#NoFilter, Just Nature

“This is beyond me!” Mani* shouts as she realizes how tough carrying a 65L backpack is while hiking up a mountain. Corpsmembers ahead of her would hear her and shout back, “but you’re doing it!” The support and encouragement to move forward was the highlight of this year’s week-long backpacking trip in the Tahoe National Forest.

Backpacking is not an easy feat, it requires physical and mental strength that for some, proved to be challenging. But as a group, Corpsmembers persisted. On our first day, Corpsmembers hiked 1.1 miles to Island Lake. We encountered a friendly camper, Johnny, who showed Radio* how to start a campfire. Radio really enjoyed this so much that he proclaimed himself the “pyro starter” and started all our campfires for the rest of the week.

By next morning, we set foot on the trail to Glacier Lake. This was the toughest trail in the whole trip, this 5.1 hike was moderately difficult, ending with a very stiff climb on a rocky mountain top. But at the top of the mountain was Glacier Lake, which nestles at the base of the Black Buttes in the Grouse Ridge. A site for the heavens. Corpsmembers swam in its deep clear water, freezing to the touch, but refreshing to the soul.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, everything is a new experience and you don’t know what you like until you experience it.” – Bucko*

Bringing our Corpsmembers to the wilderness allows them to escape and unplug themselves from society.  We find solace in nature, its beauty and sound permits each and every one of us to connect with ourselves. We learn to silence the noises in our heads and meditate to the wind blowing in the distance, the croaking frogs on the other side of the lake, the Black-capped Chickadees singing their pure chickadee-dee-dee call. At night, the cold wind breezes over the warm waters of Rock Lake, causing mist to rise under the bright half-moon. Nature is therapy.

“It was soothing it made you think about life, it cleared your head and gave you free space to think about things in your own life.”   – T*

Around the campfire we made s’mores, played rounds of the game Mafia, and shared scary stories. While we laughed over jokes, we also cried. In this moment of escape, we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. We held each other’s hands to fight through our own personal challenges in the real world, knowing we had one another for support.

As we approached the end of our backpacking adventure, we felt accomplished. We hiked over 18 miles, visited and swam in 6 lakes, encountered various species of flora and fauna native to this region. The site of Golden-mantled ground squirrels, Brown Bullhead catfishes in the lake, and an abundance of butterflies and bees only reminded us of how powerful nature is to our bodies.

At times of anxiety, we were able to be happy. On a challenging hike, we worked together and encouraged each other to fight through the pain in our legs.  Together we persevered, only to prove how resilient we all can be in different environments. We learned to live in the moment, “#nofilter, just nature.”

*Before we set on our adventure, we gave each other trail names. Mani, Bucko, T, Mo, Radio, Dolfo, and Rosie were the chosen names of our Corpsmembers, Jesus, C-9, and Ya-You were staff and volunteer’s trail names. 

Enjoy more photos below!

Filed under: BlogTagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

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:

?

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.

Filed under: Blog, NewsTagged with: ,

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!

Filed under: Blog, NewsTagged with: , ,

Community Meeting - May 31st

Tagged with: , , , , ,

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!

Filed under: Blog, News, Student SpotlightTagged with: , , , , , ,

Community Meeting - May 24th

Tagged with: , , , , ,