Join us as we honor our talented grads and watch them cross the stage and earn their high-school diploma!
What is democratic participation and why is it important? That’s a question many of our students have when they see it listed on their graduation requirements. Simply put, it’s the participation in democracy. This graduation requirement permits Civicorps students to be actively and civically engaged in their community. Whether it’s speaking in front of City Council and/or being present in the audience, attending a town hall, and/or sitting in a Civicorps board meeting, they are engaged and involved in the decision making of policies that affects their community.
“I felt good standing up in front of City Council and talking about my goals from my start at Civicorps, to where I am now, and what is next to come.” – Kelvin Holmes, Corpsmember, Dec. 2019 Grad
Throughout the year, students have a multitude of opportunities to participate in democratic activities. Civicorps staff announce opportunities to complete this requirement at community meetings or are posted in our social media pages like Facebook and Twitter, #DemocraticParticipationOpportunity.
“We know that when people are civically engaged, when they understand what their rights are, when they understand that in a democracy you can challenge governments, you can challenge policymakers, and you can… actually shape and form future policy, I think it changes the perception that a lot of young people have about where power is.” Ilhan Omar, U.S. Representative
Kelvin Holmes shares his Civicorps journey to Oakland City Council ^
Enoc Peraza, Jesus Fernandez and Earnisha Thornton, Civicorps Dec. 2019 Grads; Tessa Nicholas, Executive Director; Rodney Dunn, Dean of Students, were among those who spoke to the Council for the City of Oakland on October 15, 2019 <
Photo Credit: Denisha DeLane
by guest blogger Danny Swift, Job Training Supervisor
A week ago, five Conservation Interns – Avante, Joshanette, Isiah, Rosalinda, and Ta’ron – returned to the JTC mentally and physically exhausted, but above all, proud.
They had just returned from an 8-day “spike” with the California Conservation Corps
(CCC) in Stanislaus National Forest, an area just outside Yosemite that was ravaged by the 2013 Rim Fire. The crew powered through 10 hour work days like absolute champs, starting with 6:00 AM wake up calls, hour-long PTs (physical training), and a deep drive into the wilderness where they cleared fallen trees to get our trucks through dirt roads, dug out tons of brush to preserve young seedlings, and downed huge trees to thin out overly dense parts of the forest. This work was no joke. Alongside Corpsmembers, CCC reps from across the state and members from the Greater Valley Conservation Corps, our interns’ efforts were geared towards promoting and preserving the health of the forest.
In the short amount of time we were there, our crew members showed obvious improvements in their work ethic, teamwork, and leadership skills. It was awesome to see firsthand their transformations as they worked with and learned from other Corpsmembers, Crew Leaders, Specialists and Supervisors from the CCC’s and GVCC.
So, What Was It Like?
I had the chance to ask the crew to talk about their experience with the Spike – whether that was a favorite part of the trip, something they learned, or anything that stuck with them – and this is what they had to say:
I’ve learned a lot about forest restoration and how to preserve the trees. One of my favorite moments was when I jumped in the water at night with my brothers [at the Rainbow Pools]. Best part of my experience was hiking up those giant granite mountain tops. -Avante
One thing I learned about the trip was work gets done faster as a team . We saw how the CCC worked as a team and got the work done faster. My favorite part about this trip was the experience about trying new things. It was a tough trip but we got to meet new people. Civicorps should have more of these trips and encourage corps members to go. -Rosalinda
The fun experience I had on the trip was when we did the hike. Even though my body was hurting it was just was just fun to do it. -Ta’Ron
The fun part about the trip was the people I’ve went with got to learn new things about them, tell stories about our past and had s’mores, got to dance all night with these kindly people who were also there with us, got scared to death, got to climb to the top of the mountain and see some beautiful views and waterfalls, and loved the FOOD there! -Joshanette
What I learned was to not complain. Also, I know now that we work hard but there is always harder work out there. I know that there will be people you meet and relate to you just from energy or experience. I had fun with everyone especially because we jumped into a lake at like 7 or 8 PM. What else was fun was the fact that we all got things that we didn’t think we would get but it was worth it. (PS: Nature is amazing, thanks for letting me go.) -Isiah
Determined to Persevere
As for me, this experience demonstrated what our Corpsmembers are truly capable of if they allow themselves to step outside of their comfort zone. The Conservation Interns I had the pleasure of working with were determined, persevering, and strong. They exhibit what many Civicorps Corpsmembers bring to work each day, showing again that they are more than able to pursue opportunities like these after our program if they take a chance and have faith in their own abilities and devices. I could not be more proud of what these five individuals accomplished and am excited to see what they do next.
I have to give a special shout out to Steven Addison for setting the tone the first couple days of our trip and for believing so much in our Corpsmembers. I also want to give props to the staff at San Jose Family Camp (especially the cook Ruben), and all the Corpsmembers and Supervisors with the CCC who were all welcoming and made us feel at home. THANK YOU!
Like many of our current staff, Monique “Mo” Williams joined the Civicorps family as a Corpsmember (technically, she joined the East Bay Conservation Corps, as we were called in 1999 when Mo first came through our doors). Over the following 20 years, she left Civicorps twice – but both times she came back. She’s worked on just about every crew and touched every part of our conservation work with our key partners around Alameda and Contra Costa counties: East Bay Regional Parks District, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), Caltrans, the City of Oakland, the City of Berkeley and the list goes on.
During her time as a Corpsmember, Monique promoted to Crew Leader at the Job Training Center. A string of promotions over a dozen years followed: Assistant Supervisor, then Supervisor, then Coordinator. At a certain point, she decided to leave the Corps to try something new at one of our partner agencies, Alameda County Flood Control. It turns out her heart wasn’t in it, and Mo realized her passion was to help young adults. As a result, she returned to Civicorps as Lead Supervisor, and a year later was moved up once again to Coordinator. In sum, Civicorps has spent 20 years valuing Monique’s enormous skills and expertise; in 2017, Civicorps recognized her as Staff Member of the Year.
Is your head spinning yet? But wait, there’s more!
In July 2019, Civicorps promoted Monique yet again to JTC Coordinator. There’s just a magic to Monique that’s hard to capture in words. But we’re trying anyway! We interviewed Mo to get a glimpse into her world….and for the world to get a glimmer of Mo.
Q: What’s your secret sauce? How do you influence Corpsmembers?
A: I tell Corpsmembers to keep going, don’t stop. Set your expectations, don’t let my expectations be yours. Make sure you keep striving. A lot of these young adults are coming in with a lot of trauma, so you have to really motivate them and show them that it’s okay to be successful. It’s okay to walk away, and it’s okay to be good; it’s okay to be great and to be positive. You don’t have to be this tough person or this “gangster” just to be fly. Just keep doing you.
Q: How would you describe your leadership?
A: I was born with it! I’ve always been caring, caring for the well being of others, and very motherly. I will stand for what is right. There is no favoritism, what is right is right. It’s what I believe in.
East Bay Regional Parks District and Doing Our Best
Q: Tell us about the most memorable project you worked on with our longtime partner, the East Bay Regional Parks District?
A: I worked on a crib wall in Sibley [Volcanic Regional Preserve]. It was challenging, that’s why I can still remember it. The trail was washed away and we had to haul these long poles. It was teamwork, we had to move together and pace ourselves to bring this material up to the site. After we got the material, we used a saw to dig into the earth and install them. It took us a week to finish, but the amount of energy and strength… oooh, I can still remember it and I was a Corpsmember, hard but memorable, and that was 20 years ago!
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you like to give to Corpsmembers?
A: Be truthful to yourself, be truthful to your calling. We can all go out there and make more money, but be honest with yourself. The world is happening, and we need more people to be honest, caring, and wholesome. You don’t have to be angry, be all that you can be and do your best.
Lightning Question Round!
Q: Who’s your inspiration and why?
A: I’ve been at Civicorps for 20 years and I probably will be here as long as Cornelius [Shields] has been here [30 years!] I don’t see the light dimming any time soon. Cornelius handed me my application! He is like Yoda, I’ve never seen him upset, never in a bad mood. Always greeting people with open arms. That is amazing to me.
Q: What’s your favorite East Bay bakery?
A: Me! I am the bakery. You’ve had my peach cobbler and banana pudding. I can bake many things, sweet potato pie, red velvet… I have a list because I can’t free style it: lemon cake, chocolate cake, carrot cake, cheesecakes, peanut butter pie, oatmeal raisin cookies. I am the bakery.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of Civicorps swag? Is it a Civicorps hat? Tote bag? A t-shirt? A coffee mug?
A: I love Civicorps’ culture. It never changes. People can leave and come back and not much has changed. We will continue to work hard towards the community. That’s the swag!
We think you’ll agree Mo’s last answer encapsulates why she is so well loved and respected by her co-workers and Corpsmembers alike. Monique, Civicorps loves you back. We have been extraordinarily lucky to have you in the family for 20 years. Here’s to the next 20!!
“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!
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 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.