Hurricane Maria Recovery: Firsthand Account of Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa AmeriCorps Member Landon Acre-Kendall

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, several member organizations of The Corps Network have sent crews to Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coordination of most of these deployments has been through the AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team (A-DRT) program

Corpsmembers from across the country have assisted with a range of activities, including clearing debris, coordinating volunteers and donations, conducting damage assessments, and helping muck, gut and tarp homes. Below, read the firsthand account of Landon Acre-Kendall, an AmeriCorps member from Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa (CCMI) who deployed to Puerto Rico in November.

By Landon Acre-Kendall, CCMI AmeriCorps Member

When our AmeriCorps Disaster Response Team had our first day in the field, it truly became clear that Maria held nothing back on the island. The landscape was a ruin of decimated vegetation. The trees were plucked out of the ground like weeds. There was endless debris and trash piled above my head on sidewalks and scattered about open areas. People were living in destroyed homes without roofs, power, and water. It was an eye-opening experience and it motivated us to work that much harder, every day, for those less fortunate then us in Puerto Rico. 

To me, one of the most enlightening and heartwarming aspects of my deployment was working with all the new people we met in Puerto Rico and getting to know our own teams so well. The members and supervisors from Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) were great. Elliot always surprised us with his own blend of strange and unexpected humor and, at the same time, was a very professional and knowledgeable Incident Commander. The people from other teams and organizations, such as California Conservation Corps (CCC), Team Rubicon, and Samaritan's Purse, all made lasting impressions on us as well. However, the friendships and teams created within CCMI will be everlasting. We all grew to know each other very quickly and, within weeks, it felt as though I'd known these people my entire life. 

Another part of my trip that I will always remember will be my interactions with the local people of Puerto Rico. Though there was a language barrier, I could always read the voices and faces of the people around me. I would see elderly couples laugh, smile, and say thanks to me and my team and it was always a touching moment. I saw a younger couple with a baby and children have sighs of relief and cries of joy and laughter as they watched a tree come falling down from a very hazardous situation on top of their house. Though I couldn't fully understand their words, I thought as though I could feel what they were saying. 

My favorite part of being here was using our specialized skillset for an amazing cause. I will always remember one of the bigger trees we tackled (see image). One afternoon we were canvasing for a job and we stopped to talk to some locals. When we mentioned that we cut trees, one old man’s eyes lit up and he started talking about a giant tree blocking entrance to his entire house. He was talking about how, every day, he would be forced to climb through a massive tree's hazardous wreckage just to access his house. We followed him around a couple blocks to his house as he told us bits about his life. This man once lived in the mainland United States and was a horse jockey for several years. When we arrived at his house we immediately were excited by the challenge of this project. We slowly took apart the massive tree piece by piece. It was one of my favorite big jobs with a very grateful and kind man. I will never forget his face or his house. 

Puerto Rico was a great experience. I feel as though I've grown a lot as a person, but, more importantly this trip has inspired me to grow even more beyond this trip alone and never stop growing. I want to continue to inspire and help others for the rest of my life.

Photos of the Month: December 2017

Keep updating those Facebook photos! We'll collect some of our favorite photos posted on Corps social pages within the past month and post them on this blog. Here are some of our favorites from December 2017.


California Conservation Corps 


Earth Conservation Corps 


Earth Conservation Corps 


Heart of Oregon Corps 


LA Conservation Corps 


Rocky Mountain Youth Corps - Colorado 


Mile High Youth Corps 


Montana Conservation Corps 


New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg


Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa


Great Basin Institute 


Montgomery County Conservation Corps 


Southwest Conservation Corps 


Washington Conservation Corps 


Rocky Mountain Conservancy

2018 Legacy Achievement Award Winner: Reginald "Flip" Hagood - Student Conservation Association (SCA)

The Corps Network’s Corps Legacy Achievement Award recognizes leaders with approximately 20 or more years of contribution to the Corps movement, who have served in a senior leadership position (CEO, Executive Director, Board Member, Vice President) for a Corps or multiple corps, and who have made a significant contribution to the movement (e.g. founded a Corps, brought a Corps to scale, served for approximately 15+ years as Executive Director/CEO of a Corps, served a key role as a national board member, made a significant national contribution through developing a nationwide project, etc.). Learn more.

Reginald “Flip” Hagood has many years of service under his belt. From serving his country as a Marine in Vietnam, to being a champion of the outdoors and youth programs as Senior Vice President of The Student Conservation Association (SCA), Flip goes above and beyond in serving his community.

As a young man, Flip left military service to start a law enforcement career with the National Park Service (NPS) Park Police. He later served as a Park Ranger, then moved into designing and delivering training. In 1994, after serving over 25 years with the park service, Flip retired as the Chief of the Employee Development Division.

Before leaving the park service, Flip began serving with SCA as a council and board member. His retirement from NPS was designed so that he could transition to a position as Deputy Program Director of SCA's Conservation Career Development Program (CCDP). Flip soon became Program Director, then Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, and eventually had a long run in several program and partnership arenas as SCA’s Senior Vice President.

During his service with SCA, Flip not only led the organization’s commitment to diversify the conservation movement, but served as an industry leader as well, having served on the boards of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and the Institute of Conservation Leadership. He has also been a member of The Wilderness Society’s Governing Council since 2001 (where he chaired the Diversity Committee).

During his time at SCA, Flip impacted and supported thousands of high school students, college interns and staff seeking to serve the environment. He was at the forefront of developing urban-based programs for youth and young adults interested in conservation careers. Flip was essential in the creation of SCA’s Washington DC Urban Community program. This was a pioneer program focused on engaging local DC youth in conservation service. The program has grown from its inception almost 40 years ago to more than 15 urban centers that reach almost 1,000 youth each year.

Flip’s influence and impact has extended far beyond SCA into all aspects of the environmental movement, including nonprofits, government service and even the corporate world. He is a respected advisor in the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the conservation workforce. Since his retirement three years ago, he is still mentoring many students and professionals, guiding their careers and amplifying their impact. His voice has been highly influential in helping organizations like NOLS and The Wilderness Society better understand their obligation to be more inclusive as they deliver their missions.

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Senga Lukingama, Urban Corps of San Diego County

Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.

When Senga Lukingama showed up at Urban Corps of San Diego County (UCSD), he came with a story of war and almost unimaginable personal loss. What he found was a way to channel his work ethic and his determination to, as his father had urged, get an education. Senga has explored his interest in leadership, resulting in a seat on the Urban Corps’ Corpsmember Advisory Board. According to one of his supervisors, “Senga is always proactive towards his future goals and sets high expectations for himself and works diligently to complete every task.”

Finding his way to the Corps was not easy or at all likely. When he was 14, civil war forced Senga to flee his town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the chaos of leaving, he was separated from his family. All alone, he walked what seemed like a never-ending road to find himself in a refugee camp. There, Senga looked tirelessly for his family, but never found them.

“I couldn’t stop blaming myself for not being able to go back and find my family. I was afraid and spent many days hungry,” said Senga. “I was very sad and did not know what the future would hold for me, or even if I had such a thing as a future.”

A new life in the United States began for Senga in January of 2016. He came alone and without much direction, but found housing with the help of a community organization.

“It was my first night at my new home that I realized I could finally accomplish my dreams and aspirations,” said Senga.

The next day, while walking the streets and getting to know his new hometown of San Diego, Senga ran into a sign promoting opportunities with UCSD. He signed up and started to work hard to earn money and skills, and studied long hours to complete his high school education. He found a community where he could belong, and where he could be of service to his peers and to his new community.

“In the Corps, we have a lot of kids who have similar backgrounds and stories and I don’t feel alone anymore. I have been able to overcome the pictures and horrible memories in my mind and be at peace,” said Senga. “I have learned many new skills and work experience that I had never thought I would ever reach. Helping my community has always been something that I have wanted to do and I am able to help my community as well as my peers. I can drive in the city and think back at good memories of how I helped with projects around my community.”

Senga’s supervisors salute him for setting high goals and for his dedication to the program. They also note his leadership among his peers; he was promoted to a Crew Leader position. 

“Senga serves as a great role model to our students and shares his story with many who are having a hard time,” said one supervisor.

Senga graduates from the Urban Corps’ Charter School this December. During his time in the Corps, he also obtained his driver's license and saved to buy his first car. He is currently enrolled at San Diego City College and hopes to eventually transfer to San Diego State University and pursue a degree in political science. His goal is to one day become a diplomat or politician. He hopes to return to his country to help to bring peace. He knows that the key to that future is through his education.

“I have learned about many new things that I hope to bring to my country, like the different opportunities that work can give you,” said Senga. “When you work hard and study, you begin to see the light at the end of the road and believe that the world has a lot more for you to see. I plan on meeting new people and sharing my story with others. I know I am not the only one with this story, but hopefully it can help others know they are not alone.”

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Lance Tubinaghtewa, Arizona Conservation Corps - Ancestral Lands


Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.

It was clear from the beginning that Lance Tubinaghtewa was a rising star at the Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC), a program of Conservation Legacy. His focused work ethic and warm, effortless sense of humor helped develop a deep sense of community within his crew.

Lance started out as an AmeriCorps member at Grand Canyon National Park on a crew designed to engage members of the 11 Tribes traditionally associated with the Grand Canyon. There he got a broad look at the different divisions within the park service, working on everything from trail maintenance, to preserving cultural sites, to conducting butterfly population surveys.

Lance then spent two terms with Arizona Conservation Corps’ local program, serving in Tucson and Phoenix on a variety of trail construction and maintenance projects. He eventually worked his way up to an Assistant Crew Leader position, teaching new Corpsmembers about rockwork, trail maintenance and backcountry living. He was instrumental in helping the Corps pilot its Tribal programming in Phoenix in partnership with the Tonto National Forest.

One of the most significant parts of this experience was how Lance helped a member with a difficult background come to feel welcome in the program. The member had been shot in the leg only a year before his Corps experience; Lance helped him really embrace the spirit of “heal the land, heal the man.” Lance, true to form, hesitates to take credit for that, but he helps instill confidence among his peers and encourages them to connect to conservation.

Most recently, Lance is spending his fourth and final AmeriCorps term as an intern with the Interpretation Department at Grand Canyon National Park at Desert View. He’s proven to be skilled at interacting with visitors, teaching the public about the Canyon’s rich history and his Hopi culture. A park ranger and supervisor said of him: “Lance has done a great job working for us all summer. He is a hard worker who sets a great example and really cares about doing a good job. He is extremely reliable and trustworthy. More importantly, I have come to see him as a quiet leader. Safety awareness is very important to us, and Lance has done a great job of reporting situations and working with us to correct them.”

Lance has walked the talk on safety. On one occasion, he was first on scene to a visitor who had been struck on the head by a falling rock and was seriously injured in a remote part of the park. Using skills he learned in the Corps, Lance assessed the patient, applied a compress to stop the bleeding, monitored his vitals, kept him calm, stopped bystanders from interfering, and ultimately attended to the patient for 40 minutes until the park’s EMS arrived. This was far and above the call of duty for an intern.

Lance himself says the influence of his AZCC experience has been profound.  “Even now, I still struggle to find the words to describe it,” he said. “Prior to my first crew, I was unsure about a number of things, but, during the first term, much self-discovery took place. This coincided with the most unique and humbling experiences of my life. These moments are engraved in my mind and cherished because I spent them with my closest friends. With my different seasons, I grew. Finding new connections to places my ancestors have called home for millennia.  Finding a deeper sense of self along with my worth and strengths.”

Lance says he has become more civically engaged as a result of his service and time at the Grand Canyon. Feeling that his native culture and heritage face significant threats, he has become attentive to and eloquent about issues around Tribal lands.

“I am not the first Hopi, so I’m not fluent in traditional knowledge, but my time here has shed light on cultural ideas and concepts, in effect bringing me closer to my identity as a Hopi man,” he said.

In his role at the Grand Canyon, Lance encounters thousands of tourists each day who are curious about the park and his Hopi heritage. He sees this as another opportunity for great change, service and fulfillment of his heritage. His plan is to use his AmeriCorps Education Awards to attend Glendale Community College toward a degree in archaeology and astronomy; two fields of study that piqued his interest when serving in the backcountry on his ancestral lands.

2018 Project of the Year: Southwest Conservation Corps and Montana Conservation Corps - Wyoming Women's Fire Corps

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Wyoming Women’s Fire Corps (WWFC) is a pilot program that ran August through early November of 2017. Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC), Montana Conservation Corps (MCC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) joined together in this collaborative effort. 

SCC and MCC each contributed a crew of six female Corpsmembers and two female Crew Leaders to work with the BLM in Wyoming. The goal was to give these 16 women the confidence, technical skills, and leadership abilities to pursue careers in wildland firefighting. The women completed training and were certified in S130/190 wildland fire fighting and S212 saw operation. The scope of work for the program included fire mitigation and prescribed burns, as well as various chainsaw projects in locations throughout Wyoming. Additionally, both WWFC crews had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience while dispatched on a 14-day assignment to support the massive firefighting efforts in California.

The WWFC is a perfect example of innovation in the Corps Movement. It is a unique opportunity to develop collaborative solutions to several needs. First, this program helps address the huge gender disparity in wildland firefighting. Only 11 percent of permanent wildland firefighting jobs in the U.S. Forest Service are held by women. BLM faces similar statistics.

Second, the WWFC plays a role in addressing resource management concerns. Wyoming has large tracts of land that are potential habitat for the endangered sage grouse, but these areas need to be restored through the removal of encroaching conifers. An effort of this kind requires chainsaw work with a hand crew; perfect saw and physical training for a future wildland firefighter.

The WWFC is potentially the first all-women’s fire crew within the Conservation Corps movement. Additionally, this was the first time either SCC or MCC operated an all-female crew with a set purpose. The uniqueness of this program helped bring in far more applicants than anticipated; within just a two-week window, both Corps received three applicants for every slot.

The first WWFC cohort just closed their season. They report having had an incredible, life-changing experience. Each Corpsmember was an AmeriCorps member, earning a living allowance and finishing with a Segal Education Award. With only one exception, all SCC and MCC members are interested in applying for fire jobs next season; a testament to the empowering nature of this program.

At this point, it’s too early for SCC and MCC to report on how many WWFC participants became employed in wildland firefighting. However, they have already seen other positive effects of the program; SCC has been contacted by BLM and other organizations that are interested in hiring the Corpsmembers and learning more about replicating the initiative in other parts of the country. BLM and both Corps have deemed the WWFC highly successful and are working to repeat the program in 2019.

In the months to come, the two Corps will team-up to develop solutions for challenges discovered in the first year of operation. One of the key factors in the success of this pilot was the critical collaborative effort from staff at SCC, MCC, and the BLM. Several large conference calls took place to establish expectations, logistics and needs of all parties involved.

Both SCC and MCC have been strengthened in many ways because of the WWFC. Each Corps has developed relationships with communities in Wyoming and with the BLM of Wyoming. Additionally, their crews have increased their capacity to respond to wildland fires, complete prescribed burns, and tackle a backlog of habitat improvement projects. Most importantly, however, both Corps have increased diversity and are excited to play a role in opening-up an opportunity for women who are interested in fire, yet unsure how to get a start in such a male-dominated field. This project has developed into a stepping stone for this specific demographic.

As one Corpsmember said of the WWFC: “For women who are thinking ‘maybe I can’t do this,’ you totally can. You just have to have the determination and the willingness to put in a lot of hard work and sweat.” 

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Holden Foley, Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast

Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.

Holden Foley has successfully led over 50 conservation and construction projects since, in 2015, he began as an AmeriCorps crewmember on the Apalachicola Nature Trail Pilot Project, the very first project of the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast (CCFC).

Within his first weeks, it became obvious that Holden was a hard worker. He has since moved up the ranks, recently joining the staff of the Corps as a Field Manager.

“He loves to work and is a problem solver. He combines his life experiences, his training, and an effective ‘tough love’ approach to lead his crews,” said Joe Taylor, Executive Director of the organization.  

For Holden, however, the path to the Corps was a complicated one.

“I had planned to join the Marine Corps and serve our country,” he said. “But in my last year of high school, I was hanging out with the wrong group of people and made a bad decision. That choice resulted in some time in jail. Officer’s school was no longer an option. During my probation, I was working in the construction field; building houses, decks, and doing odd jobs. I just finally got tired of working seven days a week and getting nowhere. I made good money. I just wanted something more. I wanted my life to have more meaning. So I joined the Corps and I am giving back all I can to my community.”

Holden has been with the Corps since its first day. He’s taken part in every training and earned many certifications. He is certified to teach First Aid/CPR, certified to apply herbicides for the State of Florida, and has completed the Waders in the Water aquatic restoration training by Trout Headwaters, Inc. He is also certified as a Volunteer Manager by Volunteer Florida and the Florida Association of Volunteer Resource Management. Additionally, Holden is a specialty trainer for FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Teams in areas of fire safety, disaster medical operations, and light search and rescue. He currently volunteers with the local Emergency Operations Center as the leader for their Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and will soon be certified as a FEMA CERT Program Trainer. His desire to learn and teach make him a valuable asset to CCFC and the community.

Notably, Holden has an instructor’s certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), which will help the Corps in its efforts to build affordable housing in the city. Affordable housing was a need identified by Holden and the Corps, who discovered that 14 of 17 early crewmembers qualified as homeless. Their early community assessment found that a safe place to call home could be a key factor in a crewmember’s success. Holden is currently finishing his Certified Building Contractor’s License and hopes his numerous credentials will expand the Corps’ ability to construct affordable housing for the community. He further hopes to use his AmeriCorps education award to work towards a degree in Architecture/Design that may contribute to the effort.

Holden chairs meetings of the CCFC Leadership Council with confidence and respects the members’ input. He addresses behavioral challenges by gathering information and determining appropriate corrective actions. He serves as a mentor for crew members who may be having a hard time in their personal lives, and makes time outside the Corps for recreational team-building activities with his crew. He also supports and participates in the Corps’ work with local alternative school students.

Reflecting on what he has learned in the Corps, Holden says, “I haven’t been the best person in the past, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But working with the Corps has shown me that none of that history matters. I am not defined by my past. No one has to put limits on what they can accomplish. I like the sense of accomplishment I feel when our crews complete important environmental work. I enjoy training my crewmembers and using my construction skills in our project work. I have been inspired to help others see the same opportunity and take control of their lives and change for the better.

2018 Project of the Year: Vermont Youth Conservation Corps - Health Care Share Program

At The Corps Network’s annual National Conference in Washington, DC, we celebrate the important service Corps provide to communities and young people across the country by honoring Corps who have taken on especially noteworthy endeavors within the past year. Projects of the Year are innovative and show a Corps’ ability to work with partner organizations to give Corpsmembers a positive experience and provide the community with meaningful improvements. Learn more

The Health Care Share program of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) recruits young adults to serve outdoors, in small teams, on tangible projects that benefit Vermont communities. Through service and meaningful employment, young adults gain a profound sense of agency and an understanding of what it means to serve neighbors in need.

With partial support from AmeriCorps, VYCC Farm Crews grow fresh, local, organic food from March through November. This food is then packaged in weekly and/or monthly shares (much like CSA – Community Supported Agriculture) and delivered to hospitals, medical centers, and community clinics. Medical centers, in turn, identify patients and employees who have distinct needs (food insecurity, diabetes, heart conditions, etc.) and would thus benefit from the program. Health Care Share recipients receive shares for six months of the year, as do VYCC Corpsmembers. Additionally, Corpsmembers receive extensive nutrition education and undergo VYCC’s Food and Finance course. 

In 2017, the Health Care Shares initiative engaged 88 Corpsmembers and Crew Leaders. Seventy-two Corpsmembers benefited from the Food and Finance curriculum, and 72 Corpsmembers and their families received a Health Care Share. This is of particular importance as most Corpsmembers come from low-income households.

Throughout the year, Health Care Share Corpsmembers completed an anticipated 50 weeks of service, totaling approximately 10,800 service hours. Additionally, 700 volunteers contributed 2,800 service hours for an estimated financial value of $16,900. By year’s end, roughly 140,000 pounds of food will have been distributed to 500 families, benefitting approximately 1,700 individuals. In addition to the Farm at VYCC, 13 partner farms benefitted greatly from labor provided by VYCC’s Farm Crews. VYCC Farm Crews are, increasingly seen as a valued, nimble, and affordable labor source for farmers during critical moments of the growing and harvesting season.

While the Farm at VYCC has enrolled Corpsmembers to work on the Health Care Share for five summers, 2017 was marked by innovation in several ways:

  1. Expansion – Historically, all farm production happened on VYCC’s nine-acre diversified vegetable and poultry farm. This past growing season, the Farm program fielded crews in three additional Vermont communities: Richmond, Newport, and Bristol. Expansion allowed VYCC to enroll more young adults and add new partners.
  2. New Partners – At each Health Care Share distribution site, VYCC facilitates the formation and operation of “FOOD” teams - Fundraising, Operations, Organization, and Decision-making. These groups are comprised of community and municipal representatives with a stake in public health, nutrition, food security, and local agriculture, as well as youth advocacy, education, and workforce development. Each community that benefits from the Health Care Share brings new partners to this collaboration. This year saw five partner farms join in Rutland. The Newport Crew worked on a community farm managed by the Vermont Land Trust. Farm crews also gleaned produce on seven additional farms to secure additional produce. Partnering medical centers and communities include UVM, Central Vermont, Rutland Regional, and, new this year, North Country Medical Center in Newport. Lastly, VYCC was thrilled that the Farm now receives AmeriCorps funding directly from the Corporation for National Community Service through the SerVermont state commission.
  3. New Education Outcomes – Piloting the Food and Finance curriculum was a great success. This course teaches Corpsmembers how to stretch a budget and, in doing so, establish healthy dietary habits.

​Because the Health Care Share directly benefits community members, there is a real marketing opportunity. VYCC has raised its public profile in towns hosting Farm Crews and seen an uptick in applications, particularly from women. Farming has become a recruitment strategy as it appears to be quite popular among young adults. Additionally, VYCC’s work in food security has attracted the attention of philanthropists who otherwise would likely not be interested in the Corps.

With pluck and determination, Health Care Shares is replicable. For other Corps interested in this type of program, they offer the following insights:

  • Virtually all hospitals have Community Benefit Funds. In VYCC’s experience, the leaders of many medical institutions have been open to innovation.
  • Because VYCC provides food to hospital patients, they consider this fee-for-service revenue, much like traditional revenues used to build and maintain trails.
  • Farms have significant labor demands for roughly nine months out of the year. As such, there are opportunities for Corps to extend the length of service beyond the summer. For example, modest investments in greenhouses not only extend the growing season, but extend the learning, work and service season.
  • Hiring is key. One needs to find a farmer and educator to help operate the program.

Of primary importance, the Farm at VYCC has increased VYCC’s capacity to offer the Corps experience to youth and young adults. Their ability to enhance learning outcomes is equally strengthened, as are their connections to the community.

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Esperanzita Castillo, Greater Miami Service Corps

Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.

Esperanzita Castillo’s time at Greater Miami Service Corps (GMSC) has been busy.  She became an AmeriCorps member with the YouthBuild program at GMSC with her brother in 2016. Her goal was to earn her high school diploma and gain job skills.

Deborah Dorsett, the Corps’ Executive Director, remembers when Esperanzita arrived on campus:

“She was shy and concerned we would not accept her. She left school in the sixth grade and worked various jobs to support her household. Her mom is disabled and she and her brother have to provide for the family. She has far exceeded expectations programmatically and in our local community. She has developed tremendously in terms of finding her voice and having the confidence to speak publically and advocate for second-chance opportunities for young people. Esperanzita has not allowed her past to determine her future.”

Esperanzita has indeed been active as a youth voice in her Corps and in her community. She is a peer leader/team captain at the Corps and assists with the orientation of new members. She is the go-to member whenever someone needs assistance. For example, another member was having problems with their Spanish classes. Esperanzita agreed to tutor her every morning, which helped that member complete her high school requirements. She also assists her peers with the use of tools and equipment, and helps them understand the program’s policies and procedures.

Esperanzita puts in extra service hours at the Corps. Whenever there are weekend volunteer projects, she is there, including Global Youth Service Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Outside the Corps, Esperanzita is an animal rescue volunteer. She has assisted in rescuing numerous animals as well as caring for rescues until they are placed. She has taken this passion and developed a cadre of volunteers that help support the care and placement of rescue animals.

In addition to general Corps responsibilities, Esperanzita was instrumental in participating in a convening of youth from throughout the county to contribute to the development of the local workforce board’s strategic plan. She has also visited Congressional leaders to share her story and discuss the importance of continuing federal funding for GMSC and other workforce development programs for young adults. Additionally, Esperanzita has attended meetings of the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners to educate officials on the need for opportunities and resources for young people in the county. She was recognized in April 2017 by the Mayor of Miami-Dade County as part of the Mayor's Day of Service.

Esperanzita has also been active with Opportunity Youth United – a group of young adults from across the country who advocate on a national level for policies and programs to help young adults who face barriers to jobs and education.

On top of all of her other commitments, Esperanzita works 32 hours per week as a security guard to support her family.

Esperanzita recently completed the final requirements for her high school diploma and graduated in November with a specialty in Veterinary Assistance. She is close to completing the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) credential and has acquired her OSHA ten-hour certification and CPR/First Aid certification. Her story recently appeared in a video by America’s Promise: “A Security Guard, a Flyer, and a Second Chance.”

As for next steps, Esperanzita plans to soon enroll in Miami-Dade college. She is undecided whether to pursue a career in law enforcement or veterinary science, but hopes to have the opportunity to job shadow and intern to help make her decision.

 “I wanted to become a Corpsmember to change my life,” said Esperanzita. “I dropped out of school in the sixth grade and knew I would need a diploma to get a better job or attend college. GMSC means so much more to me than just helping me achieve my goals. The staff is like my family. They assist and encourage us to strive for our goals.  I have also gained a lot of exposure to the community. We participate in housing projects, landscaping, painting, community outreach and so much more. As a Corpsmember of the Year I would expand my outreach to other Corps around the country.”

2018 Corpsmember of the Year: Earl Bowman, Delaware State Parks Veterans Conservation Corps


Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference in Washington, DC, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young men and women have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more.

*Earl Bowman is being recognized as the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) Corpsmember of the Year. The 21CSC is a national initiative to increase the number of young adults and recent veterans serving on public lands. The 21CSC Corpsmember of the Year is a young adult who has served in a member Corps of the 21CSC and is a champion of the initiative’s vision of increasing the engagement of young adults in conservation, preservation, and outdoor recreation. 

Before becoming an AmeriCorps member with the Delaware State Parks Veterans Conservation Corps, Earl B. Bowman IV worked various jobs. He tried his hand at commercial printing, but quickly discovered the factory setting was not for him. Wanting to make a difference, he joined the Delaware Air National Guard and served a term in the Support Group squadron.

After completing his service, Earl drove for an ambulance company in his hometown. Although he enjoyed this work, he wanted more. Since the age of 13, Earl has served his community as a volunteer firefighter.  

Knowing his passion to serve, Earl’s mother advised him to join the Veterans Conservation Corps. Admittedly, he was apprehensive; he wasn’t sure he’d be a good fit. However, with continuous encouragement from his mother, Earl decided to give the Corps a try. After only one day in the field, Earl decided to commit to one term.

“My experience with the Delaware Veterans Conservation Corps has been transforming,” said Earl. “Not only did I get to spend 11 months with fellow veterans, but I gained a wealth of knowledge in environmental stewardship and trail maintenance.”

Earl quickly acclimated to the program, becoming the team’s chainsaw expert. He was always willing to help his peers with their skills, patiently explaining and helping them with technique. Earl took advantage of every training offered, eventually earning his wildland firefighting Red Card. About midway through the year, he was clearly becoming a leader.

When the program added new members in the spring and summer, Earl stepped up and became the Team Leader’s “right hand man.” The Team Leader would split the team into two and Earl would lead one group while the Team Leader worked with the other. Earl also supervised when the Team Leader was absent. Additionally, he became the team transportation supervisor and was responsible for the team’s truck. Earl was awarded the State Office on Volunteerism Member of the Year award and the Program Member of the Year award.

Earl led the way in educating the Corps’ summer members in environmental stewardship skills, including how to identify invasive plants and treat them, proper trail trimming techniques, and safe chainsaw operation. Towards the end of the program, Earl was offered employment with Delaware State Parks. However, given the commitment he made to the Corps, Earl waited until the end of the program to accept an offer. Now, as a Conservation Tech with the Delaware State Parks trail team, he continues to be an advocate for the Corps and is always looking to engage the current cohort in trail projects.

Despite taking on many roles, Earl continues to serve as a volunteer firefighter. He often works all week with Delaware State Parks, then serves all weekend with the fire company. For the future, Earl plans to use his AmeriCorps education award to finish the necessary trainings to become an EMT and continue serving his community on a part-time basis.

Earl Bowman truly lives the motto, “Service before Self.”