Conservation Corps North Bay honors its local graduates
By NICK WALDEN / Rohnert Park Correspondent
Family, friends and educators of 29 local youths from Sonoma and Marin Counties gathered on Thursday night, Sept 12 in Cotati to celebrate in their completion of the Conservation Corps North Bay high school program, which is held at the John Muir Charter School. The graduation ceremony, which was held in the Ray Miller Community Center, recognized the accomplishment of obtaining a high school diploma and work experience to put on their resume along with finding their way back onto a career path which otherwise might not happen.
The Conservation Corps North Bay was founded in 1982 and is the nation's first local nonprofit conservation corps program. Its mission is to develop youth and conserve natural resources for a strong, sustainable community. They have provided thousands of young people with job training, education and social services needed to transform their lives while improving local parks and communities.
"It's a requirement for anyone who joins the corps that doesn't have a high school diploma to enroll in this program," said Marilee Eckert, CEO of the nonprofit.
Many of the Conservation Corps North Bay's students are the first in their family to graduate. They use a tailored approach to education along with personal support for each youth in the program to provide the attention needed to help overcome barriers to each person's success. Chronic issues include emotional and substance abuse, truancy, violence, gang involvement and academic failure.
"It's always the same stories," said Eckert, "Most of them never thought that they would get their diploma."
The school itself is a year round program which is why the graduation is taking place in September. They also offer a unique graduation ceremony which included a catered dinner to allow families and friends the opportunity to celebrate together.
"Each graduation is always emotional," said Eckert. "There are a lot of heartfelt stories about how kids came to the corps. Parents stand up to give their appreciation and there aren't a lot of dry eyes in the house."
Many of the students have already enrolled in fall classes in colleges in the area and are looking forward to what's next for them. Leon Cliette is attending the College of Marin working towards becoming a medical assistant.
What was his favorite part of the corps? "I really liked using the chainsaw and felling trees," he said. After graduating from college he hopes to work at Kaiser.
One thing that really helps the kids in the program is the attention of people like Monique Evans, who is the Corps-to-Career coordinator.
"Most have a career path in mind, but it is a matter of getting over barriers to employment that can otherwise derail them," she said. "Transportation, finding business that accept people with records or living in temporary housing are barriers and we help provide them the information and guidance they need to work around those things."
Hazel Hoyt is currently enrolled in Santa Rosa Junior College and plans to work towards a career in a medical field, perhaps as an EMT. Her favorite thing about the program was, "Working with all types of people. A lot of us have similar goals and I really met a lot of nice people in the program."
This year's graduates are: Michael Alfaro, Daniel Alfaro-Chavez, Alejandro Alvarez, Sophia Alcocer Kemp, Markus Alverio, Jose Ayala, Diana Carrillo, Alexsi Cisneros, Leon Cliette, Kent Cook Jr., Maria Diaz, Adam Ericson, Megan Gibson, Hernan Gonzalez, Christian Govea, Anna Haynes, Antonio Hede, Roberto Herrera, Hazel Hoyt, Rudy Juarez, Oscar Leyton, Dylan Limber, Melanie Luna, Robert Macias, James McArthur, Rey Pinola-Santiago, Nick Richmond, Gilberto Rodriguez, Eliazar Sontay, Eduardo Mason, Sam Torre-Andrews, Alberto Vicente and Bianca Vigil.
"When a young adult wants to change their life for the better, other people come forward to help. Everyone wants to be part of their success. This is the best benefit of being part of Conservation Corps North Bay," said Marilee Eckert.