The Corps Network Responds to August 12 Events in Charlottesville

On March 25, 1965, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a crowd of 25,000 marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in support of voting rights for African-Americans.

At the end of the march, King delivered what has since become known as the "How Long, Not Long" speech. Defiant at times, his remarks referenced the violence that beset the Civil Rights movement. He encouraged those gathered to keep up the struggle; the movement could not be dissuaded after coming so far.

How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.

How long? Not long, you shall reap what you sow.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrate that the struggle continues and reinforces that we cannot shy away from discussing the difficult issues that underlie this unfortunate incident, as well as so many other acts of racially-motivated violence.

The Corps Network recently introduced the “Moving Forward Initiative,” which focuses on addressing institutional and systemic racism as it relates to our Corps and the conservation workforce. Institutional racism was the focus of our recent workshop with The People’s Institute: an organization that teaches “what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone.”  What happened in Charlottesville shows us why understanding these concepts is so critical.

MENTOR, a national partner of The Corps Network, has published a guide, “Supporting Young People in the Wake of Violence and Trauma.” We suggest that Corps read and use this guide as we look for ways to talk to our Corpsmembers about recent events. We encourage all our Corps to have these conversations not only with your Corpsmembers, but also with your friends, family and partners. Know that we at The Corps Network are here to help.

When speaking to the US Conference of Mayors on August 11, 2017, President and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation La June Montgomery Tabron made this eloquent statement: “we do know that, when people come together, this work addressing structural racism, building equity in communities and shaping one’s humanity can be accomplished …We must succeed.”  

We will add to this by saying that this work by our Corps and The Corps Network must be done by joining with our partners and with our communities as we look to move forward.

As the Reverend Dr. King, Jr said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

A Message from Our CEO: How You Can Take Action in Response to the President's FY18 Budget

Please use our template messages below to tell Congress and your Community about how these cuts would negatively affect Corps.

View Budget Summary

Click here to scroll to the bottom for Action Items


Dear Friends,­

You probably heard in the news that President Trump released his first budget proposal. As we previewed in March, we have significant reason for concern and we need your help over the coming months to ensure this budget does not go into effect.

Why are we concerned? This budget shows where the administration’s priorities are, and it’s not good news for our federal partners.  The President’s Budget proposes the complete elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes AmeriCorps and VISTA. It also proposes massive cuts to public lands funding at USDA and the Forest Service of 21 percent, and a 11 percent cut to the Department of Interior, with National Park Service taking a bigger cut at 13 percent. Department of Labor would also be cut by 20% including the Job Corps, YouthBuild and WIOA programs. 

If these cuts go into effect, they would have a devastating impact on our Corps and opportunities for our Corpsmembers and partners around the country. I want to let you know that we are paying close attention to these issues in DC. We are working hard to advocate for the funding Corps need to continue engaging youth and veterans in serving our communities and nation.

While President Trump’s proposals are hugely concerning, Congress makes the final decision on spending. Just this month, we saw Congress provide respectable funding levels for FY17, indicating they may not have the appetite for the President’s proposed level of cuts in FY18. Congress is already expressing concern over President Trump’s budget, and there is near certainty of major changes. However, it’s important to remember there are other ways, beyond funding, in which the President can influence which activities federal agencies prioritize.

This is why we must keep the pressure on our Members of Congress and use our most effective local tools - your voice - to let Congress know that #CorpsWorkPlease use our press release template to reach local media, and template budget and appropriations support letters to reach your House and Senate members today to tell them about the impact these cuts would have on your community.

You are already having an impact! For FY17, AmeriCorps continued at a $40 million increased level over FY15, and the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, along with Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee (which funds AmeriCorps), both joined a resolution honoring AmeriCorps. Additionally, all the key accounts that fund Corps’ public lands projects received funding increases.

Your ongoing support for The Corps Network, through membership and your advocacy with elected officials, makes this possible. We need your continued engagement with our public lands and national service advocacy. If we reach out to you, please take a few minutes to help! Everyone’s voice is important and we need to make a stand now to send a message these cuts cannot continue for another four years.

The Corps Network’s mission statement is “Strengthening America through Service and Conservation.” Unfortunately, the President’s proposed budget would hurt both service and conservation efforts, consequently effecting our country as whole. We have been through tough budget cycles before, and have weathered cuts for a number of years already, but this is an unprecedented threat. Know that we are working hard for you in DC, but we need your help on the ground. Please use our template press release and letters.

Thank you, as always, for all that you do. Keep up the good work!

Mary Ellen Sprenkel
The Corps Network



Below find template letters you can send to your Members of Congress to request support for federal agencies and funding important to Corps. Not sure who your members of Congress are or how to contact them? See below for Congressional Directories: 
      - U.S. Senate Directory
      - U.S. House Directory



Tell Congress the President's Proposed Budget Cuts are Unacceptable

Use our templates to send letters to Congress. Let your Senators and Representatives know how the proposed cuts in the president's budget would affect your community. 



FY18 Appropriations Advocacy Action Items

  1. Mail this National Service Appropriations letter to your House and Senate Members
  2. Mail this Public Lands Appropriations letter to your House and Senate Members
  3. Mail this Workforce Development Appropriations letter to your House and Senate Members
  4. Submit programmatic appropriations funding requests to your House and Senate Members in support of National Service, Public Lands, and Workforce Development


Dear Friends,
You may have heard in the news that President Trump has released his initial budget proposal. This is our first real glimpse into this administration’s policy and spending priorities, and there is unfortunately significant reason for concern. 
I want to reach out to you directly and let you know we are paying close attention to these issues here in DC and will work hard to advocate for the funding Corps need to continue engaging youth and veterans in serving our communities and nation. This budget is simply the first step in a long budget and appropriations process. There is near certainty of major changes to the president’s current proposal in Congress.
The President’s Budget proposes the complete elimination of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes AmeriCorps. It also proposes massive cuts to USDA and the Forest Service of 21%, and a 12% cut to the Department of Interior. Department of Labor would also be cut by 21%. If these changes go into effect, they would have a devastating impact on our Corps and opportunities for our Corpsmembers and partners around the country.
The key word though, is “if” - the president has no power to enforce these changes without Congress. Per the constitution, Congress (and the House specifically) makes the final decision on spending. This is why we must keep the pressure on our Members of Congress and use our most effective local tools - your voice - to let Congress know that #CorpsWork. We need to use use these letter templates today to let Congress know this budget is unacceptable in the areas of National Service, Public Lands, and Workforce Development.
Thankfully, after multiple years of budget caps, we’re hearing from Republicans in Congress that there have been too many cuts to smaller programs and they cannot continue. There’s also room to be optimistic that our advocacy is paying off. AmeriCorps received a $50 million increase in FY16 and the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the Senate, along with Chair of the LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee (which funds AmeriCorps), both joined a resolution honoring AmeriCorps last week. Additionally, the Chairman of the subcommittee in the House expressed his support for AmeriCorps in a recent committee hearing.
Interior Secretary Zinke has also pledged to be a champion of public lands funding and budget issues for DOI and it’s sub-agencies. We also know that Interior Appropriations Committee members want to work harder to address the growing list of backlog maintenance and ensure more access and recreation opportunities on public lands. Corps are well positioned to help accomplish all these goals on public lands. We have a strong case to make and years of quality work to stand on.
Along with our own appropriations strategy and convening monthly advocacy calls with our issue-focused coalitions, we're going to be working with our partners here in DC and a variety of appropriations advocacy groups. We hope you will join those monthly advocacy calls to learn more about what you can do. In the meantime, please use the letter templates above in the areas of National Service, Public Lands, and Workforce funding to reach out to your House and Senate members today to tell them about the impact these cuts would have on your Corps and community.
Thank you as always for all that you do, and keep up the good work!

Mary Ellen Sprenkel
The Corps Network

We Must Act Now to Save AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps could be eliminated; we need your help to ensure this vital program does not get cut from the federal budget.

Dear Friends,
I hope you are still as energized as I am from the national conference last week. If there was one thing I took away from the advocacy discussions, it’s that now is the time to be loud and proud about the work Corps do in communities and on public lands every day.
Right now we urgently need your help. AmeriCorps faces more than just budget cuts; it could face total elimination. Late last week, The New York Times received a leaked memo from the Office of Management and Budget. The memo lists the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) – the agency that oversees AmeriCorps – as one of the first federal programs to cut.
The budget is still in its preliminary stages, but note that this is not a drill. If we act now to show our support for national service, there is still hope AmeriCorps and CNCS could be saved from the chopping block. We know #CorpsWork and #AmeriCorpsWorks. Every dollar invested in national service returns nearly four dollars to society in terms of higher earnings, increased economic output and meeting public needs.
The majority of The Corps Network’s member organizations receive AmeriCorps funding. In the communities where our Corps operate, people depend on the services AmeriCorps members provide. Through their service, our young adults and veterans develop valuable experience on the path to careers. Whether or not you directly work with or benefit from AmeriCorps, your community does.
If your organization receives AmeriCorps funding or Education Awards, you need to act now. If you currently serve in AmeriCorps, or previously benefited from an AmeriCorps term of service, you need to act now. If you believe in giving people the opportunity to serve our country, you need to act now. We all need to act if we want to save AmeriCorps.
This budget is not the end of the road; Congress ultimately decides what is funded and what is not. All of this is to say that we are just at the beginning of a long budget and appropriations process during which we will need to continue to make our voices heard in support of the programs and funding streams on which Corps depend.
If you hear from us in coming days and months about this topic, PLEASE consider it important and have at least one member of your organization act on our suggestions. SEE BELOW FOR ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE NOW.
Mary Ellen Sprenkel
The Corps Network


How You Can Help Save AmeriCorps

    Do you, your organization, or your organization’s board members/sponsors/funders have any connections to the White House? This includes any connections you may have with Republican Governors. If so, let us know ASAP. We have a small window to let the Administration know it's a mistake to include AmeriCorps on the elimination list.

    Reach out key members of Congress who sit on the Labor, HHS Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate. Encourage your organization’s board members and partners to do the same. Congress will ultimately decide whether AmeriCorps survives.
    list of key members on Labor, HHS Subcommittees
    please let us know about your outreach so we can track efforts
    Reach out to your Members of Congress (House and Senate) and let them know that you want them to support appropriations requests for AmeriCorps and other key CNCS programs. See this message we’ve sent out to the network. Cut and paste the CNCS/AmeriCorps requests into an email or word doc, and send to your Member of Congress and ask for their support on these funding levels.
    Identify a Republican Governor, Mayor, State Legislator or former Member of Congress who could write an Op-Ed or Letters to the Editor. We need outside Republican voices who can validate the local impact of AmeriCorps. Let us know if you have connections with any such officials so we can help craft the message. It is more than likely that AmeriCorps members have, in some way, helped improve your community. Now is the time to ask your elected officials for their help.

    Join with the national service community today to let you Senators and House Member know that #AmeriCorpsWorks and #CorpsWork! Simply click this link, enter your information, and you’ll be connected with both your Senators and House Member on the same call and given a short script.

    Member organizations of The Corps Network - especially those that receive AmeriCorps funding - are encouraged to join our National Service Coalition. We host regular strategy calls and send out an email on national service-related news. If someone on your organization is not already participating in the Coalition, please contact us to join!

    Post your support for AmeriCorps on social media using the hashtags #AmeriCorpsWorks and #CorpsWork. Use photos and stories to show the huge LOCAL impact AmeriCorps has in communities around the country. Tweet @ your House and Senate Members and ask them to protect AmeriCorps! See below for some shareable images. Along with these images, be sure to share a personalized message to let your members of Congress know about the important work AmeriCorps members do in their district


Please note that AmeriCorps grantees are prohibited from performing advocacy activities, and social media activities related to advocacy, directly with grant funds, equipment, or while counting AmeriCorps hours of Corpsmembers or volunteers. You may perform education on program activities and operations with AmeriCorps funds. 

You may perform advocacy on non-AmeriCorps funded time, staff positions or staff time, Corpsmembers' non-AmeriCorps service hours, or on personal time. Please refer to this recent post from CNCS on social media considerations and this general advocacy post



Mary Ellen's Blog: TCN on the Map

Less than two weeks ago, I sat in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, just off the West Wing of the White House, listening to the stories of four inspiring young adults from member programs of The Corps Network. There was Ray Santos, a Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps Crew Leader from American YouthWorks (AYW) in Texas, who uses his own experience as a formerly court-involved AYW Corpsmember to lead formerly-incarcerated and at-risk Corpsmembers. There was Kenesha Jackson, a young mother who, with the help of Greater Miami Service Corps, reimagined her future and enrolled in college. We heard from Aisha Dorn, a Civic Works alumna who used knowledge she gained during her term of service to start her own brownfield remediation company in Baltimore, MD. And there was Katherine Martinez, a young woman who experienced a boost in self-confidence and became a strong leader while developing tangible job skills through Curlew Job Corps’ welding program.

These four young adults were The Corps Network’s representatives at a White House Community Leaders Briefing on the topic of Corps and the role national service can play in creating opportunities for diverse young people. I applaud Ray, Kenesha, Aisha and Katherine for their willingness and courage to share their stories of service and transformation, especially in front of top officials from the White House, the EPA, and the Departments of Labor, Energy, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development.  They were an excellent representation of the thousands of extraordinary young people enrolled in the 100+ programs of The Corps Network. There are many Corpsmembers all across the country who, like the four individuals who spoke at the White House, are transforming their communities while also transforming their own lives.

Those of us in the Corps community have heard similar personal stories to those that were shared at the White House. We know from firsthand experience how service in a Corps can help a young person get on the right track, plan for the future and develop into a successful, community-conscious adult. What was exciting about this month was that through the White House briefing, as well as through The Corps Network’s Annual Day of Service, the transformative power of Corps was shared with people outside of the Corps world who previously might not have ever heard of The Corps Network or Service and Conservation Corps.

At the White House briefing, The Corps Network was introduced to important Obama administration officials, like Hallie Schneir, Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls; and Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity. At The Day of Service, The Corps Network gained recognition in the nation’s capital through high-visibility service projects at four DC-area National Park Service sites. I am proud to say that in our second year of hosting the Day of Service we were able to attract nearly double the volunteers, double the sponsors, and double the number of participating Corps.

The Corps Network is on the map. I feel confident that now, more than any other time during my tenure with The Corps Network, Corps are seen by a wide range of people as a tested and trusted model for improving our communities, protecting the environment, and creating opportunities for diverse young people. We’re in a good place to maintain this trend and expand awareness. I know that Corps will only continue to impress as they go about their daily business of making the world a better place. 


Mary Ellen's Blog: Find Your Park and Protect it

A Corpsmember with the Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative on the 5th anniversary of the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This blog also appeared on HuffPost Green

April is a big month for Corps and The Corps Network! For starters, April is when we celebrate both Earth Day and Arbor Day. As organizations that empower individuals to actively participate in improving the environment and their communities, Corps appreciate the attention these holidays bring to the ways we can each play a role in protecting our planet.  Many Corps use Earth Day as an opportunity to engage their communities in conservation-focused volunteer projects. This year is no exception; we look forward to seeing all the great photos of Corps leading their friends, neighbors and local schools in planting trees, cleaning up parks and beaches, and pulling invasive plants. You can follow Earth Day-related Corps activities too by following the hashtags #corpsearthday and #servetheearth on social media. 

Though “every day is Earth Day” for Conservation Corps, we understand all too well how difficult it can be for many people to find time to enjoy the outdoors, let alone feel like they can contribute to protecting our environment in a meaningful way. However, the message of Earth Day is that we can (and should) all be environmentally conscious, even if it’s just by recycling, being mindful of our water use, and turning off the lights when we leave a room. We applaud Corps for spreading this important environmental education on Earth Day and throughout the year, and for engaging people who might not traditionally be involved in the environmental conservation movement. As anyone who has participated in a Corps can tell you, service to one’s community and the environment can be a profoundly empowering experience. Corps teach us that everyone – young people and the traditionally disenfranchised in particular – have the power and the right to make a positive impact on their environment.

In addition to annual holidays, this April is important because it marks the official launch of Find Your Park; an initiative of the National Park Service and National Park Foundation to connect the next generation to America’s parks. As studies show, today’s children spend significantly less time outdoors than their parents or grandparents. They are more connected to screens than they are to nature. With its centennial coming up in 2016, the National Park Service is focused on making sure its next 100 years are even stronger than the first 100. To do this, they need to ensure that generations to come have an interest in not only visiting parks, but becoming public land and water managers. Corps are united with the Park Service in the goal to get more young people outdoors and interested in conservation. For years, Corps have completed vitally important maintenance and improvement projects in National Parks across the country, ranging from Shenandoah in Virginia, to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, to Olympic National Park in Washington. The Corps Network was proud to participate in a Find Your Park launch event last week at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

Another reason why this April in particular is important is that it marks the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; the largest spill in America’s history. You may have seen news stories in the past few days about how the recovery process in the Gulf has been slow and there is still a great deal of restoration work to be done. Fortunately, not all of the news out of the Gulf this month is bad news; the second phase of The Corps Network’s Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative (GCRI) pilot project got underway last week in Mississippi. Corpsmembers will spend the next seven weeks restoring coastal habitats in Mississippi’s Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties. The goal of the GCRI is build the capacity of Corps throughout the Gulf, giving young people in coastal communities the opportunity to be trained for careers in the increasingly important fields of wetland and riparian habitat restoration. The Corpsmembers who participate in the current GCRI pilot project could one day be the conservation experts who help prevent future manmade disasters in the Gulf and make sure all natural disasters are responded to in a timely fashion. 

One last reason why April is an important month for the Corps world is that spring means the start of the field season. With warmer weather and the end of the school year in sight, Corps are busy starting projects or finishing their final preparations to welcome Corpsmembers for spring and summer crews. This is a time when some Corps host orientations for recently recruited Corpsmembers, exposing them to environmental stewardship and the growing diversity of “green careers” available.

April makes us think of things turning green, of new life and growth. It’s a time when we think about our impact on the environment and what we can do to ensure we make a positive impact. This April, I hope you consider getting outdoors to Find Your Park, join a volunteer project, or enjoy the beauty of the natural world just outside your front door. As the great conservationist John Muir once said, "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."

Mary Ellen's Blog: Play, Learn, Serve and Work - What Corps Do Best

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Miami's Mayor Tomas Pedro Regalado with Greater Miami Service Corps. Miami is one of 50 cities where The Corps Network, YMCA, National League of Cities and the Department of the Interior are partnering to get more youth outdoors.

For over a hundred years, the YMCA has provided communities with the resources and facilities to help people of all ages lead healthier, more active lifestyles. Through classes, camps, organized sports and programs offering everything from youth counseling to healthy cooking tips, the Y helps individuals and families find fun ways to exercise their bodies, minds and spirits. The Y is more than a gym; it’s a community hub.

With such a strong history of engaging people in play and activity, it only makes sense that YMCA would be involved in promoting Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s initiative to bridge the divide between America’s youth and the great outdoors. Since last spring, the Y and the National League of Cities (NLC) have been working in partnership to advance the Secretary’s goal to get more youth playing in parks and participating in outdoor recreation, learning in nature’s classroom, volunteering on public lands, and working to preserve and restore our natural resources. American Express committed $5 million to this project just last week.  Now, with additional support from the Department of Interior, The Corps Network will join YMCA and NLC by integrating the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) into their efforts. 

The Corps Network has been actively involved in the DOI’s youth initiative ever since Secretary Jewell announced it in the fall of 2013. Service and Conservation Corps are essential to meeting the initiative’s Service and Work goals to bring the 21CSC to scale and develop the next generation of conservation stewards and land managers by engaging 100,000 youth and veterans in projects that protect, restore and enhance America’s natural and cultural resources. Now, through this partnership with DOI, YMCA and NLC, The Corps Network will be more directly involved in meeting the youth initiative’s Play and Learn goals.

Over the next three years, member organizations of The Corps Network will place individual Corpsmembers at YMCA branches in 50 cities across the country. These Corpsmembers will assist the Y's Community Coordinators, building off YMCA and NLC relationships with community organizations and local leadership to develop opportunities for people to get outdoors and participate in environmental service projects. The goal is for each Community Coordinator to engage 10,000 to 20,000 volunteers in each of the 50 selected cities. Some of these service projects will undoubtedly be with Corps.

I am excited about this new partnership and believe it will prove to be an effective way to introduce a new audience to Corps, outdoor recreation and the importance of conservation. It will allow Corps to shine for what they do best: engaging people in service that improves communities and the environment. This initiative will result in more youth playing in parks and learning about nature through outdoor exploration; more volunteers protecting and enhancing their local natural spaces; and more people engaging with their local Corps.

The Corps Network and its member Corps have been helping people develop strong, lasting connections to nature for many years. Now, with the creation of the Community Coordinator position and a role for Corpsmembers in assisting these Coordinators, Corps will be able to expand their important role in helping people play, learn, serve and work outdoors. 

New Study Demonstrates how Providing Jobs to Young People Reduces Crime and Provides Tremendous Return on Investment

This blog post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Yesterday I was excited, but not entirely surprised, to read about a new studypublished in the journal Science about how a cohort of Chicago teenagers were affected by access to summer employment. The conclusion of the study, conducted by University of Pennsylvania criminologist Sara Heller, is that when you give a young person a summer job, he or she is significantly less likely to commit a violent crime. More on that in a moment.

These days, you no longer hear people talking about "disadvantaged youth" or "at-risk youth." Today we talk about "opportunity youth": low-income young people who are out of school and out of work, but who seek opportunities to advance their education or career and can offer a great deal to our country if we invest in them and provide access to resources like job training or college prep.

Those of us who work with opportunity youth know firsthand how valuable these young people are. Many of them have experienced extreme poverty, violence, incarceration, addiction and abuse, but they are eager to learn and fiercely determined to not be held back by their circumstances. 

Throughout the country, there are many different kinds of youth development programs that offer everything from counseling and help accessing public assistance, to career training and college-level classes. For example, America's 100+ Service and Conservation Corps engage young people, many of whom fit the definition of opportunity youth, in service projects through which they can gain hands-on work experience and learn valuable soft skills, like how to work in a team or peacefully resolve conflicts. Many Corps also provide mentors and counselors, and some programs offer educational opportunities through partnerships with local high schools, trade schools, and colleges.

As President and CEO of The Corps Network, the national membership association of Corps, I can tell you countless stories about young men and women who overcame the limitations of their upbringing or poor past decisions by embracing the opportunities offered by a Corps or similar youth development program. On that note, let's get back to that study.

In the summer of 2012, a randomly selected group of 1,634 students from high-crime schools in Chicago participated in the study. Over 90 percent of the students came from low-income families and received free or reduced-price lunch, and one-fifth of them had previously been arrested. 350 of the students were randomly assigned 25-hour per week minimum wage jobs, while another 350 students were randomly assigned 15-hour per week minimum wage jobs plus 10 hours of weekly classes that taught them how to understand their emotions and manage behaviors that could interfere with employment. The remaining students carried on as normal.

Heller looked at arrest data throughout the summer and during the 13 months following the conclusion of the 8-week-long jobs. What she found was that, compared to the control group, violent crime decreased 43 percent among the two groups of students who received jobs. There were 5.1 arrests per 100 youth who were part of the treatment group and 9.1 arrests per 100 youth who were in the control group. Most significantly, the largest decreases in crime came months after the jobs ended, suggesting that crime reduction during the summer wasn't simply a result of students being too busy at work to break the law; the soft skills, experience with conflict resolution, and responsibility gained on the job seems to have made a lasting impression.

It is also notable that the students who worked longer hours did not differ significantly from the students who also attended social-emotional classes; this suggests that it wasn't just the classes that caused a behavioral change. Participating in the workforce and having a structured way to contribute to the community is what made the difference. Corps offer this opportunity.


Why, in the months after the summer ended, were the students who didn't have jobs more likely to be involved in criminal activity? Other than that they weren't offered employment, they really weren't any different from the students who were offered positons. Sara Heller can't say for certain why this was the case, but my experience with Corps tells me that when young people have a job or structured service, they have a purpose and gain confidence in their abilities. The most valuable thing they gain from an employment or service opportunity might not be the credentials they can put on a resume, but rather the empowerment that comes from being able to make a little money and make a positive contribution to the community. If we provide more of these opportunities to our young people, I feel confident that we won't just see a reduction in crime and fewer incarcerations; we'll see young people flourish and go on to do great things all because they had the chance to know what a hard day's work feels like, and learn that they are capable of much more.

Mary Ellen's Blog: National Service and My Brother's Keeper

This blog post also appeared on the Huffington Post - November 20, 2014

Recently released reports prove what many minority families have known for years: a school-to-prison pipeline exists for children of color. Statistics show that black and Latino young men and boys are, from a very young age, disproportionately affected by harsh suspension policies and zero-tolerance rules. For example, though black children represent 18 percent of American preschool students, they represent 42 percent of preschool students suspended once, and 48 percent of students suspended more than once. These students are more likely to fall behind in school, drop out, and end up involved in the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, uncovering the data behind this sobering reality has led lawmakers, educators and reformers to take steps to change the school-to-prison pipeline into a cradle-to-college pipeline. Earlier this year, President Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to improve life outcomes for all young people and address the persistent opportunity gap faced by boys and young men of color. Four of this initiative’s goals – to ensure all youth graduate from high school, complete post-secondary education or training, can find and hold employment, and remain safe from violent crime – are addressed by Service and Conservation Corps.

During a typical day in a Corps program, a young person might spend the morning out in his neighborhood participating in a service project that improves the community and simultaneously helps him gain hands-on job experience. In the afternoon, that young person might be in the classroom working toward a high school diploma or GED. Once that Corpsmember earns a diploma or high school equivalency, he can take advantage of the Corps’ partnership with a local community college to pursue a postsecondary degree. The Corpsmember can be sure that, with the guidance of the Corps’ counselors and the study skills he learned from the Corps’ more personalized and engaging classroom experience, he will persist in school and obtain a degree or industry-recognized credential. All throughout his term in the Corps, this young person will have Crewleaders, mentors and positive role models encouraging him and keeping him on track and out of trouble. 

The Corps model combines service and education in a way that not only prepares young people for work, but also connects them with their communities and gives them a sense of purpose. The service projects in which Corps engage their Corpsmembers are designed to encourage teamwork and provide training in useful hard skills and essential soft career skills, but they are also designed to make valuable improvements in the community. When a Corpsmember rebuilds a local playground and makes it safe for neighborhood children, or plants trees to beautify a forgotten lot, or retrofits a home to make it more comfortable and energy-efficient for a low-income family, that Corpsmember feels empowered and has made a difference in his own community. When a Corpsmember completes his term, he walks away from the Corps with an education, a résumé filled with tangible skills, and a sense of civic duty.

Corps and other similar national service programs give young people from traditionally marginalized communities the opportunity to discover their full potential and realize that they have the means and the ability to fix pervasive problems in their communities. During a recent Congressional Briefing in which the National Council of Young Leaders shared their Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America, Deon Jones, a council member from Washington, DC, talked about the role national service can play in alleviating poverty. As Deon said, when a generation of young people realize that, instead of being the recipients of service, they can be the “architects” of making healthier, stronger, and safer communities, there will be “an overflow of prosperity into generations to come.” Deon’s words could not be more true, and they speak to the need to expand national service, particularly for low-income and minority young people.

We are fortunate the current administration recognizes that national service can help close the opportunity gap. In response to President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Department of Justice jointly committed $10 million over three years to fund Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps and enroll more disconnected youth in national service. Through Youth Opportunity AmeriCorps, I am proud to say that The Corps Network will be able to enroll court-involved young men and women in green jobs training through our Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (OYSI). Corps have long engaged court-involved youth in national service; they pioneered a Civic Justice Corps model that is still used today. This new partnership between AmeriCorps and the Department of Justice will help Corps expand their innovative work with this population.

Youth who experience incarceration or detention have been removed from society and, with a record, often find it difficult to connect with education or employment following their release. For many such young people, national service is the bridge that reconnects them with the community and the skills and resources they need to be successful adults. The cost of expanding national service to engage more disconnected youth is far less than the cost of keeping them behind bars.

As anyone who has participated in even just one day of service can tell you, it feels good to give back. When a young person has the opportunity to serve through a Corps – a program that also provides stability, access to a good education, and positive role models – he has the tools he needs to succeed. It is up to us to support and “give back” to these important programs that give our youth so much.

Why we like the Antiquities Act

(Read The Corps Network Thank You letter to President Obama and Secretary Jewell in response to the San Gabriel Mountains national monument designation).

What would it be like if Chimney Rock in Colorado, the ancestral home of the Pueblo People, was open to modern development? What if the Giant Sequoias of Northern California had no protection from lumber companies or wood poachers? What if Fossil Butte in Wyoming, one of the best paleontological records of aquatic life in North America, could be tapped by the fossil fuel industry? Fortunately, these places, and many other pristine landscapes and historical sites throughout the country, are protected as national monuments for all Americans to enjoy. Today, we can celebrate the designation of another national monument: the San Gabriel Mountains of California.

It is because of the Antiquities Act that all of our national monuments exist. Under the Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” by declaring them national monuments. Nearly every president has used this legislation since it was created in 1906, but President Obama has been an especially strong champion of preserving places that are important to our country’s history and natural beauty. The designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is Obama’s second use of the Antiquities Act this year (Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico was created in May) and his thirteenth use of the Act during his presidency. Thanks to President Obama, we can be certain that the integrity of nearly a dozen additional historically or scientific significant places will be safe for generations to come.

The San Gabriel Mountains are important for many reasons, but they are especially important because they lie within a 90 minute drive of over 15 million people. They provide the only large-scale open space available for many residents of Los Angeles County, and also provide LA with some 30 percent of its drinking water. Aditionally, the 340,000+ acres of wilderness are home to numerous rare and endangered species, including the California condor. 

With the designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, there will be more recreational opportunities and increased access to nature for many minority communities. What if all children living in Los Angeles County today had the chance to discover the campgrounds and hundreds of miles of trails the San Gabriels offer? This could be a reality with the money and resources that accompany a national monument designation. Millions of Angeleños who otherwise might not have the opportunity to explore the peaks just beyond the city limits would be able to grow up with an understanding of, and appreciation for, nature and the importance of preserving our wild places.

Protecting our natural spaces is a win for outdoor enthusiasts, the tourism industry, recreation outfitters, and basically anyone who enjoys clean air and safe drinking water. It’s also a win for Service and Conservation Corps. There are billions of dollars-worth of backlogged maintenance projects on our public lands, but proclaiming a place a national monument means there will certainly be money to fix that location’s trails and bridges, stabilize stream banks, and build campsites. For the San Gabriel Mountains, the National Forest Foundation has already pledged $3 million in support of restoration projects.

Service and Conservation Corps in every state maintain our public lands in an efficient, high-quality and cost-effective manner. Through the process of making our parks and monuments safe and accessible, Corps train future land managers and environmental leaders. By using the Antiquities Act, President Obama addresses the goals of his administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative in a number of ways, including the Initiative’s goal to develop a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. When we give protections to our forests and mountains and waterways, we give our young people opportunities to explore the outdoors and explore rewarding careers in environmental stewardship.

Today we can feel fortunate for the Antiquities Act, but we should also recognize the importance of other policies that protect and restore America’s natural treasures. For example, we can also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which provides critical funding for land and water conservation projects and hence helps fund Corps. When we support the use of the Antiquities Act, the Land Water Conservation Fund, and other legislation that expands protections for America’s natural, cultural and historic features, we support Corps and giving young people the education and job training to lead fulfilling lives and careers. So – thank you, President Obama for using your authority to recognize the significance of another American landmark and, in doing so, giving opportunities to our youth.