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Martha Martha Alva Velásquez is using her Conservation Internship at Civicorps to build a career and create climate resiliency in the East Bay.

In 2018, East Oakland resident Martha Alva Velásquez was looking for work to support her parents while searching for a way to obtain her high school diploma. A referral to Civicorps’ “earn-while-you-learn” program was a perfect match, enabling her to complete her studies while working as a Conservation Intern. Despite finding herself in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic, she graduated in June 2020 - a great achievement by any standard. But that was just the beginning of Martha’s Civicorps journey. In fact, inspiration struck her early on in the program that blossomed as she progressed.

When Martha first enrolled at Civicorps, a park ranger gave a presentation to Corpsmembers about his job during Civicorps’ weekly Community Meeting. Something clicked inside Martha; she had only been at Civicorps a short time, but the ranger’s talk resonated deeply. She suddenly glimpsed a future for herself beyond her immediate goal of completing high school. Her path was now clear: to obtain more skills and study to become a park ranger. Her paid Conservation Internship at Civicorps was exactly what she needed.

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Martha’s Civicorps journey accelerated after she had been with the Corps for about a year and decided she wanted to become a Crew Leader. By 2019, Martha had successfully completed Civicorps’ highly competitive Conservation Crew Leader Academy. Occurring twice annually, the Crew Leader Academy offers Corpsmembers an opportunity to be promoted to a leadership role. Graduates become Conservation Crew Leaders who assist Conservation Supervisors with the supervision and training of Corpsmember Crews through the execution of projects in the field. After advancing to Crew Leader and having earned her high school diploma, Martha enrolled in her first college course in Park Management at West Valley College in the spring of 2021. She plans to take another course this fall at Laney College. Studying to become a Park Ranger while gaining field experience at Civicorps has given Martha, who at one time struggled to find the right way to build her future, a new game plan.

Now assisting with training and supervision of Corpsmember Crews, she loves helping people learn new skills. As she puts it quite simply, “it feels amazing.”

Remarking on Martha’s progress, Civicorps Conservation Program Coordinator Monique Williams said: “Martha has come a long way. I see a constant growth with her… she is outstanding.”

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Like most Conservation Interns, Martha has worked on projects for several local agencies including CalTrans, Alameda County Flood Control, East Bay Municipal District, and East Bay Regional Park District. Her worksites have been located in the cities of Fremont, Union City, Pleasanton, San Leandro and Oakland, and at regional parks and water reservoirs throughout the East Bay.

Martha attributes her success to the support of staff. “They taught me how to lead, how to be responsible, and how to talk with other people. And now, I am stepping up—like [Dean of Students] Mr. Dunn says, ‘There’s no stopping, keep going!’ ”

“Martha exemplifies the qualities of leadership that we need and champion in our young people.”

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Looking back, Martha knows she’s a long way from who she was in 2018. “When I first started I had never worked in a job like this before. So I felt tired all of the time.” But being new didn’t stop her from working on her dream. She dug deep to tap her inner reserves and worked hard. Inspired by her mom, staff at Civicorps, and the words of a park ranger, Martha was able to chart a future for herself. And, as her interest in conservation grew and her skills developed, her career pathway unfolded.

Next year she plans to apply for a position with East Bay Regional Park District. Her advice to youth living in the East Bay is to take advantage of everything offered at Civicorps. “You can do it, you can learn everything they teach you,” she enthused encouragingly.

Strengthening California’s climate resilience will require hardworking leaders who are committed, tenacious, and willing to put in the long hours needed to excel in their jobs. Martha Alva Velásquez is ready to step into that role.

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Click here to return to the Civicorps 2021 Annual Report