Meet the 2020 Corpsmember of the Year Finalists


Meet the finalist for the 2020 Corpsmember of the Year Award! We are inspired by all of these phenomenal candidates and their service to their Corps and communities.

The winners will be announced in December and will be recognized at Thrive: The Power of Community
The Corps Network’s 2020 National Conference, February 9 – 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Corpsmember stories are arranged in alphabetical order by Corps name.


American YouthWorks – Casa Verde Builders

Alexandria Hansen

*AmeriCorps Member*

“Alexa is one of the hardest working people on the crew. She is always at the top of any scaffold, at the top of her game, and with a clear top priority: to get things done.”

With her discipline and dedication to service, Alexa established herself as a valuable member of the Casa Verde Builders program at American YouthWorks (AYW). As the daughter of two Marines, Alexa always wanted to serve her country. Alexa, however is Deaf, making her ineligible to join the Marine Corps. Instead of pursing a military career, Alexa went to college with hopes of becoming a scientist, but these dreams were also diminished by dismissive and unsupportive school administrators. Alexa moved to Austin and held several jobs, but knew she needed to find more meaning. This is when she became an AmeriCorps member, earning the role of Crew Leader within the first two months of her term with AYW’s Casa Verde Builders (CVB) team. Her projects include building tiny homes at Mobile Loaves & Fishes to house chronically homeless people, and visiting various residents’ homes to provide repairs and maintenance. Alexa is noted for being incredibly supportive, meticulous and thoughtful in her role as a Crew Leader. In addition to being CVB’s only female Crew Leader, Alexa is also the only Deaf member currently serving a term in Austin. Alexa even started teaching an American Sign Language class at AYW to bring together members from all corners of the nonprofit to learn ASL and Deaf culture.

Upon completing her term with AYW, Alexa plans to move to D.C. to serve as an AmeriCorps member with Habitat for Humanity. She then plans to join FEMA Corps and later seek training in nursing and emergency medical services.


Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC)

Julia Graham

*AmeriCorps Alum*

“Julia’s focus on community, open communication, and her high standards for professionalism and trail work made her stand out as an exceptional role model for the staff and crew leaders across all of AMC’s Trail Volunteer Programs.”

Julia Graham is no stranger to volunteering and conservation. Prior to joining AMC, Julia worked a variety of jobs after graduating college with a degree in environmental science. She served as an AmeriCorps member with SCA in Massachusetts, spent a year as an outdoor education instructor to fifth and sixth graders, and led a trail crew in Rocky Mountain National Park. During her time with AMC, Julia served as the Projects Coordinator for the Southern New England Regional Trails Volunteer Programs. Through her excellent leadership skills, Julia helped plan and coordinate trail projects, supported a team of six trail crew leaders, assisted in the oversight of AMC’s Southern New England Trails program, and led several Leave No Trace educational programs throughout the 2019 field season. These roles weren’t even the most notable of Julia’s accomplishments. In 2019, Julia stepped into a supervisory role due to the injury of a Regional Program Supervisor. Julia overcame the challenges and took on additional responsibilities to ensure the start of a very successful 2019 program season in the Southern New England region. Shortly after completing her position, Julia extended her service to help complete projects in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in New Jersey and coordinate a National Public Lands Day event.

Julia is currently working part-time and helping plan trail projects at Valley Forge National Historic Park. She plans to return for a second year as the Projects Coordinator in Southern New England in 2020.


Arizona Conservation Corps

Kenneth Dodson

*AmeriCorps Member*

“Kenny has been a positive force at AZCC, not only for other members but also staff. He always puts a smile on your face even if the task in the field is shoveling loads of dirt or mixing cement in the rain.”

Kenneth Dodson first joined Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC) in July 2018 to serve on the Flagstaff Area Monuments, Ancestral Lands Project. Kenny’s motivation to join a Conservation Corps came from his grandmother who owned a farm and independently did conservation work on the family land. Kenny enjoyed connecting with his heritage through the Ancestral Lands program, but wasn’t able to make it to some of the project sites due to the physical requirements of the work. Nonetheless, Kenny stayed positive, taking seriously the work of helping maintain tools, completing office tasks, and preparing crews for the field. With his good attitude, Kenny flourished and continues to impact and change the lives of those around him. Kenny is always able to put a smile on your face.

Kenny is currently serving a third term at AZCC on the Southwestern Region Developed Recreation Crew. The crew is assisting the U.S. Forest Service in using GIS and collecting other information at recreation sites to be used for the website. Kenny used his first AmeriCorps education award to attend classes at Coconino Community College and plans on using his next round of education awards to attend more classes and earn a degree. Kenny also volunteers at the Flagstaff City food bank. Upon graduating, he wants to continue his work in conservation.


California Conservation Corps

Harley Tijerina

*AmeriCorps Member*

“Harley goes the extra mile to support and motivate her crewmembers. She assists them in pursuing their goals and development in the Corps. She makes herself available to help answer questions and navigate the CCC program.”

Prior to joining the California Conservation Corps (CCC), Harley was a full-time student, working part-time as a receptionist, and studying for her certification in Wildland Resources; all while battling depression. Harley knew that she needed a mental break from school and joined the CCC in 2019.  Six months after joining the CCC, Harley was accepted into the Yosemite Tent Camp program, dedicated to repairing damage done by Rim Fire in 2013. This program included removing vegetation and dead or diseased trees to allow space for healthy trees to thrive. At the completion of the six-month program, she transferred to the Siskiyou Center and was eventually promoted to Crew Leader. Harley displayed confidence and earned respect as the only woman on her crew. She proved instrumental in helping keep the Siskiyou Center community strong during a time of transition. Since joining the CCC, Harley has given over 75 hours of her own time volunteering with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and at the National Public Lands Day Volunteer Event.

Currently, Harley serves as Sergeant-at-Arms for the Siskiyou Corpsmember Advisory Board and is working on her next promotion to Crewleader II in the CCC. Once Harley is eligible for the Conservationist I position, she plans to take the California state exam and apply to be a permanent CCC employee. She eventually hopes to pursue a career with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Conservation Corps of Long Beach

Ryan Shelton

*AmeriCorps Alum*

“Ryan was known to never complain about any project he was assigned to. Often supervisors would fight over who was going to take him on their project, not just because he was a hard worker; it was because they knew that when his peers saw him working hard and not complaining he would inspire others to do the same.”

Prior to joining Conservation Corps of Long Beach (CCLB), Ryan jumped between different staffing agencies, struggling to find steady work due to the felonies on his record. It was while he was incarcerated, however, that a teacher informed him of the benefits of joining a Corps. Ryan knew that this opportunity would give him the chance to turn his life around. From the moment he joined CCLB, Ryan was considered a leader among his peers. It wasn’t long before Ryan was promoted to a “Red Hat.” A Red Hat at CCLB is presented to Corpsmembers who have demonstrated they can lead a group of their peers on a project in the absence of a Staff Supervisor. While in this position, Ryan volunteered to participate in the “Basic Solar Installation Program,” a partnership between CCLB and Grid Alternatives, which is an industry leader in installing solar systems in low-income communities. Once in the program, Ryan realized that solar installation is the industry he wanted to work in.

Ryan currently works for Xero Solar and is a Tesla Certified Partner installer. His plans for the future are to complete his associate degree in Spring 2020 and become a licensed electrician. He continues to be a spokesperson for the Corps and enjoys helping other young people make the right decisions and find their passions.


Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB)

Erin Murphy

“Erin is one of our most decorated Corpsmembers at CCNB. Erin consistently takes advantage of several opportunities to develop her skills and discover her career goals.”

Prior to joining Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB), Erin juggled three jobs and learned many skills, but she knew she needed to earn her high school diploma in order to find steady, fulfilling employment. Originally from Zimbabwe, Erin’s education credentials did not transfer internationally. She entered CCNB to complete her education and explore career paths. While with CCNB, Erin has become one of the most decorated Corpsmembers. She earned the monthly perfect attendance award 11 times, 10 training certifications, and received two promotions. She has also developed her public speaking skills and is an excellent representative of CCNB. In her role as Assistant Crew Leader, Erin had the opportunity to work directly alongside staff from the Sonoma Water maintenance department. She gained immeasurable experience in flood prevention, habitat restoration and more. Erin’s success led directly to an internship with the environmental department at Sonoma Water. Among other responsibilities, she has helped conduct fish, bird and native plant surveys. She impressed her supervisors so much with her attention to detail and work ethic that the agency extended her internship.

With her passion for wildlife, Erin plans to stay in the environmental field. She hopes to stay on at Sonoma Water while taking classes to further her education in conservation. In her free time, Erin volunteers with Sonoma Wildlife Rescue.



Aaron Chanthavong

*AmeriCorps Alum*

“Aaron’s diligence, talent, and dedication to his goals made him a stand-out student at Civicorps.”

Prior to joining Civicorps, Aaron felt like the odds were against him. He dropped out of high school at age 16, taking a five-year gap before returning to school. After joining Civicorps, he gained the support and encouragement he needed to finish his high school requirements and become a stand-out student in the process. He earned numerous awards and graduated with honors in less than a year. Additionally, through participation in the Civicorps Career Pathways program, Aaron secured an internship at Tech Exchange, an Oakland nonprofit that provides digital equity to undeserved Bay Area families. He started as a Desk Support Intern and was promoted to Program Coordinator within six months. As the Program Coordinator, he mentored over 30 interns and helped facilitate large-scale tech fairs. Within three months, he was promoted again to work as an E-Commerce Coordinator. Aaron is currently pursuing a degree in cyber security at Merritt College in Oakland, CA. He serves as president of the school’s Cyber Security Club and has helped lead the club to state and national recognition. Aaron also volunteers as a member of the advisory board for DeAnza High School Tech Academy in Richmond, CA, providing mentoring and resources to students.

Most recently, Aaron secured a job at Fivestars as an IT Helpdesk Intern. In the future, he hopes to do more to support other Oakland youth on the path to careers in tech.


LA Conservation Corps

Angelica Bustamante

*AmeriCorps Member*

“Angelica has proven that she is multifaceted and can adapt to changes in her environment well. She is always willing to help where she is needed. She has established herself to be an exemplary Corpsmember.”

Angelica is resilient. In spite of a troubled life at home, she finished high school and completed a program to become a medical assistant. Looking for jobs, Angelica was excited about the opportunity to join LA Conservation Corps (LACC) and give back to the community. When she first enrolled at LACC, she served on a YouthBuild crew, helping build nine homes for veterans alongside volunteers from Habitat for Humanity. Through this role, Angelica learned the importance of the service that Corpsmembers do and the positive impact they leave in the community. After her time with Youthbuild, Angelica went to serve at the Corps’ North East LA site where she learned how to perform administrative duties and impressed staff with her professionalism and excellent customer service skills. Angelica was relied on heavily by the site director during a staff transition. She was also invited to participate in quarterly “Coffee Talks” with the LA Conservations Corps CEO, where she is a voice for her peers. Being recognized as a leader, Angelica’s confidence increased and pushed her to pursue further education in the medical field.

Angelica is currently studying for her phlebotomy exam and working at the Conservation Corps’ front office. In the future, she plans to work in the medical field with hopes of being a registered nurse or doctor.


Limitless Vistas, Inc.

Brandon Robert

*AmeriCorps Member*

“In the community, Brandon represents AmeriCorps very well and is doing his best to break down the barriers that prevent many of our underrepresented youth and young adults from succeeding.”

Brandon Robert serves as the Senior Crew Leader at Limitless Vistas, Inc. (LVI) in New Orleans. In addition to his role at the Corps, Brandon serves in the Army National Guard, fulfilling his Guard duties on the weekends and during the summer. Before joining AmeriCorps, Brandon served with the Military Funeral Honors team for six years. He applied for a Corpsmember position when he first came to LVI in 2018, but staff were impressed and offered him a leadership role. As Senior Crew Leader, Brandon has helped shape LVI’s GulfCorps program. He is an excellent mentor, patiently encouraging his Corpsmembers to reach beyond their comfort zones and expand their horizons. He routinely goes above and beyond his duties, always having in mind the best interests of his Corpsmembers and the organization. Outside of GulfCorps, Brandon often volunteers for events and activities in which LVI is involved.

Brandon has no intentions of leaving LVI, though he’s been offered several positions outside of the organization. He enjoys being in a role where he can give back to his community in New Orleans. He believes in the power of civic service to change the world and hopes to continue working to help build trust and resilience among people from different walks of life. As he says, “Even the smallest interaction matters, and I would like to be able to connect with other people by listening, offering, and teaching.”


Mile High Youth Corps – YouthBuild & Land Conservation Programs

Yessica “Yessi” Nevarez-Villa

*AmeriCorps Alum*

“Yessi’s commitment to fully engaging in the community and with the peers with whom she is serving truly sets her apart from other Corpsmembers.”

Yessica “Yessi” Naevarez-Villa admits that she was in a dark place before joining Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC). She dropped out of four schools by age 17 and was involved in a car accident caused by drinking and driving. Faced with a long trial and possible incarceration, Yessi knew she had to make changes in her life. In February 2019, she became a Corpsmember in the YouthBuild Construction track at MHYC. In six months, she completed OSHA-10 and First Aid/CPR training, earned a Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate (PACT) with a focus on carpentry skills, and completed 450 hours of service helping build affordable housing. She also earned her high school equivalency diploma and moved into the Corps’ forestry program, where she earned a S-212 Wildland Fire Chainsaw certification. Earlier in her service, Yessi was invited to be a “mentor chaperone” during Denver City Councilman Chris Herndon’s Northeast Denver Leadership Week (NDLW). At NDLW, Yessi mentored 10 high school students, providing guidance and encouragement. Yessi’s Crew Leaders note that she “leads by example every day” and “exemplifies what a good teammate should look like.”

Yessi recently completed her term with MHYC’s Fall Forestry Program and will serve as a Corpsmember in the Winter Fire Crew. Upon completing her term in the Winter Fire Crew, Yessi plans on joining the Denver Fire Academy to receive more training and knowledge in order to pursue a career in firefighting. Yessi has found her passion in helping others.


Montana Conservation Corps – Piikani Lands Crew

Rosalinda “Rosy” Chavez

“Rosy’s resiliency and optimistic attitude became the glue that held her crew together. She was always bubbly and cracking jokes to lighten the mood after a long hard, day of work.”

After spending several months in the hospital after a bad car accident, doctors were concerned Rosy would never walk again. However, that wasn’t an option for Rosalinda “Rosy” Chavez. Two weeks after regaining the strength and mobility to walk on her own, Rosy interviewed to join the Piikani Lands Crew at Montana Conservation Corps. Overcoming her injury and the doubts of others, Rosy graduated from high school in the spring and served with MCC in the summer, joining fellow youth from the Blackfeet Nation on projects on or around the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Rosy helped construct and maintain three miles of trail, plant and prune 730 trees, install 50 trail drainage structures, and build beaver mimicry dams to encourage the growth of the beaver population. She never mentioned her injuries, opening up about the accident only when supervisors noticed she had modified certain techniques to suit her abilities. In spite of her accident, Rosy found herself hiking up to 10 miles a day and completing laborious projects. Throughout everything, Rosy remained resilient and positive.

After completing the program, Rosy enrolled at Blackfeet Community College majoring in Psychology. She has a strong desire to become a trauma therapist based upon her past experience. After completing her AA degree, Rosy plans to further her education at The University of Montana. With her degree, she hopes to give back to the Native American community.


New Jersey Youth Corps – New Jersey City University

Avonte Gardner

“Though he is only now 17 years old, his peers and members of the community are so impressed by his maturity, wisdom and dedication. As staff members, we have witnessed how his peers look to him for advice, to learn how to deescalate situations and to motivate them when they feel like giving up.”

At 16 years old, Avonte Gardner was working at Burger King and knew that he wanted to do something different. A friend informed Avonte on the wonders of volunteering and encouraged him to apply to the New Jersey Youth Corps. Avonte instantly fell in love with the communal feel and structure the Corps staff provided. While in his first term of service, he earned his high school diploma and food handler certification. Due to his hard work, Avonte was promised employment by a Youth Corps Community Service partner when he reaches the age of 18. To date, he has completed over 450 hours of community service and over 200 hours of vocational and academic training. Throughout his service, Avonte has used his love for music to not only connect with his peers, but to add to the program curriculum. Members of the community have invited him to share his artistry by attending several events geared towards violence awareness and mental health.

Avonte refers to himself as a “Trench Rapper.” He hopes to one day grow this genre, which he describes as authentic music that provides “hope for people who feel ‘deep in the trench,’ and seek for greatness.” He will study Music Business at Full Sail University next year. His goal for the near future is to land an internship with a radio station.


Student Conservation Association (SCA)

Luis Cabrales

“Luis Cabrales has risen up through the ranks in the SCA’s Chicago Community programs to become a great leader within his local community as well as within the larger conservation and Corps community in the Chicago region.”

Before joining the Corps, Luis was like many high school students, thinking about his future and wondering what to do next. It wasn’t until his Honors Environmental Studies class took a trip to Whistler Woods that Luis discovered his passion for conservation work. That summer, Luis joined the Student Conservation Association and Friends of the Forest Preserves’ summer program as a conservation crew member. The following summer, he held an Assistant Crew Leader position with Friends of the Forest Preserves, leading students in invasive species removal projects. He then returned to SCA in the summer of 2017 as an Apprentice Crew Leader, helping plan and implement environmental education programming, team-building activities, and numerous conservation projects. He recently wrapped a season with SCA’s weekend Tree Planting Crew, all while also finishing his last year at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Luis is noted for his ability to motivate others. His passion for nature and education is palpable. In addition to his service with SCA, Luis is active in Chicago’s broader conservation community and the Latinx community at his school. He will graduate with his bachelor’s degree in Integrated Health Sciences in 2020. After graduation, he plans to continue his service in the environment as an SCA Crew Leader. He also plans to visit his parents in Mexico and continuing developing the grassroots community youth organization he hopes to register as a 501(c)(3).


Southeast Conservation Corps

Alyssa Dela Cruz

“Alyssa definitely stands out among all of the WCC members because of her ability to express the personal benefits of the program to her and the land.”

Alyssa knew she wanted to become a Corpsmember. Contributing to her community and making a change always meant something to her. Upon graduating from high school in 2019, Alyssa became one of five members on Southeast Conservation Corps’ (SECC) inaugural Women’s Conservation Corps (WCC) crew. As a member of this program, she engaged in corridor cleaning, invasive species removal and trail maintenance. Alyssa and her crew impressed every project partner they encountered at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and exceeded expectations related to professionalism, interpersonal skills and work ethic. Throughout the summer, she kept her peers motivated through her work ethic and positive and inclusive disposition. As Alyssa said, “My crew reminded me that we can do anything we put our minds to. We as women forget how strong we actually are and how much power we actually hold.”

Alyssa currently attends Chattanooga State Community College where she is studying Graphic Arts with a concentration in Technology. She hopes to use her certificate to assist organizations like SECC to get their message out to others. In 2020, Alyssa plans to return to SECC as a member of the adult AmeriCorps crew.


Sitka AmeriCorps Program

Ashley Nessler

*AmeriCorps Member*

“Ashely Nessler has been widely recognized by the faculty at her service site, Sitka High School, as the best AmeriCorps member the school has ever had in the building.”

As a college student attending DeSales University, Ashley had little direction for what she truly wanted to do after graduation. Through internship programs during her junior and senior years, Ashley had the opportunity to work alongside AmeriCorps VISTA members and provide tutoring and mentorship to middle school students. These experiences inspired Ashley to pursue an AmeriCorps position with Sitka High School in Alaska. Ashley’s primary responsibility is to run the Student Support Center, where she mentors Opportunity Youth. In addition, however, Ashley serves as an assistant coach for Mock Trial and softball. She also volunteers at school events, co-teaches students in the Math Lab program and, whenever there is a teacher absent, Ashley works with the substitute to provide consistency and make sure the instructional goals of the class are met. Ashley has earned the trust of teachers in Sitka High School due to her unprecedented skillset, approachable manner, and willingness to always help out.

At the end of her second year of service with AmeriCorps, Ashley plans to use the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award towards tuition for her master’s degree in teaching. Her dream is to become a high school social studies teacher with an additional certification in special education focusing on students with ADHD and other learning disabilities.


Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC)

Bex Love

*AmeriCorps Alum*

“Bex is an incredible agent of change, is excited to continue to build community wherever they travel and work, and will do great things, without a doubt, no matter where they go.”

As Bex says, “I’ve always had a fire inside of me. I’ve always wanted to change the world.” After graduating from college, Bex travelled the country, volunteering in communities and making friends with the people they met along the way. A desire to serve brought Bex to VYCC. With no previous experience in conservation work or camping, Bex was unsure what to expect, but they were enthusiastic, nonetheless. Bex served with six other Crew Members and two Crew Leaders on a VYCC Conservation 900-hour AmeriCorps Spike Crew. The crew worked together to complete high priority conservation projects, including removing invasive species and building trails. When one of the Crew Leaders left the program earlier, Bex was immediately identified as an unofficial co-leader. Mid-season, Bex was diagnosed with Lyme disease. They were out for medical reasons for an extended period of time, but they were determined to complete their service and the rest of the crew rallied behind them. Because of Bex’s demeanor, humor, and positive personality, the crew had a great experience.

For the next year, Bex’s AmeriCorps Education Award will cover their monthly student loan payments. With this financial freedom, Bex plans to spend time volunteering with recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Their dream is to create a community garden space where folks from different backgrounds can come together over healthy food, art, and education. VYCC can’t wait to welcome Bex back as an AmeriCorps member or Crew Leader.


YouthWork Adult Community Experience (ACE)

Sean Miles

*AmeriCorps Member*

“Sean has proved invaluable to YouthWork on many service projects including several historic preservation projects throughout Michigan and many conservations projects.”

Sean inspires others with his hard work and determination. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child, it was challenging for him to be around a lot of people growing up. High school was especially challenging for Sean and he opted to finish his last semester online. After graduating, Sean knew he wanted to work with his hands; he eventually decided to enter the YouthWork Adult Community Experience (ACE) AmeriCorps program. When he started the program, Sean was quiet and withdrawn. As time progressed, however, he opened up to his Crew Leader and expressed great pride in his work. Sean quickly took on a leadership role, providing mentorship and support to younger members of the program. As his supervisors say, “He demonstrates empathy and patience with each young member, never questioning their abilities or his own.” He received training in OSHA Workplace Safety, Fall Protection, Harness and Competent Scaffold Use, and more. This winter he will participate in a Lead Renovator and Wilderness First Responder training and hopes to continue serving with YouthWork. Sean constantly seeks to learn more and contribute to his team.

Sean is currently using his education award as he attends Northwestern Michigan Community College, where he is taking courses in construction and trades. Sean hopes to be hired for a full-time position with the ACE program. He plans to continue serving with ACE this coming summer.