2019 Corpsmember of the Year: Paola Flores, San Jose Conservation Corps & Charter School
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.
“Paola has been a positive influence in so many ways to her peers in encouraging them to continue in life no matter the obstacles. She shares with them that she herself has faced many obstacles but continues to work towards success every day.”
With her strong work ethic and a positive attitude, Paola has achieved a great deal during her time with the San José Conservation Corps & Charter School (SJCC & CS). She has completed four AmeriCorps terms of service, obtained her high school diploma, and successfully gained hands-on job experience in the Corps’ Environmental Projects Department and Recycling Department. She achieved these accomplishments while also taking college classes and managing the responsibilities of being a single mother to her 3-year-old daughter.
“Paola amazes SJCC & CS staff from all departments within the organization daily with her mature and professional can-do spirit,” said an SJCC staff member. “We have seen her grow from a young mother struggling to a find her place in life to a self-assured woman actively providing suggestions and solutions to improve the organization.”
Before joining SJCC & CS, Paola had cycled through three high schools and reached a point where she did not believe obtaining a diploma was a realistic goal. Disappointed in her choices, Paola’s family did not want her at home, giving her few other options but to live out of her car with friends. As Paola says, however, “homelessness” was not new to her. Brought to the United States illegally at a young age, Paola had been deported back to Mexico three times.
“This made me feel as if I was homeless,” said Paola. “My mother did not want us to be in our homeland, [but] we could not stay in a land that provided hope for our family. Yet my mother was determined to have us return to the U.S., which we did, but [we] also lived under the fear of not knowing what each day would bring and where we might live.”
With this uncertainty, Paola’s family thought her time would be better spent working rather than trying to get her diploma. Despite this, Paola was determined to go back to school. Pregnant with her daughter, she knew she wanted to set a good example for her child and teach her the value of education.
At SJCC & CS, Paola quickly made an impression on staff. She was able to connect with people who shared similar stories and, while working towards her diploma, she and her family received asylum and the opportunity to pursue permanent resident status.
Paola worked her way up in the Corps, being promoted to the SJCC & CS Internship Program, which allows her to continue to work full-time with SJCC & CS and attend Evergreen Community College, where she is putting her AmeriCorps Education Awards towards a degree in psychology. In the Recycling Department, Paola assists the management team and has been instrumental in correcting and improving many processes and data functions.
Outside her assigned responsibilities, Paola has gone above and beyond, attending volunteer activities on the weekends, and helping her peers register for college, update their résumés, and access support services. She has been selected to represent her peers at several speaking engagements and recruitment events, including being chosen as the graduation speaker.
Paola hopes to pursue a career in social work. While studying, she plans to hold an internship that provides her with hands-on experiences within the social system. One day she hopes to work with teenagers who are dealing with life issues. She is also interested in working to advocate for families in need of services.
“I believe that the characteristics of a resilient person would be someone who is strong in many ways, but especially strong-willed and can mentally prepare themselves to overcome obstacles,” said Paola. “They would have to be able to overcome difficult situations and not only overcome, but also learn from the situations to then be able to reach out to help others.”