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.
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.”