Learn about the nominees for the 2024 Corpsmember of the Year Award! We are inspired by all our remarkable finalists and their outstanding achievements and service to local communities.
The Corpsmember of the Year Award recognizes young adults who have demonstrated leadership abilities, gone above and beyond, and leveraged their service experience. Learn more about Awards here. The winners will be recognized at The Corps Network’s 2024 National Conference, March 19 – 21. Stories are arranged in alphabetical order by Corps name.
American Conservation Experience
Favio Guzman Estrada
“The overall experience has given me so many opportunities for myself including leadership skills, new passions, and deeper understanding of cultures and environments.”
Community is important to Favio Guzman Estrada. Prior to joining to EPIC (Emerging Professionals in Conservation) internship program at American Conservation Experience (ACE), Favio was a full-time student and active in multiple clubs. He wanted to serve in the Corps for a chance to engage in cultural preservation and connect with the environment. Favio participated in the National Park Service Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam. Notable accomplishments of his term include assisting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with relocating over 400 endemic tree snails; helping clean up Asan Beach Park after Typhoon Mwar; hosting block printing events at the NPS visitor center (one of which was attended by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland); and hosting a Pride workshop for the Island when other events were cancelled due to the typhoon.
According to Favio, he didn’t realize how much this internship would impact him. His time with ACE allowed him to gain connections and opportunities. Back in Washington, he continues his research in cultural and environmental studies through art and community engagement. As a Diasporic Indigenous CHamoru Native, he is passionate about connecting with the indigenous communities of the Salish Sea. He continues to design CHamoru art through different mediums, which he developed a passion for during his service term.
American YouthWorks, Louisiana Conservation Corps
“Jo has not been afraid to take on difficult tasks and set themselves up to accomplish project work in a timely, efficient, and quality manner.”
Jo Stewart is not afraid of hard work. Prior to joining the Corps, Jo worked doing food delivery for several different companies, but this was not aligned with Jo’s goals. Jo is a self-described extrovert and wanted the opportunity to work on a team and be outside. Louisiana Conservation Corps, a program of American YouthWorks, provided a perfect opportunity to do both. During their service, Jo completed their S130/190 fire training, demonstrated exceptional growth with using a chainsaw and other large power tools, aided in a Guam disaster relief deployment, and shown great growth in their leadership skills. Jo has been a positive influence on their crew by leading through example, always demonstrating dedication and attention to detail, and providing a listening ear for crewmates. Jo has even spent their personal days volunteering for events outside of the Corps.
Jo has discovered an interest in wildland firefighting and is focused on eventually working in wildland fire management. In addition to completing introductory fire courses, Jo has used their service experience to make solid connections with partners and individuals involved in wildland fire. As a next step, Jo hopes to serve on an American YouthWorks fire resource crew. They also plan to use their AmeriCorps Education Awards to take an EMT course to build skills for the wildland fire industry.
California Conservation Corps
“Marcus has earned the trust of his peers and supervisors through his consistency and aptitude for hard work…His first year was a commitment to learning; his second, a commitment to leading; and his third year will be a commitment to teaching.”
Marcus Kim is a trailblazer. While he has collected a long list of certifications and hands-on experience during his time with the California Conservation Corps (CCC), his greatest accomplishments are the improvements he’s left on the CCC culinary program. Marcus stepped up during the reopening of CCC Greenwood Center, working alongside the Supervising Cook to help build the kitchen and culinary training program. Outside the kitchen, Marcus volunteered weekly at a local food bank, completed industry qualifications, and reviewed CCC training materials and made recommendations for updates. Marcus has taken the lead on several offsite assignments as well, such as leading a CAL FIRE mobile kitchen operation, catering executive lunches, and feeding hundreds of workers on emergency assignments. Most importantly, Marcus has helped future Corpsmembers by developing a new pathway to be promoted to Advanced Crew Leader. He used an internal transfer mechanism to send himself to multiple CCC centers throughout the state to help fill civil service cook positions, learn from other programs, and share his own knowledge.
Marcus came to the Corps with little certainty about his future, but he now has clear goals. He plans to finish his training and prepare for a career in food management, preferably in a state position as a Cook Specialist, and eventually as a Supervisory Cook. While still in the Corps, he hopes to take an online Culinary Arts course to further his skills.
“Being at Civicorps was transformational. It gave me a sense of direction and I’m very thankful.”
Before joining Civicorps in 2021, Erica was working in a fast-food job that didn’t have the future she was looking for. Erica was interested in the outdoors, so when her mom suggested she check out Civicorps, everything fell into place. During her time at Civicorps, Erica was honored twice with Civicorps monthly “Hardest Hitter” award for her perfect attendance record and commitment to learning. She earned all 15 skills certifications as a part of Civicorps’ Conservation Intern Investment Program and earned two AmeriCorps Education Awards. Erica was also assigned to Civicorps’ inaugural Specialized Trail Crew and graduated from their Crew Leader Academy. Her experience with Civicorps led her to join California Conservation Corps’ Backcountry Trails Program, where she spent five months doing trail maintenance and construction, 100% off grid.
After her Backcountry Trails experience, Erica returned to Civicorps as a Crew Leader and developed skills that she would go on to use at her current position as a Fuels Crew Member in the Bay Regional Park District’s Department of Public Safety. Erica believes that her experience with Civicorps helped her to go out of her comfort zone and overcome social anxiety. She was able to become more assertive in her leadership position, and take on new opportunities. Erica says, “At this time in my life, I know where I want to go in a professional sense and Civicorps helped me find direction.”
Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps
“On top of being a stellar Corpsmember with a great work ethic, Rentaro played a massive role in our community building and community care within each crew and program they have been a part of.”
Rentaro Shinohara has shown considerable growth and inclusivity in their two seasons with Eastern Sierra Conservation Corps (ESCC). Throughout their service, Rentaro consistently sought more responsibility and showcased dedication to personal growth and leadership development. Rentaro credits ESCC for transforming them into a more resilient, adaptable, and compassionate person. As a WILDlands Technical Crew Member, they are involved in a reforestation project in Kings Canyon National Park to plant saplings to restore a fire-damaged area. In this role, Rentaro excelled in trail work and played a pivotal role in ensuring inclusivity and camaraderie among new Corpsmembers. With mindfulness and compassion, they went above and beyond to make everyone in their crew feel welcomed.
Rentaro also co-led a Queer in the Wilderness trip, providing guidance and support for fellow Queer-identifying individuals on their first backpacking experience. Rentaro is a dedicated advocate for mental health support and self-care within Corps, recognizing its impact on a successful season. Looking ahead, Rentaro aspires to become a Crew Leader, focusing on increasing accessibility and diversity in conservation work. They stress the importance of leaders setting examples for mental health advocacy and self-care to create a supportive environment for Corpsmembers. Rentaro plans to continue with ESCC as a supervisor, emphasizing care, compassion, and dedication to creating a meaningful outdoor experience.
Franklin’s Promise Coalition
Sara Del Mar Velez
AmeriCorps Member – Opportunity Youth Service Initiative, Federal Cooperative Agreement
“[Sara] is the future of BoriCorps. She has embraced the challenge and responsibility. She represents her culture, her generation, and opportunity youth with the highest integrity.”
One of the first recruits for BoriCorps, Sara Del Mar Velez is in her third AmeriCorps term at San Juan National Monument. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Sara exemplifies outstanding leadership skills as the senior BoriCorps Crew Leader for a trail maintenance project with the National Park Service at El Morro National Monument and a new NOAA Underserved Communities grant in Puerto Rico’s rural communities. Through her attention to detail and dedication, Sara sets the pace for BoriCorps, and her work ethic transfers to the crews and their collective accomplishments. She orchestrated over 30 volunteer workdays, mentored new Corpsmembers, represented BoriCorps at The Corps Networks’ Annual Board Retreat in Pensacola, built impactful community partnerships, and more. Sara also overcame personal challenges, including heart surgery and depression, emerging stronger and more empathetic.
Sara will become the new Director of BoriCorps at the end of her current term. She is currently training new crews and leaders partnered with the Community Rejuvenative Community Development Agroforestry project in Sabana Grande and NOAA’s Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Aguire. Committed to the long-term success of BoriCorps, Sara is pursuing a degree in industrial engineering at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. Next year, she will develop two additional crews to implement a recently awarded USFS Community and Urban Forestry award with six community partners near Mayaguez. She plans to use her AmeriCorps award to earn more certifications and achievements that will allow her to better support BoriCorps.
Great Basin Institute
“Heidi’s maturity, work ethic, and scientific curiosity were key to many of the accomplishments we enjoyed at Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 2023.”
Heidi Henderson is in her second year with Great Basin Institute. During her internship at Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Heidi’s growth as a leader and biologist shined during invasive plant surveys and treatments projects. She directly contributed to the survey of 6,963 acres of refuge property and the treatment of over 8,500 invasive plant occurrences. Not only did this exceed a set goal of 5,000 acres, it exceeded the number surveyed acres in all previous years. Heidi also played a crucial role in the wet meadow habitat assessment and pollinator use surveys, discovering previously undetected flowering plants. Despite facing dyslexia, she showcased exceptional analytical skills, designing and implementing a scientific inquiry, presenting findings to local and regional Fish and Wildlife Service staff.
Beyond her scientific achievements, Heidi mentored fellow crew members, fostered camaraderie, and contributed to community building in the small town near Bear Lake Refuge. Her positive impact extended both inside and outside of the field, making a valuable contribution to crew excellence. Heidi’s Corps experience influenced her to pursue higher education and is now finishing her Research Associate position. Heidi plans to pay off student loans, continue winter data analysis, and apply to graduate programs. She believes Corps programs can help her generation address the decline in biodiversity due to climate change.
Great Basin Institute
“Whether their work serves the community, the landscape, or other agencies, Corpsmembers leave a part of themselves where they serve. Serving for AmeriCorps is a wildly fulfilling experience, and sets members up for a life and career that contributes to solving problems that affect communities and landscapes around the world.”
Jenna Miladin, a Capitol Reef National Park Corpsmember in 2022 and 2023, achieved numerous milestones serving with Great Basin Institute. In her first service term, Jenna led the collection of native seeds for a restoration project. This led her to discovering an insect infestation affecting crucial insect species key to restoration. After spearheading research on this parasitic behavior between insect species, Jenna presented her findings at regional and national conferences. Returning as a lead in 2023, she revamped plant species sampling protocols, conducted genetic sampling, and maintained the restoration seed collection program. Jenna also successfully defended her master’s thesis and secured acceptance into a PhD program during her service. Her diverse contributions, including wildlife and invertebrate sampling, are currently being developed into a peer-reviewed publication. Jenna’s positive influence stems from her resilience and enthusiasm, despite facing challenges due to Muscular Dystrophy.
Jenna now pursues a PhD at the University of Arkansas, utilizing her AmeriCorps education award. Her Corps experiences shaped her as a scientist, providing leadership opportunities and exposure to impactful field research projects. Jenna’s future goals include becoming a USGS researcher to focus on climate change effects on plant life using evolutionary biology methods. She exemplifies the importance of Corps programs connecting students to opportunities that address climate change through on-the-ground research.
Greater Miami Service Corps
“He is a positive influence and role model who believes in ‘Espirit de Corps’ for himself and our Corps Community.”
Before joining Greater Miami Service Corps (GMSC), George Fernandez worked several jobs after attending Keiser University for an associates degree in Video Game Design. He wanted something more fulfilling so he joined GMSC with the hope of improving his skills and gaining leadership experience. Throughout his term with GMSC, George not only grew as a team leader, he also was able to serve as a peer tutor, earn a pre-apprenticeship in plumbing, participate in an Energy Efficiency Green Program, and more. His leadership skills have been evident in the many projects that George worked on. These include The Florida Department of Transportation project which helps to remove debris from drainage systems to mitigate flooding and has engaged in coastal resilience projects. George also provided supervision and tutoring to his peers helping them to complete projects and learn information.
George has now advanced to the next level of service with the Energy Efficiency Corps program where he will be educating the community on ways they can reduce energy and water consumption. This project will allow him to educate 270 residents and support the planting of 100 trees. George says of his experience, “I feel more confident and know that if I can motivate my peers there is nothing I should fear.”
“Jether is a community favorite for the park’s birding program – people seek him out to share what he knows about the special birds that live in and around the park.”
While serving in the G3 Kupu Corps at American Memorial Park (AMME), Jether Yobech has demonstrated remarkable leadership with the National Park Service (NPS). Jether played a key role in establishing Saipan’s first mangrove nursery and aiding habitat restoration. Following Typhoon Mawar, he provided disaster response relief on Guam with NPS while gaining sawyer training and certificates. He serves as an excellent mentor for new Corpsmembers and is a community favorite for birding outreach, enhancing AMME’s environmental education efforts.
Jether’s Corps experience empowered him to complete an AA in Natural Resources Management. As a former Fish & Feathers intern with NPS Youth Programs, Jether sees environmental education as crucial for Saipan’s future. He believes one of Saipan’s biggest problems is the lack of information on environmental issues. His future plans include pursuing a BA in Applied Biology at the University of Guam. Jether hopes to lead by example and promote environmentally conscious behavior by educating the community on the environment.
New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg
Delaware River Climate Corps
“My experience at the Youth Corps showed me the value of community – and how we benefit when reaching out to ask for help – and by answering the call for help from the community.”
Samir Johnson does not give up. He left high school because he was dissatisfied with the environment, but he knew education was essential and found a place for himself at New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg (NJYCP). While the path to finishing high school was not easy, Samir buckled down and earned his diploma in May 2023. After this, he joined NJYCP’s Phillipsburg Climate Corps as a member of the DREAM Team (Delaware River Environmental Ambassador & Mentor). He stepped into a new role assisting staff in supervising NJYC Corpsmembers, as well as working on projects promoting climate resiliency. He was often requested by and relied upon by program partners. Through his Corps experience, Samir started to see himself as a leader. He motivated fellow Corpsmembers by reminding them of their potential – and that a little temporary struggle is always worth the reward.
A third generation American, Samir is the first of his family to enroll in college. He is currently pursuing an associate degree in business management at Northampton County Community College and has also started the campus’ first club dedicated to Islam. His goal for the future is to be a role model for youth in his community and continue to build his entrepreneurial skills. Samir dreams of one day developing a business in the sustainable food industry that can support people living in urban areas.
Onondaga Earth Corps
“E is a great influence to those around him. Endlessly positive, and excellent at delegating, and was often an asset to his crew leader…”
Emmanuel Atari, called ‘E’ by his fellow Corpsmembers, is Onondaga Earth Corps (OEC) youngest AmeriCorps member. He began his journey with OEC as a member of the youth crew in the Summer of 2022 and returned in 2023 as a Corpsmember of OEC. During his term of service, E has been considered a leader among his peers. He serves extra time, representing OEC at conferences like the New York State ReLeaf Conference and attending Central NY Land Trust’s EverGreen EverBlue fundraising event. E has also had the opportunity to work on an AmeriCorps leadership project. Through his project, E was able to engage with members of the community to organize a clean up of Pioneer Homes Community Garden and the surrounding street. E feels that this project helped him to step out of his comfort zone and become a better leader and public speaker.
E is in his senior year of high school and hopes to use his EAP award towards business classes. E believes that his generation can help with climate change and says, “Corps programs can help by providing opportunities for young people to learn about climate change and teach proper skills to deal with its effects. In his free time, E runs a photography business.
Stewards Individual Placements
“John is more well-rounded and more ambitious because of his intern experience.”
While in school for journalism, John Little decided to apply to Conservation Legacy’s Stewards Individual Placements program to gain new experience, skills, and to work outdoors. During his Corps experience John worked with National Capital Parks – East (NACE) Volunteers-In-Parks Coordinator on several projects including leading volunteer training, photographing events, collecting volunteer service agreements, and more. The highlight of his term came when John was able to use his journalism background to create a 12-minute volunteer film to introduce volunteers to NACE. The video required John to develop a written outline, put in many hours of video editing, coordinate with participating NACE staff, research, identify photographs to be used, and more. Additionally, John has been able to use his expertise to help peers use Microsoft 360 software and to provide guidance.
John wishes to continue working in the public sphere in the future. He believes that a job working for the federal government could put him in a position to help others and preserve the environment. John believes that Corps can help motivate and leverage young people to inspire change in their communities and mitigate climate change. For now, John looks to continue serving with Conservation Legacy.
Urban Corps of San Diego County
“[Wakilongo] extends a helping hand to fellow refugees from his home country, guiding them to Urban Corps and providing invaluable support on their journeys, exemplifying a charismatic symbol of hope and the American dream.”
Wakilongo Milenge, a refugee from the Republic of Congo, arrived in the United States in 2018. Driven by the desire to improve his English and provide for his family, Wakilongo joined Urban Corps of San Diego County (UCSD) in 2021. It didn’t take long for him to achieve several major life accomplishments, like graduating high school, being promoted to Crew Leader, and having a leadership role in a major project with one of Urban Corps’ major partners, North County Transit District. Wakilongo quickly gained his team’s respect due to his exceptional leadership skills, positive attitude, and reliability. He went on to secure a position at UCSD as a Conservation Specialist.
Through UCSD, Wakilongo found career opportunities in the tree industry, inspiring him to pursue U.S. citizenship. In his current role, he leads railroad crews and contributes to Caltrans irrigation projects. Wakilongo plans to enroll in college certification courses, aspiring to join Caltrans and work with the District 11 irrigation team. Wakilongo’s positive influence extends beyond the Corps, as he volunteers regularly at a local church to aid fellow refugees. His commitment to community service and advocacy exemplifies his dedication to lifelong learning, exceptional civic engagement, and the impact of the Corps experience.
Vermont Youth Conservation Corps
“Through their passion for sustainable agriculture, Quinn led by example, creating a supportive learning environment for adolescent Crew Members to engage with organic farming for the first time.”
Quinn Schoff’s journey with Vermont Youth Conservation Corps’ Food & Farm Program is one filled with growth and exceptional contributions. After joining the team as a Production Crew Member, Quinn extended their field season while serving as key collaborator. Quinn stepped up when returning for the 2024 season as a Youth Crew Leader.They fostered a supportive learning environment for adolescent Crew Members engaging with organic farming for the first time. Leading by example, they helped facilitate the Health Care Share initiative, a public health program that connects Vermont families to healthy, locally grown produce. Quinn’s compassion and leadership also shone through during Vermont’s 2023 flooding, as they organized Corpsmembers to write letters of solidarity to affected farms, embodying civic duty.
Currently serving as a Farm Leader, Quinn plans to use their AmeriCorps award towards student loans. Through their Corps experience, Quinn has become a passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. Quinn believes their generation, through programs like Corps, can build climate resiliency by stewarding the land and enhancing food access.
“Throughout her first term, crew leaders were incredibly impressed with her initiative, service ethic, compassion for others, and ability to assume a natural leadership role on projects.”
Before joining YouthWork, Jared was trying out different career paths to seek out a job she enjoyed. During this challenging time, she spent a lot of her time hiking and realized that she might be interested in forestry. This led her to find YouthWork. During her time at YouthWork, Jared has helped with boardwalk repair, rehabilitation and vegetation clearing, and restoring a historic cabin. Jared became interested in historic preservation and attended workshops to hone in on and grow historically significant skill sets. She also served as an assistant Crew Leader and as YouthWork’s Inventory Specialist because of her impressive performance in the field. As inventory specialist, Jared exceeded YouthWork’s expectations in managing their growing diverse tool inventory. Her role allowed YouthWork to save in tool replacement and repair. Jared has also taken on many leadership roles as she has grown into her Assistant Crew Leader position. She is able to empathize and support Corpsmembers of all backgrounds and has been working with YouthWork’s AmeriCorps director to coordinate LGBTQ+ safe space meetings.
YouthWork hopes that Jared will join their administrative team at the end of her final AmeriCorps service term. She has also expressed interest in going to college for historic preservation or wildlife conservation. Jared believes that her Corps experience has helped her to not only discover what she is passionate about, but also to come out of her shell and to accept herself.