How AmeriCorps helped Ladine Daniels find personal success

Sadly, Ladine "JR" Daniels passed away in his sleep in early November 2014. JR was a loved and respected member of the Corps community. He will be greatly missed. Click to read our tribute to JR.

Content below originally published in February 2013 

JR, formerly a Corpsmember with the Sustainability Institute, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about JR and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2012 national conference.

Where does Ladine “JR” Daniels see himself in the future?

For starters, he plans to have his weatherization business, IMSEI (IM Southeastern Independence), off the ground within the next two years. He hopes his future is full of opportunities to learn new and better ways he can help people in his community save money and the environment. Unrelated to growing his business, his main goal is to become known in his community as someone who works to expand opportunities for youth.

“I want to become a mentor to kids who are heading down the path that I went down,” said JR. “I want to let them know that it’s not worth it.”

Earlier in his life, JR was convicted of a felony and served time in jail. He was content to accept his jail sentence so he could have a clear slate and start over again once he was released. However, after completing his sentence in 2009, JR realized that starting over again wasn’t so easy for a young man with a record.

With the help of his church in Charleston, South Carolina, JR connected with Pastor Larry Bratton, who at the time was in charge of a nonprofit called BDB (Breaking Down Barriers). BDB, which helps community members overcome barriers to employment or services, helped JR find his first stable job after his release. However, Larry Bratton left BDB to become the Social Justice Advocate for The Sustainability Institute; a Charleston-based nonprofit that offers weatherization services to local residents and trains young people to become home performance professionals. JR eventually joined The Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps as an AmeriCorps member.

JR spent six months in the Energy Conservation Corps, gaining hands-on experience in home weatherization techniques. He was a standout Corpsmember from the beginning, offering guidance and friendship to younger Corpsmembers. His success led to a job offer from Carolina Green Energy Systems, an energy retrofit company in Charleston.  JR enjoyed his job with Carolina Green, but he was interested in starting his own weatherization business. He ended up leaving the company to avoid a conflict of interest.

As JR works with his partners to get IMSEI weatherization company up and running, he continues to work for the Sustainability Institute. He is currently a Crew Leader, but he will soon be hired as a fulltime Supervisor. On top of administrative duties, his main responsibility is to manage and organize crews. He trains Corpsmembers in weatherization techniques and helps run harassment training, OSHA safety training, and a financial literacy class.

On top of building his business and working at the Sustainability Institute, JR is also trying to reestablish Breaking Down Barriers, the organization that helped him find employment when he got out of jail.

"Our focus is not just youth, it’s for anyone who has any type of barrier. Like if you need help with painting your home but you’re not financially able to, that’s a barrier. If you’re a single mom and you need help finding a home, that’s a barrier. If you’re an ex-convict, that alone is a barrier,” said JR. “We want to provide training to whoever needs it, but we also to want to provide services. For instance, I might be hot off the street and I need a job. We’ll teach you how to paint. Then we have someone who needs their house painted but doesn’t have money to paint it. We can kill two birds with one stone.”

In addition to JR’s work schedule and his involvement with Breaking Down Barriers, he volunteers with the NAACP, ushers at his church, and helps out at a recreational park near the Sustainability Institute. He also serves with Philan Tree, a fellow 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, as a member of the National Council of Young Leaders. The Council, formed in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, is comprised of low-income young adults from across the country.  JR helps represent the voice of young people who have been involved in the justice system.

“My whole thing with the justice system is that it’s pretty hard to find second chances, even when what you did was so long ago,” he said. “Why should something I did six years ago – knowing that I’m not the same man I used to be, knowing that a lot of things have changed over these years – why should that hold me back from finding a job that I’m totally qualified for?”

Through the National Council of Young Leaders, JR has met with such public figures as Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Ronnie Cho, the White House Liaison to Young Americans. JR is very grateful for his experience with the Sustainability Institute and AmeriCorps. Without these organizations he feels he would have never had so many opportunities and he would not be as successful as he is today.

“I’ve had all types of people calling who want to do an interview with me…from Charleston, from the Aspen Institute in New York, from people in DC – this is all because of AmeriCorps. I understand I had to put in hard work, but with the opportunities that AmeriCorps gave me it was easy for me to just fly with it,” said JR. “All of it has been a blessing to me. The way the Sustainability Institute gives me support and puts their trust in me, the way they fight for me is really amazing. Any type of help I need – like I needed an apartment. I was staying with my mom when I got out of jail in 2009 up until the fall of last year. They helped me find a place of my own. They meet all my needs. They’re not your average employers.”

It’s not just the people at The Sustainability Institute that JR appreciates; he is also grateful that his AmeriCorps experience exposed him to the weatherization business.

“I just love this work. The smile I put on a homeowners face when the electric bill comes and they’re saving a couple hundred dollars. Knowing that I had something to do with that is really powerful,” said JR. 

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, JR says:

“I think the thing I would need to tell them is to make sacrifices. Starting off, you won’t even make as much money as you’d make at McDonald’s, but the experience, the training, the career development that you get in AmeriCorps will pay off in the long run…I would tell someone trying to join that it’s one hundred percent worth it. I would show them the change it makes. I would take them to the neighborhoods that I used to hang out in and show them the people I used to hang around with and I’d even take them to jail and show them where they’re headed if they continue with the life they’re living now. Then I’d show how I’ve been able to improve. I’d show them all the awards, all the committees I’m on. With just a little time – not even two years – I’ve gotten my own place, I’ve been nominated to be on councils, I was a 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, I travel a lot and I don’t even have to pay a dime for it. I just think that AmeriCorps is a very good thing that made a huge difference in my life, and I think it could do the same thing for them, too."