This summer we plan to highlight several of the participants in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. This is the first of those stories and was provided by Mile High Youth Corps, a 21CSC program operator.
Jorge Lomas is a first-generation American, but spent much of his childhood growing up in Mexico. When he was 12 he moved permanently to Denver, CO. In 2011, he became the first of his family to enroll in college, signing up for classes at Colorado State University. As his first semester drew near, financial limitations forced him to withdraw and enroll in an Associates program at the Community College of Denver (CCD).
For the next two years, Jorge took classes and paid for school through work study and weekend jobs. After two years of school he decided to look for other ways to further his development and help the environment while still saving for his education. In the summer of 2013, he enrolled in the first term of service at Mile High Youth Corps as a member of the Summer of Service Land Conservation Program.
Here’s how Jorge described how he came to the Corps:
“From 2010 to 2013 I was enrolled in school at the Community College of Denver (CCD) and was working through the work study program at the Office of Trio Student Support Services. We provided resources to students, the majority being returning students from low-income backgrounds and/or who were just released from prison. I have always enjoyed working with people and especially those who were going through struggles in their life; working with these students made me realize that there was so much more that I could do to help those in need.
Simultaneously, in 2010, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred. The spill directly impacted those close to me, living in Mexico – polluting their limited drinking water. This personal experience awoke the importance of the natural environment in my life. I decided it was time to do my part for the environment and to give back to my community, so I looked into local volunteer opportunities and my mother told me about AmeriCorps and the many programs it had for me.
In my search I found the Mile High Youth Corps Corpsmember position with their Summer of Service program. I saw that their chainsaw crew would be removing invasive species. This work was completely foreign to me, but I applied anyway. During the interview, the staff explained how we would be helping the local ecosystem by removing non-native plants to allow native plants to re-grow. I also learned that I would be working on a crew, participating in educational and professional development activities and getting a scholarship for school. As soon as I finished the interview, I knew.”
When Jorge began his first AmeriCorps term with Mile High Youth Corps, he did not think he would finish. The work was technical, physically demanding and like nothing he had ever done before. But, his family had taught him to never give up. So he stuck with it and gained confidence in his abilities with each small success. His first success occurred when he was certified to use a chainsaw. He was shocked. Although he had shown the necessary skill level to earn the certification, he did not trust his own abilities to believe it.
His next success came in the form of a positive mid-term evaluation. Again, those around him saw his accomplishments, but he still could not see them for himself. Over time, however, with each small success, Jorge slowly started to see what he was capable of. As Jorge’s confidence grew, so did his leadership skills. Each season he took on greater responsibility. When he returned for his third term in 2014, he was tasked with being a peer leader to the new members of his crew. It was the first time in his life that he was given a leadership role. Jorge was challenged in this new role, but again rose to the task and by mid-season was a strong role model for all members that term.
This summer Jorge will serve as the Crew Leader for “The RidgeRunners” saw crew, that will be doing Russian olive removal and some Tamarisk invasive plant species removal for a variety of project partners including the City of Wheat Ridge, the Adams County Parks and Community Resource Department, Colorado Heights University, and the Bear Creek Watershed Improvement Project.
“I am most excited about challenging myself and a group of people that might have little to no experience in a job setting like the one provided by Mile High Youth Corps,” says Jorge.
“My experience at MHYC has also opened up new job opportunities in the field of environmental conservation, many of which I did not know existed until now, like wildland firefighting. I want to explore new places and experiences, and now have the confidence that I can be successful wherever I go.”