By Joseph Edwards, California Safe Corps Program Director

Years ago I was having lunch with a professional mentor. I asked him what he thought were the biggest challenges facing local governments in California (he worked for the city of Long Beach at the time). I expected he would respond with infrastructure, or the state’s water supply or population growth— instead he said three simple words, “Lack of leadership.”

He expanded on his answer further, and included this was not just a government problem but all sectors, even nonprofits. I took his words to heart. We need to create a new generation of leaders ready to tackle big problems. Part of that solution is AmeriCorps.

One of the joys of my current role, Program Director of the California Safe Corps program plus overseer of the California AmeriCorps Disaster Team program, is that I get to watch young leaders in action.

The program year kicks off per tradition with a week-long Pre-Service Training at a camp just outside of Santa Barbara. The goals are simple: gather the AmeriCorps teams from across the state to meet for a week of trainings, education and good ole’ team bonding. This year was unique as the news of Hurricane Irma accompanied us from our first day. I received a phone call from the Los Angeles Region’s top disaster officer telling me that we may need to cut the week short to get the team back to deploy. He wasn’t wrong. As the week progressed, the tone of the camp shifted more and more toward pre-deployment. Many of the team stayed up late into the evenings so they could complete their online trainings. And, when word came that some might need to be shipped out that Friday, we didn’t have to beg for volunteers. Most were eager to leave, as soon as necessary, even as news came in that the impact this storm could have on Florida might be devastating.

To give context:  two of the AmeriCorps who deployed to Florida had never been on a plane.

Real leaders take chances, explore opportunities and force you out of your comfort zone. I say proudly, this year’s AmeriCorps team passed their first leadership test.

Big thanks to Linda Venema, Jake Kennedy, Maddie Ryan, Bianca Malkoc, Lesly De Leon Rabago, Genesis Fabian, Cecilia Olivas, Amanda Hidalgo, Jesse Sanchez and Earl Torres who deployed to assist with Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

So, if you meet an AmeriCorps in the office, or out on a call, or behind-the-scenes working at a Sound the Alarm event, be nice to them and pay them respect. After all, they’ll be the ones leading us pretty soon.


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