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Natural Perspectives: Conservation Corps graduates 112 in 2012

June 20, 2012|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray

Vic and I last week attended graduation ceremonies for the Orange County Conservation Corps. Our allergies must have been acting up, because tears were streaming down both of our faces as we listened to the stories about the many challenges and obstacles that these young men and women overcame on the path to their high school diplomas.

I have worked at the Orange County Conservation Corps since 2005, teaching the new hires about local conservation issues. I teared up when I saw 112 of my Corps members dressed in caps and gowns.

The Corps has never graduated that many. To put this in perspective, last year we graduated 55, and the year before that, 45. When I first started working at the Corps, graduating classes were typically 10 to 12. What a change. The Corps now enrolls the students in classes before hiring them for work, and we seem to now get more motivated young people.

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Corps members come to us, needing to earn a living while they work on conservation projects throughout Orange County. They range in age from 18 to 24 years old, and most of them are Hispanic. Many have had issues with gang membership, drug and/or alcohol abuse, or are on probation. They come to us to turn their lives around.

After hard work for which they are paid, they attend the Corps' charter school Monday through Thursday. Most of them take about a year to complete the necessary credits and pass the state-mandated English and math high school exit exams.

They then transition to our Corps to Career program, where they continue to work during the day, then work on resumes, practice job interviews, prepare college applications, and look for work.

At last week's graduation ceremony, one young man, Malik Nash-Bey, was singled out for praise. He scored in the 95th percentile on the math exit exam, the second highest score earned in OCCC history.

Among the graduates were a number who have been working at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve under the supervision of the Bolsa Chica Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game.

Those corps members are Rogelio Flores, Andrew Arreola, Jesse Angeles Sands, Karen Munoz, Monique Vasquez and Cindy Duenas. Jesse was one of four speakers at the graduation ceremony, and Vic and I spoke with him at length about his work at Bolsa Chica.

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