SF Conservation Corps keeps it green

March 31, 2009 7:22:52 PM PDT
Most people are environmentally conscious these days, but one Bay Area non-profit agency has been way ahead of the curve. Since 1983 the San Francisco Conservation Corps has been helping the planet and some of its most vulnerable citizens.

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San Francisco's Conservation Corps has been green way before being green became the "in" thing. For the past 25 years corps members have been put to work enhancing the environment.

"I would say that's the best part about it. I can go home at night and say I helped my community," says corps member Alvaro Castro.

Castro is part of a crew that takes recyclables from companies in San Francisco, sorts the materials at a facility in the Presidio, and takes them to a buy-back station. It is just one of a number of Conservation Corps projects.

Since 1983 more than 4,000 young people have improved the quality of life in San Francisco and improved their own lives as well.

"We use the word 'at-risk.' I would like to look at them as at-promise, because these are young people who struggled with all kinds of obstacles," says Janet Gomes.

"It took awhile to realize what I wanted to do, to get back on the right path. I'm doing it. I'm very proud of myself and I do have the corps to thank for that," says corps member Georgena Bell.

The participants are 18- to 26-years-old, mostly from low-income neighborhoods, and all highly-motivated.

"I have a son that I need to raise and be a role model for, be a leader for," says Alexander Alfaro.

For their work, the corps members are paid San Francisco's minimum wage, which is $9.80 an hour. For many of them it is their first real job.

A paycheck is definitely a selling point for those working on the various projects, but there is another draw.

"I came to the corps really to get my high school diploma, and they gave me a chance to go to school and earn money on the side," says Kaprisha Bryant.

Before the work day starts everyone is required to attend class, four days a week at the corps' charter school. The organization was created by Senator Dianne Feinstein when she was Mayor of San Francisco.

It is modeled after a similar state version and the National Conservation Corps, which put people to work during the Great Depression.

Paula Hatch recently graduated from San Francisco's program and landed a full-time job installing solar panels. She feels she has a future in the green industry.

"I know it's about the growth. Obama's been talking about it. I know it's about to expand more so I'm glad I got into it early," she says.

Her boss Greg Kennedy, the owner of Occidental Power, is a long-time supporter of the corps.

"It felt like it made sense in terms of incorporating the community and getting them jobs. And, quite frankly it makes good business. You get some very loyal colleagues when it works out," he says.

During these tight budget times, the Conservation Corps has had to lay-off staff and reduce work hours for the young participants.

"It's sad because these young people, truth be told, more than ever, need our type of services," Kennedy says.

Click here for more information if you know someone who could benefit from the San Francisco Conservation Corps or would like to help the non-profit organization.

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