Monday, June 2, 2014

We've Moved!

The CalSERVES blog has moved to our new home on our website, This site will no longer be updated. To see news and updates from the CalSERVES programs, visit our new blog,

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Giving Back to the School that Shaped Me

Grecia and STEM Students working together.
My name is Grecia Barboza, and I am a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) tutor at Shearer Elementary School. As a Shearer alumnus, it gives me great pride to give back to the school that helped shape me into who I am today. At Shearer, it was the passionate teachers who were the most memorable. Looking back now, it is evident how big of an impact they had on my education and drive to succeed academically.

 Being an AmeriCorps Service Scholar is more than what the job description might lead you to believe. When I replied to the advertisement, I knew I would be tutoring kids and assisting the after school staff. I saw this as a way to build valuable experience for the future and was immediately intrigued by the prospect. However, AmeriCorps has turned out to be much more than that. I see around 25 kids a day in small group tutoring sessions. Yet, I am not just a tutor. I am also a counselor, a mentor, an older sister, a confidant, a friend. Throughout the year, I have shown them that I am not only here to teach them a math lesson, but also here to listen to what they have to say. Although most of what they say is random kid talk, they know that in tutoring groups there exists an environment where their questions, ideas, and opinions are respected and valued.

There is nothing more satisfying than a kid’s “a-ha” moment and knowing that it is you who made their understanding possible. Serving with AmeriCorps in Napa has given me and all Service Scholars the opportunity to foster the minds of the future of America and give them the extra attention and support they do not receive in class. The value of this experience is one that I will cherish and hope to expand in the future.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Finding Myself through Service

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
-Mahatma Gandhi 

I graduated from Indiana University in 2004 with degrees in Political Science and Anthropology, a new boyfriend whom I believed I just might marry someday, and nary a clue as to what I wanted to do with my life. So essentially I was a lot like everyone else.

I guess I had a general sense of wanting to do something creative; maybe work in a museum, maybe not. I liked kids a whole lot, but I’d spent some time student teaching in elementary schools and knew that wasn’t for me. Maybe I’d become a museum educator, but what if I disliked that, too? I couldn’t tell you what I wanted to do with my life, but I’d gotten pretty good at sorting out the things I could never do. Banking. Lawyering. Accounting. No no and no.

I have no recollection of making the decision to join AmeriCorps, but once the idea came I held it tightly. Summoning a fearlessness that wasn’t like me at all, I applied for programs far away from my home – Habitat for Humanity in Colorado, trail-building in Louisiana, and after-school literacy in California. I could visualize myself pounding nails, meeting new friends, and being on my own, really and truly, for the first time in my life. I thought the time away would give me some clarity and point me toward a career doing…something.

I interviewed with all three AmeriCorps programs but ultimately chose one in Santa Rosa, California, where I’d serve as Team Leader for an after-school program, called CalSERVES, in an at-risk school. I didn’t have an apartment or a car, nor did I know anyone. Assured by the team there that it would all work itself out, I said goodbye to my dad, my sister, my boyfriend, and my home, and flew into San Francisco. I’d never been to San Francisco.

I boarded the bus to Santa Rosa and, once there, was picked up by a fellow volunteer. I spent the next three weeks training by day and couch-surfing by night. The worst was when I woke up in the middle of the night one time to find my co-worker’s weird roommate staring at me in the dark. The best was when I got to house-sit for an out-of-town teacher and had the place to myself. I subsisted on hummus and phone calls from friends and family. I was homesick and wondering why I hadn’t just taken a job at the mall until I figured the rest of it out.

Eventually the training ended, I found a place to stay, and I bought a little red Ford Aspire without power steering. I wound up loving my classroom and the students in it. I have amazing memories of playing Paul Simon for the kids while they did art projects, being thanked with hand-picked flowers by the parents of a challenging student, and labeling and creating a database of books in the classroom’s library.

I also participated in five National Days of Service, doing things like cleaning the school’s garden in the rain, picking up trash along a road in town, walking in the Human Race, and pulling out an old fence in a new city park. The work was hard and by the end of the day I was bone-tired, but those memories make me smile.

More than that, I learned to be resourceful and independent. I learned how to connect with people who had little in common with me, and how to work around difficult personalities. I also learned to live on what barely passes as an income. Bars and restaurants and other outings were out of the question, so I made do with nights in playing board games. It was during this time that I learned to cook.

By the time my year in AmeriCorps was over, I’d applied to and earned acceptance into a Museum Studies program in England. I figured that if I could move across the country sight unseen I could move across the pond. I sometimes think that California was a bigger adjustment for this small-town girl than Europe was.

I now hold a position in Development at UCLA, which I love. It’s often struck me that during every interview I’ve ever had I’m asked to talk about something I’m most proud of. Of all the things I’ve done, of all the things I could talk about, I inevitably go back to my time with CalSERVES.

Oh, and I did marry that boy.

by Loni Rocchio, CalSERVES AmeriCorps Alumnus

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wright Charter Celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.

8th grade students share facts about MLK’s early life with the 4th graders
When planning how to celebrate the life of MLK this year, it was a goal of mine that every staff member on our team would have the chance to participate in helping share his story. That can be a very difficult task when you are attempting to incorporate MLK into Healthy Behaviors or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) tutoring. With the help of my trusty Team Leader, Megan Waring, we went about brainstorming a plan. What ended up transpiring was a truly unforgettable day.

--> The 3rd grade STEM tutoring groups MLK decorations.
We came up with the plan that each of the after school classes would participate in a mini “March on Wright.” Our HB tutor took her students around the school and mapped out 0.8 miles, the exact distance of MLK’s “March on Washington.” Our 7th and 8th grade students planned out stops along the walk that were major points of MLK’s life: early life, pastor years, Montgomery Bus Boycott, March on Washington, Voting Rights Law and assassination. The after school classes walked the March and stopped at each station to learn a little something about his life. The March ended at our school cafeteria that had been decorated with “Paint by Numbers” posters created by the STEM tutoring students. Parents awaited the students’ arrival where we all enjoyed songs and poems inspired by the life of MLK.

--> A Dream Catcher created by our CalPREP mentor, Cherilyn Smail, and her 5th and 6th grade students complete with feathers of each students dream for their future.
Once the final applause had died down, a parent approached us and said “Thank you for all that you do. We’re so lucky to have such a wonderful program like yours.” It was the perfect cap to an incredible afternoon at #thefarm.

The 2nd graders perform “Martin Luther had a Dream”.

by Taylor Ford, Site Supervisor at Wright Charter

Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

On Monday, January 20, 2014, as most of the country observed Martin Luther King Day with a day off, our dedicated CalSERVES AmeriCorps members had a Day ON. They participated in giving back to the community - cleaning up parks, planting gardens, and making a difference in the community around the schools where our programs are.

Read more about the activities of the day here in this Press Democrat article.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Making a Difference: Sonoma County

This is the final post in a series of 4 in which we will be highlighting the amazing efforts of CalSERVES Programs in their Make a Difference Day projects. Each project involved a host of AmeriCorps members and volunteers and provided needed services to the communities in which are programs are hosted.

October 26th was Make a Difference Day, and CalSERVES AmeriCorps members throughout Sonoma County enthusiastically joined together to create a change in their local communities. In projects that ranged from renovating school gardens to supporting a local charity, our members volunteered their time, their energy, and their resources.

The morning and early afternoon was busy and productive for all CalSERVES AmeriCorps members, but we weren’t done for the day. Instead, we joined forces with the Santa Rosa YMCA to help support a Halloween carnival that evening, where thirteen of our members from all over the county, welcoming local families to celebrate the holiday in a safe and fun way.

Some members manned the haunted house, where they could scare gigging children, or helped set up squishy spaghetti guts, gooey grape eyeballs, or spooky skeletons. Some kept a close eye on the silliness that was flying off the walls, ceiling, and floor of the bouncy house. Others designed bright and colorful posters, or artfully organized and restocked a crafts table. Even more spent the evening helping the multitude of game booths, setting them up so families could knock ‘em down! Our members were invited to dress up while volunteering, but in an embarrassing coincidence, they all wore the same costume: an eager and committed AmeriCorps member. Next year we’ll have to make sure we coordinate our costumes more efficiently!

 Two weeks later, Bellevue Elementary got to have a slightly delayed Make a Difference Day! Team Leader Vicente Sosa said:
Make a Difference Day at Bellevue was by far one of the most successful and rewarding experiences I have ever encountered in my service with CalSERVES. The most inspiring aspect of Beautify Bellevue was having Bellevue teachers and staff, along with Stony Point Academy Students, join our vision. One of the other CalSERVES sites, Kawana Elementary, even came to pitch in! We worked in sync and attacked every part of our school site in teams, from painting murals and repainting playground guidelines to weeding and planting our garden. The laughs, smiles and hearts of our community came together on Saturday, November 9th to help our school site.

 We would like to thank a few organizations and individuals that donated to helping us succeed on our many Make a Difference Day projects: Sherwin-Williams, Kelly Moore, Café des Croissants, Cavalier Bakery, and Clara Crews. It takes a whole community to make a difference, and we're grateful to have joined them in that effort.

By Elizabeth Sheffer, Sonoma County AmeriCorps Regional Leader

Thursday, December 12, 2013

CalSERVES Makes a Difference: Taylor Mountain

This is the third post in a series of 4 in which we will be highlighting the amazing efforts of CalSERVES Programs in their Make a Difference Day projects. Each project involved a host of AmeriCorps members and volunteers and provided needed services to the communities in which are programs are hosted.

With only a small team on Make a Difference Day, Taylor Mountain had the challenge of accomplishing some big projects! We all worked really hard together and had great communication and spirit. We never lost sight of our goal that day, to get the garden ready for new planting. We worked while laughing, talking and sometimes just quietly getting the job done. We took out most of the weeds that were around our classrooms, as well as pruning the rose bush that the principal had requested. Because of the much-needed trim, we found a fire hydrant and memorial plaque!

We also cleared all of the unruly plants and bushes that were growing next to our classroom and the back area near our shed. This area was so out of control that we accumulated ten whole garbage bags of weeds and overgrown plants! The garden area was shaped up and cleared, making way for the plants and harvest. In the end, Taylor Mountain looked more presentable and clean. A couple teachers who were working in their classrooms encouraged us as we were working; it was really nice to hear. We ended the day proud of the work that we accomplished, and left with a tired but happy attitude –we knew that we made a difference that day.

By Yesenia Garcia,  Taylor Mountain AmeriCorps Team Leader


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