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2021 Corpsmember of the Year: Victor Lopez, San Jose Conservation Corps + Charter School
Every year, at The Corps Network’s National Conference, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young adults 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.
“Victor’s positive attitude, work ethic, and personal commitment to his work and the Corps are contagious to everyone he comes in contact with.”
Victor Lopez is the kind of person every Corps needs. Making the most out of his experience at San Jose Conservation Corps + Charter School (SJCC+CS), Victor has accomplished many milestones and has made a lasting impression on both his supervisors and fellow Corpsmembers.
Prior to joining the Corps, Victor was enrolled in a program called CityTeam – a Christian addiction recovery nonprofit organization located in San Jose. While in this program, Victor rediscovered his purpose and used religion as fuel to turn his life around. After a CityTeam counselor referred Victor to SJCC’s charter school to finish his high school education, he quickly enrolled. Although Victor initially joined SJCC+CS to receive his diploma, he soon realized all the benefits one could gain while serving with a Corps.
In his first seven months with the program, Victor attended school and worked full-time. After graduating with his diploma, Victor gained the confidence he needed to work on pursuing his life-long dream of being the first member in his family to attend college. He knew that serving with SJCC+CS was the foundation he needed to accomplish this dream. As a Corpsmember on the Projects Crew, he studied manuals for days at a time to learn how to use certain tools, such as a pole saw and chainsaw.
After learning how to use essential tools used in home building, Victor transferred to the Construction Crew, where he then learned how to operate a forklift and safely use saws and nail guns. While serving on the Construction Crew, Victor learned how to build entire tiny homes from start to finish. These homes are then made available to SJCC+CS Corpsmembers experiencing housing insecurity. Victor took personal responsibility to ensure high quality work and was always eager to learn from supervisors and fellow Corpsmembers. As a result of his outstanding work performance, Victor was soon promoted to Crew Leader.
As a Crew Leader, Victor immediately proved his strong leadership skills and teaching capabilities. Always taking the initiative to lend a hand and solve problems, Victor was in attendance at any volunteer event for Corpsmembers. He also took the initiative to serve as a bilingual guide to support a Corpsmember who did not feel comfortable speaking English. Victor communicated with him in Spanish and made sure the Corpsmember learned the correct skills needed to work in construction. Due to his clear commitment to the betterment of his Corps, Victor was selected to serve as a Youth Ally for the Education Design Team. In this role, Victor worked with teachers and professionals to design a new educational model that would help students succeed and stay in school.
“His attitude on giving back and volunteering is that he feels like he needs to give back and help others, since he has benefited from that attention from other people,” said a supervisor. “He also enjoys giving back and says that it makes his life feel more meaning and complete.”
Since working as a Crew Leader in the Construction Crew, Victor has enrolled at Evergreen College and will begin his first semester in the spring studying engineering. Currently serving in his fourth and final term with AmeriCorps, Victor plans to use his Education Award to pay for his tuition. To save money on rent and pay down his debt from the past, Victor will continue to live in one of the SJCC+CS tiny homes that he helped construct.
While in college, Victor hopes to work for the Corps in a supervisor position while still teaching others who are interested in construction. Upon graduating college, Victor hopes to work as an engineer, designing safer and more efficient tools for mechanics and construction workers to use on site.
“From everything I’ve been through, I now live a life of gratitude. Today I am motivated to find out what my life’s purpose is. I’m open to change, to grow. I want my life to be meaningful and I want to do something significant, something that makes a difference in this world.”
Victor’s “Big Idea” for the Corps Community:
“I’ve really enjoyed [the experience of serving as a Youth Ally]. Our two main takeaways have been that youth need coaches and mentors to succeed and that youth should learn basic life skills like doing your taxes and what your credit score is. I think that the Corps is already doing this and can be a model for schools for how to have youth succeed.
One other thing I think all Corps should do is help Corpsmembers with housing. Housing is such a big need and I think that Corps should help out their Corpsmembers in the ways that they need it the most.”