by Joseph Edwards, Director, California Safe Corps
California Safe Corps is an AmeriCorps program funded by the American Red Cross. Our program has 26 participants that work full-time with the Red Cross for 10 months and help vulnerable communities in Los Angeles and elsewhere through preparedness activities and disaster response. As program manager, I am devoted solely to this program and work to obtain grant funding, manage the program, and (most fun of all) get to interview, recruit and select the new team each year.
A question that I am often asked is ‘When do you do your recruiting?’ I typically have a one-word answer: Always.
Recruiting and pitching the AmeriCorps program to potential applicants and visiting college campuses and career fairs is a true joy for me personally. Depending on the format, if I’m given a chance to present with the assistance of a power point deck I have a few images that I feel do the best job in showcasing what it’s really like to be an AmeriCorps member, what types of people we select and what are the long-term outcomes of the program. Below are some of the images and what I say.
Amy in the Woods: Amy Lin served in 2013-14. She was the only person I have selected for the program just based on her phone-interview, and it remains one of the wisest decisions I made that entire year. If you saw her then-resume, you’d understand. Engaged student, participated in exchange programs, graduated Harvard University, med school hopeful (she was admitted to the USC Keck School of Medicine during her term) and possessed strong analytical skills. I use this photo to demonstrate the type of person who we seek out in this program, the type of person that Amy is: Positive-minded. As you can see in this photo, Amy has a big smile on her face and it was her trademark demeanor. Always in a good mood, never shirked off a task, had some very, very, very long weeks, but you’d never know it based on her spirit. None of her teammates would say a negative thing about her. And keep in mind, this was someone one who had already been admitted to medical school, lived in a nice part of town with her parents, and clearly didn’t need the experience to get ahead. But she did the work, and did it with a smile – and that’s the type of person we want.
Betzy plus one: Serving alongside Amy was Betzabet Chavez Sanchez, who we all universally referred to as “Betzy.” Recent graduate from UCLA, fluent in Spanish and became hands down the best presenter we had that year. This photo I used to illustrate how tough this job can be. As you can see, Betzy is talking in an auditorium to a single person. We thought we’d have a full room, we told Betzy we really needed her as it was going to be a Spanish-only presentation. She showed up with her supplies in-hand on an early Saturday morning ready to present, but only one person showed up. Imagine the psychological frustration that goes with the anticipation of a packed crowd ready to hear you, but end up talking directly to one resident. For AmeriCorps members, this scenario is incredibly common and they continually have to roll with the punches. That’s hard. It’s not for everyone. It takes grit to be an AmeriCorps member. Take it from Betzy.
Josue and Miguel: Josue Perez (middle) and Miguel Soltero (right) represented 40% of the entire male contingent in the 2014-15 program year! Both were born in Los Angeles and are children of immigrant parents. Josue grew up in Van Nuys and served out of our Canoga Park office, while Miguel lives in Atwater Village and worked out of our Arcadia office. People often confused the two in meetings, much to their chagrin, though they both had similar challenges growing up in Los Angeles. They both grew up with financial hardships and were exposed at a very young age to dangerous elements of society. But both were the first in their respective families to receive a bachelor’s degree. They also both want to give back, be a positive role model and are interested in social work as a career. California Safe Corps was the first step on their journey.
Following their AmeriCorps term, Miguel was accepted and is enrolled in a MSW program at USC, while Josue works at St. Joseph Center in Venice, CA. In fact the other person in this photo, Chris Murphy (left), was a guest speaker at one of our Preparedness events, also happened to be a social work graduate, and here he is giving Miguel and Josue advice about working in the field. This photo means many things to me and I use it to illustrate that AmeriCorps, for some of our team, is an incredible opportunity that can put you on the pathway to success. Neither Miguel nor Josue had any serious working experience in a professional atmosphere when we selected them. This program gave them an opportunity. We don’t know what the future is in store for either of them, but with the American Red Cross and AmeriCorps we gave them a chance to serve their community, get experience, gain skills and to help solve problems to better serve society. And that’s really what this program is all about.