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Castro Valley resident Sebastian Castillo is passionate about conservation. In March 2020, he was attending classes at Las Positas and Chabot Community Colleges when California mandated the shelter-in-place order. Suddenly, he found himself furloughed from his part-time job. When a colleague mentioned Civicorps, he discovered an opportunity to gain paid field experience in conservation and in the process, a leadership role.
Sebastian’s interest in conservation stems from formative experiences as an Interpretive Student Aide at East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) and as a National Park Service Intern.
At Civicorps, Sebastian received paid job training as a Conservation Intern while continuing to attend college, acquiring valuable experience for his resume. “I was interested in wildlife preservation and ecology, but I didn’t have any field work.” He also sought out a leadership role.
In fact, his leadership qualities stood out from the beginning to his supervisors.
Sebastian was promoted to Crew Leader after attending Civicorps’ semiannual Conservation Crew Leader Academy during the pandemic. He learned how to lead his peers, including Corpsmembers with more seniority. Breaking out of his shell and building his confidence in instructing Corpsmembers on safety was difficult, but rewarding.
During his Crew Leader training, Sebastian worked on one of his favorite trail maintenance projects at Sibley Volcanic Regional Park in Oakland. “I learned a lot about the degrees of the slope and the drainage of the water, and how it has to be set up so the trail doesn’t get damaged. It was a lot of work but it was really cool.”
In the process, he worked to master his field skills. “Once you do the Crew Leader training you really have to know what you’re talking about because once you get the certifications with the chipper, the chainsaw, and the brushcutter, and all the other tools that we use, including First Aid, you need to be able to train people.”
What drove him was a determination to make use of everything Civicorps had to offer. “When I started at Civicorps I made it clear that I wanted my certifications as soon as possible. I wanted to know absolutely everything that I could, and this has made it easier to train my crew.” With the numerous resources available at Civicorps, Sebastian expanded his skill set and knowledge.
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During his time at Civicorps, Sebastian worked with Crews on projects for EBRPD, including a project with their Fire Department to improve critical fire mitigation through the creation of fuel breaks behind Tilden Park homes in Berkeley, Oakland, El Cerrito and Richmond. “A lot of the neighbors there were very appreciative of our work. People would come out and thank us and were very grateful.”
In August 2021, Sebastian left Civicorps to begin a seven-week Ranger Naturalist Internship with East Bay Municipal Utility District in partnership with Civicorps. “They selected me because of my experience with Civicorps, EBRPD, and the NPS. This is a first year pilot program. They are hoping I can provide insight to shape the program.”
This winter, Sebastian is planning to transfer to Humboldt State University to complete a bachelor’s degree in environmental science management with a focus on ecological restoration. One day, he hopes to obtain a position in wildlife ecology.
Build your future
Reflecting on his Civicorps Journey, Sebastian says, “I want to encourage people to take advantage of everything that Civicorps has to offer. It’s more than just physical work. There’s a lot of self-healing, a lot of experience, and a lot of knowledge that you can gain from here.”
“I wish I had known about this program a long time ago. If you want to be a park ranger or work in conservation in general, Civicorps not only provides you with the skills and training you need, but there are a lot of resources and opportunities. Get everything you need out of Civicorps, enjoy it while you can, and then get out there into the world.”
Civicorps is preparing the next generation of environmental stewards like Sebastian, lifelong learners who are committed to conservation and building climate resilience in their community.