowledge on some of the things they do and what to expect.

You started about a year into the pandemic when people were just getting vaccinated. What was that like?

It was kind of scary, but Civicorps had protocols and they were keeping me safe. They socially distanced us and brought the testing and the whatnot in. I felt safe.

What did you do before Civicorps?

I was unemployed and going through a lot of legal issues. I was getting into trouble. I came to Civicorps’ orientation, interviewed with them, and went out with a Conservation Crew. I ended up really enjoying the work, and it’s helped me grow a lot.

What was your impression of Civicorps before you got here?

I’d done similar work to this on contract, but I wasn’t too interested. Then I was in a position where I had to get a job and or else I would get into some kind of trouble. I had that little kick in the behind and I’m glad because I took a liking to Civicorps.

How has Civicorps helped you?

It made me more responsible and reliable, and put a lot of structure into my life and discipline. Civicorps brought some stability into my life and made me more responsible and disciplined. I liked that because now I’m kind of sharp, and I wasn’t sharp before.

What are you most proud of from your time at Civicorps?

I’m proud of the projects we worked on. I liked working with the Regional Parks and I liked working with Caltrans and seeing the highways on the side looking nice. But one of the things I’m most proud of was the support network I got here and the group of co-workers and peers that I made friends with. I feel like it will be a lasting relationship with these people.

Do you have a big family? Tell me about where you grew up and what your childhood was like.

Yes. I am the second oldest. My siblings are a lot younger. I was born in Dallas, Texas, and was raised there until I was seven or eight. Then we moved to the Sacramento/Yuba City area and from there we moved to Hayward. I’ve been living in Concord for about the last seven or eight years.

That’s a long commute to Civicorps’ Job Training Center in West Oakland. Do you take Bart?


Civicorps Recycling Interns Sami and Kevin

Sami with fellow Corpsmember Kevin, transitioning from Civicorps’ Conservation program to the Recycling program.

What has been the strongest influence in your life?

I’d say my father because he works so hard for so little pay just to help us get by.

How does that play out in your work or personal life?

I try to imitate his work ethic. He works real hard. He doesn’t take a day off. He inspires me to do better. Maybe one day I can make enough money in my career to help my father retire.

Congratulations on your new position at Caltrans! What can you tell us about it?

The position that I will be starting is called Highway Landscape Maintenance. I heard about a job fair through Civicorps at Laney College. I went there and I interviewed well with Caltrans and from there I went to the next step of the interview. I got drug tested and they gave me paperwork for a physical exam, a hearing evaluation, and a vision test. They sent [my results] to Sacramento to screen my pre-employment evaluations and everything checked out. I got an employment offer from Caltrans about two to three weeks ago.

What are your hopes for the future?

I want to be a crew leader at Caltrans. I want to gain a lot of years under my belt. Eventually I would like to be a park ranger. I’m very happy because Caltrans is a great stepping stone for me. I would never have thought I would be wanting a career in this field of work, but because of my time at Civicorps this is what I want to do.

Anything else you want to add about what you’ve been through or your time here?

I’m grateful for the staff for helping me out a lot and being very supportive and flexible. Over the last eight months I grew a lot. Without Civicorps, I wouldn’t ever have been thinking the way I’m thinking now. I’m thinking career-wise and about 10, 20, 30 years later. Staff really looked out for me. I don’t think I would be getting this Caltrans job without them.

Good luck with your new position at Caltrans, Sami! We know that your hard work and determination will continue to help you achieve success. And, we look forward to the day when you return to speak with our Corpsmembers about the next phase of your Conservation Career Pathway.

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.

Filed under: Blog, Student Spotlight

Journey to Graduation – Civicorps Grads Spring 2021

We’re incredibly proud of the graduates who walked down the Preservation Park stage on June 16. Here are a few reflective words from our terrific Class of Spring 2021:

Angela Alarcon

It feels unreal to graduate. I didn’t think I would overcome such a big step and huge accomplishment.

Before, I was taking care of my disabled Father in El Salvador. He has been a priority my whole life.

I came to the states to visit my Mom and it was at that time when the pandemic hit. There was no way to go back. I had been a primary caretaker and now I had to find a way to start over and figure things out.

Now that I’m graduating, I would like to go to college, hopefully start in the fall. I’d like to get into psychology, to definitely work with kids.

Mickey Jones

I’m excited and nervous to graduate.

I’m excited to make it through the pandemic since it was stressful working while juggling zoom classes.

I’m also nervous because graduation is finally here.

Now that I have a diploma, I want to go to a two-year college, then transfer to a four-year. Ideally I’d go to Laney College then transfer to UCLA. My goal is to become a counselor. I don’t want to take a break and get off track.

I want to be a counselor because growing up, I endured a lot of challenges. I went through a lot but I was still able get through it but if I had the support or guidance, it would probably have been easier. I can help young adults and teens to get through a rough spot in their life because I know how it feels and they’ll have someone to talk through to help get through things.

My overall experience with Civicorps is that they helped me to be responsible. I was going through a lot but from the Job Training Center or having Natasha and Aaron to talk things through with, Civicorps helped me to grow.

Alfredo Ramires

I feel good about graduating. At Civicorps, I learned that I can do anything that I want to.

I was on a mission to graduate and get my diploma. I needed it. I wanted it. I just wanted to take advantage of the school.
All the staff helped me out in a lot of ways, always keeping up with me to make sure I was on time with everything. Classes were on Zoom [during the pandemic] and it was easy to get it all done with.

Next steps, I want to go to college in Sacramento. It’s not too far and I have family there.

Esmeralda Ramirez

I’m excited and happy to graduate.

It was challenging for sure working [as a paralegal] at the same time and going to school. But I kept focus, prioritizing my time and schedule while talking about my needs with employers to get my classes done.

Getting my high school diploma encouraged me that it’s never too late. It doesn’t matter how old we are or how many obstacles there are because we can overcome it all. Looking further into my education, I want to go into immigration law.

My family and I are immigrants and had to go through the process. Immigration lawyers do a lot and sometimes they don’t get rewarded. It’s like a doctor saving a person’s life because when people flee from their country, it’s because of some danger or something is threatening them. So, legally living in a country that has more protection gives them a second chance at life.

Being an immigration lawyer would let me help others get their voice. I speak three languages: Spanish, English, and Mam. I’m used to interpreting and helping my community to be their voice.

I get this inspiration from my Mom, who only speaks Mam. I look up to her. She suffered discrimination but now I can say she’s a strong woman that taught me and my sisters to not be afraid.

Symone “Mo” Ward

I feel super nervous and anxious to graduate, it’s a surreal moment.

It’s been a super long journey, beginning two years ago. I didn’t think I was going to take 2 years, but I had to do this for my son.

Speaking to everyone and all my counselors, moving forward I want to do an apprenticeship or internship. I want to further my career while continuing my education or learning.

Civicorps helped me figure out that I want to eventually be in the automotive industry.

Mo’s favorite type of cars: Anything fast

Mo’s dream car: Tesla

Missed our past blog posts? Read more about the Class of 2021 here:

Enoc Peraza Garcia

Terk Johnson

Milton Silva

Congratulations Class of 2021!

Filed under: Blog, Student SpotlightTagged with:

Spring 2021 Corpsmember of the Quarter: Milton Silva

We’re proud to announce our Spring 2021 Corpsmember of the Quarter, Milton Silva!

Milton’s motivated and goal-oriented approach finds him closer to graduation and an all-around asset at the Job Training Center (JTC), which earned him Civicorps’ prestigious award.

“Milton has been impressing his teachers for the last several months with his determination to walk the stage in June,” said Yvette Arroyo-Agredano, Interim Head of School.  “He is consistent with his classes, putting in work at the JTC; he is focused, persistent and determined.”

When Yvette gave Milton the checklist to his path to graduation, it was as if a fire inside him was lit. And within three months, Milton crossed off each item. On June 16, Milton will receive his high school diploma.

“Seeing what I needed to do gave me more courage, it helped me to be able to know what I’m doing. [It] helped me ask teachers for help,” said Milton.

His English Teacher Joseph Bradshaw took notice: “Milton has shown a deep dedication to his continued growth. He has taken charge of his education, and has made great strides toward graduation. In class, he is focused, serious, goal-oriented and not afraid to ask questions or to seek help when he needs it.”

With his tests passed, Milton’s academic journey culminated in a research presentation. Milton chose to focus on animal cruelty and the lasting effects of poaching. With the pandemic still a reality, he gave his presentation to staff virtually, cementing the last steps to obtain his diploma.

Milton’s motivation stems from his family. “My brothers are proud of me for graduating. My Mom always wanted me to graduate high school.  All I needed was a little help to get there on my own and I came to Civicorps [which] gave me the opportunity.”

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.

Your donation helps create success stories like Milton’s.

Beyond the work he does with crews on project sites, on his free time, Milton continues to volunteer in building a community garden beside the JTC.

“His motivation and follow-through have been a highlight for the Academy this term as we watch him move closer and closer to graduation,” said Math Teacher Michelle Cascio.

It’s this motivation that Milton carries with him at the Job Training Center as well.

“Danny, my crew leader, he’s always there to help me whenever I need help,” recounts Milton. He’ll pull me aside, ask me if I need help with anything. It helps get me motivated.”

Looking beyond graduation, Milton takes advantage of the resources around him. When out on the field with crews, Milton has the chance to work alongside program sponsors. This allows him the opportunity to ask questions about potential career paths he could take, such as obtaining class A and B Driver’s Licenses.

“For me, I felt like Civicorps helped me to communicate, learn to socialize more. As far as work-wise, it helped me to be more professional—working in a team, how to manage a team. This program made me think outside the box. I used to be anti-social, I didn’t like to talk to people but here I feel like I met a lot of cool people here that have that same positive mindset. Listening to the advice the staff give me helps me to figure out that I want more. Now, I want to travel and meet new people. For my first time traveling, I want to go to Puerto Rico—my Dad says we have family out there.”

Congratulations on the Corpsmember of the Quarter award, Milton!  We’re proud of you and can’t wait to see where your travels take you.


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.

Filed under: Blog, Student Spotlight

A Teenage Voice Growing Into Leadership: Terk Johnson

Tervell Johnson, or Terk, has slowly built a legacy at Civicorps. With high school graduation approaching in June, Terk has a few more objectives to knock out of his portfolio before he can get to the finish line. But he has already built an impressive resume during his time at the Corps.

With recognition awards at the Academy ranging from Hardest Hitter in Life Skills to Most Improved in English Composition, Terk is no stranger to the spotlight.

He is also Co-Chair of the Civicorps Community Council and runs the meetings with staff member Matt Walker. As Co-Chair, Terk represents the voice of the Corpsmembers for the Council.

The Community Council provides a forum for the Civicorps community, made up of both staff and Corpsmembers, to provide input to the leadership team.

With its first meeting starting in January, the Community Council has its sights first set on fostering community building amidst the pandemic and providing resources to incoming Corpsmembers.

“For me, it felt like an opportunity to try something new,” explains Terk. “As Co-Chair, I’m learning how to take notes, how to run a meeting with adults in a professional environment—I’m still a teenager.”

Teenager he may be but Terk is comfortable in leadership positions. At the Job Training Center, Terk normally works with the East Bay Municipal Utility District under JTC Supervisor Jeff Chilcott’s C-2. Terk regularly mentors newly-trained Conservation Interns, or redhats. Often times when using power tools, Terk likes to demonstrate before giving them a go at it.

“I like to have them focus on what they’re doing, then give pointers or tips after.”

Terk is both enrolled in the Academy and the Job Training Center, urged to join by family members, but his journey with Civicorps actually started at a much earlier age.

In addition to serving young adults, Civicorps Academy used to have an elementary school, a K-5 charter school in north Oakland. There, among the young students in attendance, was Terk.

With art integration as a part of the primary school’s focus, it’s no wonder that Terk’s recollection of the school relates to the arts.

“I remember performing Jackson 5 songs auditioning for a talent show at Civicorps Elementary,” recalls Terk. “But I like to sing all genres.”

Music and all its genres is something Terk enjoys on the regular. On the walk from the JTC on Fifth Street over to the Administration building on Myrtle Street for this conversation, Terk mentions that he was listening to both R&B and country, among others.

When asked about graduation, Terk relays the general anxiety about not knowing what’s to come next. And yet, he looks forward to what’s to come with the arts still in mind.

“I was just discussing with my grandmother about going to college to study film: acting, directing, [or] producing.”

Terk is currently listening to:  

What would he like to focus on in the film industry?

Terk didn’t hesitate with his answer: Oakland.

“Most biographical movies, movies about other people, the majority of it is fake. I want to portray Oakland as a real place. What really goes down.”

With his work at the JTC and the Academy and participation in the Community Council, Terk has an active voice in the West Oakland community.

He knows what really goes down.

And we can’t wait for his voice to reach graduation and reverberate well beyond it.

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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