(Photo: Alex Cornejo, AltaSea)

California’s volunteer service program can lead to meaningful employment

A new public-private partnership – led by California Volunteers – supports volunteer alumni on the path to careers
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A new state initiative in California – Corps to Career – is a public-private partnership pilot program that looks to boost economic opportunity and workforce development that supports California volunteers service program alumni in their quests to land in meaningful careers.

“We aim to create a pathway that will empower a diverse, connected workforce to address societal challenges – starting in Los Angeles, with the potential to scale across California and the nation,” according to California Volunteers, Office of the Governor.

The launch of the initiative was recently held at AltaSea – an employer partner of the initiative –at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.

“Gov. [Gavin] Newsom and the legislature have invested in a truly unprecedented way into creating a culture of service here in California,” noted Josh Fryday, chief service officer of California Volunteers – as he introduced the Corps to Career initiative.

Josh Fryday, chief service officer, California Volunteers, Office of the Governor

“And at a time when too many of us can often feel disconnected or divided or isolated from each other, we created the California Service Corps to unite and to empower Californians across the state to come together and solve some of our biggest issues.”

Among the state’s service programs – College Corps, California Climate Action Corps, Youth Job Corps, and AmeriCorps California.

Initially, alumni of two of the programs – College Corps and the California Climate Action Corps – are encouraged to participate in the initiative. The pilot offers eligible alumni access to a curated job board of employer partners, networking opportunities, career development workshops, and other resources.

Fryday told WorkingNation, “We’re also preparing our Service Corps members through career development workshops and other mentoring and advising resources. And the truth is, we have enormous workforce needs in our state – whether it’s a teaching shortage or a nursing shortage or a shortage of tradespeople.”

Employer partners are from a variety of sectors, according to Fryday. “We are working with the city of LA, the Mayor’s office – to place people in really important jobs for the city. We’re working with the California State Parks and the California Department of Natural Resources, including Cal Fire and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, so several state agencies and departments.

“We’re also working with education partners, everything from the California Department of Education to the University of Southern California. And we’re going to be working with school districts moving forward, and then nonprofit partners. We do have business leaders from the private sector, including the LA Kings and Tesla. Representatives of all sectors of our economy are stepping up to say, ‘We value the experience and the skills, and the commitment demonstrated by California Service Corps members, and now we’re going to help them with their careers.’”

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One Employer Partner Sees the Value of the Volunteer Experience

“AltaSea being a nonprofit, like any other nonprofit, we march on the feet of our volunteers and many of them then are the ones that we can hire when we have paid positions,” said Terry Tamminen, president and CEO of AltaSea – the site of the initiative launch.

Terry Tamminen, president and CEO, AltaSea (Photo: Alex Cornejo, AltaSea)

Tamminen told WorkingNation, “Many of them see the opportunities in the workforce training we’re doing or working with the researchers, or the businesses and they can get those jobs, too. So, volunteering I think not only helps the community and helps organizations like ours, but it helps the people understand a new segment, a new sector that they might not have previously understood, and then realize that there’s a role for them in that industry.”

Regarding the organization, Tamminen said, “AltaSea is a nonprofit that was created about 10 years ago to take over this historic 35-acre campus of 110-year-old warehouses and turn it into a modern hub for blue economy businesses, workforce training, and education in the blue economy.”

He continued, “Everybody knows what the green economy is. Everybody has heard of things that are green, like solar power, rooftops, and electric cars, but nobody understands the blue economy and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean, not land.

“We know that our future, not only of our climate, but also our food and energy – really depends on the blue economy. That’s part of what AltaSea is trying to do – let people understand it and enter into that workforce and those business opportunities.”

Janet Parga, ocean pathways coordinator, AltaSea (Photo: Alex Cornejo, AltaSea)

Janet Parga is now the ocean pathways coordinator at AltaSea. She first learned of the organization through her participation in College Corps. Speaking at the launch, Parga said, “I’m grateful that I was introduced to this program because it allowed me to focus on my education while introducing me to a completely new career field. I had this newfound passion to help combat climate change.

Though, she laughed, “My first visit here at AltaSea, I was like, ‘What is the blue economy? I don’t know if I’m fit to be here.’”

Tamminen said a sense of purpose is a great motivator that gets people to volunteer, “I think that’s what attracts people to any volunteer work. If you’re going to give away your time, it has to be something that motivates you, that you care about, and usually that’s something that makes your community better.

“We also have a lot of volunteers who are midcareer thinking about going from what they used to do to making a difference in terms of the environment or people who are retired who say, ‘Look, I still have a lot to give back, and so I can do that by starting as a volunteer and doing something different.’”

Service Showed One Young Man He Belongs in the Classroom

Abelardo Juarez participated in AmeriCorps California his senior year at University of California, Riverside (UCR) where he graduated with a degree in education with a focus on society and social justice. Speaking with WorkingNation, Juarez said, “I was looking for a program where I can help students because I’m looking at teachers that helped me in the past. [They] made me feel confident. Made me feel trusted where I felt like I can be myself.

Abelardo Juarez, former AmeriCorps California member

“I was doing my volunteer work at Longfellow Elementary, just down the street from UCR. These kids knew Spanish and so it was great. I know Spanish too, and feeling their cultures, the community, I can resonate with it. I loved it.”

Juarez added, “When I walked into the classrooms, I would get applause. I’m like, ‘What do I do? I’m just here to tutor. I really am.’ But it wasn’t just tutoring – it was mentoring, as well. That was impactful for them and for me.”

Now a student teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Juarez says about his AmeriCorps experience, “It’s a great opportunity for people that maybe didn’t think volunteer service can provide great opportunities. Thinking about it now, a lot of my letters of recommendation came from my volunteer opportunities. They’re giving me the chance to apply to these school districts. So, if I didn’t provide service, if I didn’t work with kids, I wouldn’t have had these opportunities.”

Juarez who is scheduled to earn a master’s degree in education from UCR at the end of next month, said about his volunteer experience, “I was looking to get into teaching. I really didn’t know if it was for me yet. Looking for an opportunity to volunteer really created a spark because seeing these kids welcome me in and having fun tutoring them, it made me realize that they needed more men of color, more male teachers in elementary school.”

Call-to-Action to Volunteer

Fryday noted, “We have over 10,000 paid service positions throughout California. We’re the largest service force in the nation.” California Volunteers is issuing a larger call-to-action – for people outside of the LA area who aren’t already in College Corps or California Climate Action Corps – to join the California Service Corps.

He continued, “We really have opportunities for everyone. We have programs for a year of service. We have programs that are for an academic year of service. We have programs that are summer service programs, and we have some programs that are everywhere in between. We’ve really created a variety of programs to try to be inclusive as many people as possible.

“It includes youth between the ages of 16 and 30 who could be part of our youth service program, and then includes our AmeriCorps program and our Climate core program that really don’t have any age limits. We’ve really tried to create opportunities for people of all different interests and passions and also at different places in their lives.”

If you’re interested in joining the California Service Corps, read more.
If you are an alumnus of College Corps or the California Climate Action Corps, check out the job board.

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