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.
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?
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.