There are 14 State-Certified Local Conservation Corps in California, each of which is an individual nonprofit organization serving its local region. The mission of each Local Conservation Corps is to preserve and protect the environment and provide job skills training and educational opportunities to young men and women, primarily ages 18-26.
Each Local Conservation Corps works with or operates a charter school where corpsmembers can earn their high school diploma or GED and get connected to college and vocational education programs. Corpsmembers are paid stipends and often receive scholarships upon completing their term of service. Local corps provide workforce training, on the job experience and valuable certifications to help corpsmembers move forward in their careers and provide local businesses with a skilled, diverse and enthusiastic workforce.
Local corps are at the forefront of conservation and other innovative community service efforts. Learn more about our many initiatives, and their impact, below.
“It’s important to support the work of local conservation corps, who actually do the work in communities to reduce waste, to increase recycling and to clean up when things go awry. It’s been a tremendous partnership. It’s been great for the environment. It’s been great for communities in terms of reducing waste. And it really has been the mechanism for training our workers of the future.”Mark MurrayExecutive Director, Californians Against Waste
When I first heard about the local corps, I was a high school dropout. I’d spent two years pretty much doing nothing with my life but I wanted to do something right and help out. Every first Saturday of each month, the Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps has a food bank. I like helping others so I started volunteering. I’d show up at 6 am to set up the food stations, and then hand out the food to homeless people and those who needed it. It felt good. Even though I was in a really bad place in my life, through volunteering I could do something meaningful. Helping out others made me feel more alive.
After six months, I built the confidence to talk to staff about the corps. They told me that if I didn’t have a high school diploma they could help me get one, and job training too. I needed to help my family and take this opportunity – you never know when it will come again. I joined right away. My first day, I was quite terrified. Being a high school dropout for 2 ½ years, I hadn’t been in a classroom in a while. I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. But I knew there were people willing to help me. I started communicating with other corpsmembers and I realized I wasn’t the only one in this position, which made me feel more comfortable.
The first year, all I did was work, go to school, and save my money. After a year, I had saved enough money to buy my first car, which was very impactful for my family – we always had to walk or take the bus. When I told my mom I was buying a car, when I saw her tears, it made all the sacrifices worth it. I spent a year and a half at the charter school. It was a very helpful, eye opening experience. I remember telling my mom that I completed all my credits. Seeing her at my graduation, knowing I’m the first one in my family to get a diploma, I realized how lucky I am to be living the American dream.
The counselors at my local corps made a big impact on my life. My first day there, when my counselor asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I didn’t have any idea. For me back then, a job was just about getting money. I figured I’d just work at Walmart, whatever. After several months, she encouraged me to join the 2-month SEKI-CC project in the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Forest. I had never been to a forest before, never done any conservation work, so I asked my supervisor about it. He’d been a Wildland fire fighter and convinced me to give it a try. I really wanted to get in better shape so I went back and told my counselor ok! She was really proud of me and helped me sign up.
I remember going out to the forest for the first time. I felt like I was in a different country. I had never hiked in my life but the trees were so spectacular; it’s a whole new world out there. The park was so close to me but I had never known about it. The corps gave me this opportunity. For two months, we lived in the forest, working on the trails. Sometimes we were lucky enough to work with law enforcement. It made me feel so lucky and confident! I told them that I liked working out there in the park. The patrol captain wrote me a recommendation letter, and it meant the world to me that someone in that position would look at me in that way.
When I joined the corps, I weighed 275 pounds and after this summer program, I weighed 230, which was a huge deal for me. When I came back to Fresno, my counselor teared up because I had lost so much weight and was talking about what I wanted to do with my life. Being in nature, I really found myself. I knew I wanted to work outside in the forest. So the following year, I did the same program but this time as a senior corpsmember. I felt nervous, I wasn’t expecting to be in a leadership position, but working at my local corps had given me so much confidence and taught me that if you’re scared of it, you should do it because it’s stepping out of your comfort zone.
Going back to the same forest made me realize, yeah, these are my woods. I showed the young adults how to pack their bags, how to build a fire, dig a toilet, use water filters, work on trails. I was stronger too. By the end of the summer, after lots of hard work together, looking at the stars at night, these friends had become family members. I am still friends with many of them. Some of them are in college now – I know how it feels to go through the hard times and it’s so good to see them succeed! After that summer, I knew I wanted a full time job helping others, helping our forests and our country.
I remember applying for jobs for quite a while. I didn’t get calls back but my supervisor told me to keep trying and I reminded myself to keep working harder and harder until someone noticed me. After applying for two straight years, I got a phone call. It was the captain of the Stonyford Fire department and he said: “We were wondering if you’d like to work with us for the season.” I remember getting the phone call while I was at work. Everyone was there in the office and I couldn’t believe it – out of everybody they called me! My supervisor and I were both crying. I told him YES right away, absolutely.
I remember coming home that day and telling my mom I got the fire job I’d been applying for the last 2 years – we started crying together. We were very thankful for all these opportunities, especially considering that 2 ½ years ago I wasn’t doing anything at all. Now I can really help my family. I send them money every month to help them pay the rent. It feels so great, not stressing about if my mom can put food on the table. I’m the first one to go down this path of being a fire fighter. My mom is so proud of me. You can see it on her face, every time I come home, I can see it in her attitude. I don’t see her stressing at night any more.
If someone’s offering you something, I know it can be hard to do something you don’t know, but take the opportunity. You never know where it can lead you. I’m still growing to this day. I still have to ask for help. But now, the trees are my office. These programs do work for young people who want to change their lives. If every young person had this opportunity, we’d be in a much better place, no one living on the street. From the bottom of my heart, I am thankful for my local corps and the opportunities it offers. I just consider my life to be a blessing.
Conservation Corps North Bay
San Francisco Conservation Corps
Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps
Greater Valley Conservation Corps
San Jose Conservation Corps
Fresno Local Conservation Corps
Sequoia Community Corps
Cesar Chavez Environmental Corps
Los Angeles Conservation Corps
Conservation Corps of Long Beach
Orange County Conservation Corps
Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire
Urban Corps of San Diego County
- Jacob Cortez Greater Valley Conservation Corps
“My local corps helps a lot with the community. It gives kids opportunities to get off of the streets and actually do something for themselves and their family. It helps them actually feel confident about themselves and gives them trades so they know, hey, I'm doing something with my life.”
Hear more about Jacob’s experiences with his local corps in this interview recorded in Sacramento on CALCC’s Government Education Day, 2019.
- Fire Restoration Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Conservation Corps of Long Beach In partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Long Beach and Los Angeles Conservation Corps joined forces with the American Conservation Experience to form the Southern California Conservation Corps Collaborative to restore fire-ravaged Angeles National Forest. This 700,000 acre forest, a critical natural environment and water source for the region, has been scarred by fires over the last 20 years, with significant impact on the watersheds and ecosystems. The corps are working together to eradicate invasive plants, remove waste, plant seeds, improve the trail systems, and restore riparian corridors.
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You can support young people, the environment and your community by donating to California’s local corps. Take the next step in supporting your local corps today.