#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!

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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:

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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.

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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!

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Book Club: Wisdom from Playwright, August Wilson!

“Something is not always better than nothing.” – August Wilson, How I Learned What I Learned

Civicorps’ book club meets every Wednesday during lunch to share insight and discussion of the book selected for the term.

We recently read August Wilson’s Fences, a play about an African American family in the 1950s tackling issues on race, family structure, death, and economic mobility. So when the book club had the opportunity to see an actual August Wilson play on stage, we jumped at the chance to see it.  Seven Corpsmembers went to the Ubuntu Theater Project’s production of Wilson’s autobiographical one-man play, How I Learned What I Learned.

During the play, the actor playing Wilson shares an inspiring quote that resonated with Corpsmembers. In the scene, he shares that no matter how much you are earning, if you are being mistreated or disrespected at work because of your skin color, having no job is better.

“Something is not always better than nothing.”

I resonated with the quote [above], because I could understand him going through jobs and quitting because I use to do that a lot between 18 and 20. I didn’t feel like my former employers were respecting me as a black person and as a woman. Even though he’s older, history still repeats itself. He acknowledged that we can change it. We can change our perspective, and other people’s perspective of us. We are not the loud and rowdy ones, we just express ourselves differently. It’s not what you see, but how you see it. – Malajah, Corpsmember

The theatre really can provoke you to think beyond your years and experience truth often gone unnoticed or forgotten. This play opened our eyes and allowed us to be in the same room with August Wilson, whose background is similar to Corpsmembers. He left school at the age of 15 and like many of our Corpsmembers, took a nontraditional path to discover his purpose in life. He is a reminder that through hard work and knowing who you are, there are no obstacles to success other than yourself. The play was filled with advice that Corpsmembers could absorb/apply into their lives.

Whether it’s in a book or on stage, literature has the power to acknowledge our histories, question our realities, and change our futures. Civicorps is proud to host a book club that allows our students to think critically and deeply, and embody their realities through literature.

So if you are a Corpsmember, join us at the next book club, Wednesdays during lunch!

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Civicorps goes to Sacramento

They left Oakland at the crack of dawn outfitted in their Corps gear and prepped to tell their personal stories. They arrived in Sacramento early but bright-eyed, enjoyed the beauty of our state Capitol building and got ready to spend the day repping Civicorps.  Along with dozens of other Corpsmembers from around California, Blake Singletary, Monique Pena and Xiana Herrera confidently strode the halls of our state capitol yesterday on CALCC’s Government Ed Day.

Four lucky Civicorps staff – Tessa Nicholas, Joseph Billingsley, Rodney Dunn and Rachel Eisner – accompanied them and watched them shine throughout a dizzying array of meetings with legislative offices.  Thank you to the wonderful staff at the offices of Assemblymembers Tim Grayson, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, Jim Frazier, Buffy Wicks, Rob Bonta and Senators Nancy Skinner and Steve Glazer for warmly welcoming us and learning about our work.  And special thanks to the Assemblymember Kansen Chu himself for a terrific conversation along with our friends at the San Jose Conservation Corps.

Once a year, the 14 Corps represented by the California Association of Local Conservation Corps converge in Sacramento to spread the word about why CALCC is such an important part of transforming communities in California.  We are all so lucky to be part of a community that’s working on issues like conserving energy, finding cost-effective solutions to environmental concerns AND helping young people find alternatives to youth unemployment, incarceration and substance abuse.

Blake, Monique and Xiana powerfully represented what Civicorps offers to young adults by describing their individuals paths to our doors, and proudly listed their accomplishments in tool certifications, Honor Roll listings, and more.  As Xiana explained, “I was skeptical at first and thought this would be just another high school.  But I got told I had potential and it made me feel welcome.”  December 2018 graduate and current Food Program Intern Monique described how growing up in Oakland, she never felt the kind of support from schools or other institutions that she found here; “they want to see you thrive,” she said, “rather than put you behind bars.”  And Blake humorously described how he originally left our program after one week, but returned and is now poised to complete his requirements this year. “I have accomplished a lot that I wouldn’t have thought I could” at Civicorps.

We finished the marathon day of meetings with a fabulous photo op with all the Corpsmembers who traveled to Sacramento from up and down California.  The sun was shining, the friendships were blossoming, the #LocalCorpsStrength pride was bursting.  What a wonderful day!  It felt fantastic to spread our message about positively transforming our communities all over California.

 

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Reconnecting Youth Campaign

Unleashing Limitless Potential

Yesterday, Civicorps Corpsmembers, alumni, staff, and community partners conducted a meeting at the Oakland offices of Congresswoman Barbara Lee. We were thrilled to help represent constituents of California’s 13th congressional district in legislative advocacy with the Reconnecting Youth Campaign. The RYC is a collaborative national campaign calling on Congress to invest in America’s future by funding 1 million pathways to education, training, national service and employment opportunities for youth ages 16-24 who are neither working nor in school.

We met with Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s District Director, Press Secretary and a Congressional Aide, and shared information about the opportunities Civicorps creates for youth. Corpsmembers and alumni shared their personal journeys of success and the benefits of programs like Civicorps.

For over 35 years, Civicorps has provided vital services to disconnected youth, by re-engaging young adults to earn their high school diploma, gain job skills, pursue college and embark on family sustaining careers.

One startling statistic we shared with the Congresswoman’s staff: in our Congressional district, 7,096 Opportunity Youth have been separated from pathways to productive adulthood. These young people seek opportunities to provide for themselves and their families, and their talents offer an untapped opportunity to contribute to our community and economy. Even more staggering to note: nationally, 4.6 million youth lack these pathways to success, and federal funding only reached about 350,000 youth in 2017-18.

Existing programs like Civicorps address the multiple barriers faced by Opportunity Youth and offer unique approaches and program models to reconnect them with education, job training skills and employment opportunities.

We’re grateful for Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s longstanding leadership on behalf of the youth of Oakland and Alameda County.  We’re delighted to be able to participate in the Reconnecting Youth Campaign, calling for increased funding for existing programs with demonstrated success.

Help spread the word, call or tweet at your Member of Congress and ask them to support funding for Opportunity Youth!

RYC_Oakland_Mont..01.9b Music/sound remix from Lowdownhaus / Thayer N. Walker on Vimeo.

The RYC interviewed our Corpsmembers for a forthcoming video about Opportunity Youth in this congressional district.  This video of alumni Samantha Vitti and Bethany Rivard (now a Civicorps staff member) is an example of more to come.

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