Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB) helps young people, ranging in age from 18 to 25, break the cycle of poverty by obtaining the skills, academic credentials, career counseling, and support services needed to secure and thrive in living-wage employment. Crews receive paid on-the-job training and provide much-needed fire fuel reduction, flood mitigation and zero-waste services in our communities. Like most nonprofit organizations, CCNB has faced the challenge of adapting to the public health crisis. Fortunately, with support from our donors and partners, the tireless efforts of staff and the resilience of the young people we serve, we have maintained our level of services for our corpsmembers and communities.
COVID-19 has affected all aspects of our organization. Most work projects were suspended for a number of weeks at the onset of the pandemic, essentially halting the paid job training component of our services. With corpsmembers being ineligible to collect unemployment because they’re participating in a job training program, the team focused on providing additional one-on-one case management and seeking emergency funds to help corpsmembers with their most basic needs. In a short time, we raised enough to provide relief in the form of two days’ worth of pay when work was unavailable, food and household items, as well as gift cards to pay bills for all affected corpsmembers. Thanks to these efforts, nearly all corpsmembers remained in the program until work resumed and they could continue their personal journeys toward self-sufficiency.
At the same time, CCNB’s contracting team worked to reschedule regular crews and identify new projects requiring a mobilized workforce. In addition to all previously planned essential fire fuel reduction and flood abatement jobs resuming, CCNB secured a new contract with the County of Marin to support local emergency relief efforts alongside Canal Alliance and Marin Community Clinics, with corpsmembers staffing various local food distribution sites and delivering meals to infected Marin residents. This new partnership enabled Zero Waste crews, whose summer work traditionally relies on events that were cancelled, to continue to earn a living wage while supporting their own communities.
Through these changes, CCNB continues to prevent unemployment by providing paid job training, case management and basic human-needs support for young people preparing to enter a workforce impacted by COVID-19. According to data gathered by Community Foundation Sonoma County, LatinXs make up just 27 percent of the population in Sonoma County, but are being disproportionately infected with COVID-19, with people of color making up 75 percent of the cases diagnosed as of July last year. Many people of color have fewer resources and options to take sick leave and shelter-in-place, while continuing to pay their rent and bills. Nearly 80 percent of CCNB corpsmembers identify as people of color, and most reside in areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Every single member qualifies as low-income, and has a background of intergenerational poverty. Additionally, many have experienced housing insecurity.
We are proud to share that thanks to the adaptability of everyone involved in this herculean effort to maintain a consistent level of services for our corpsmembers and the communities that rely on our crews to help prevent fire, flood, and overflowing landfills, program participant retention has remained stable. In fact, 80 percent of corpsmembers successfully completing the program continue into higher education or jobs making an average of $17.22 per hour.
What we learned by continually pivoting to meet the needs of our corpsmembers, is the one truth that remains constant: our community cares about its young people and will make the necessary adjustments to ensure their success whether they’re facing a public health crisis, evacuating from a fire, experiencing racial inequity, or simply trying their best to improve their lives and those of their families.
So the next time you see a CCNB crew in their green helmets collecting recyclables from one of our beautiful parks, creating defensible space by clearing fire fuels, or maintaining one of your favorite hiking trails, remember to thank them. Even with a village surrounding them with support, they are improving their lives because they chose to invest in themselves.
This gives us hope for the future in a year that has been shrouded with uncertainty.