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Geneva Karwoski explains how Urban Corps can help you get work ready.

What is Urban Corps?

Urban Corps is a certified local conservation corps and WASC-accredited charter high school that offers young adults a chance to earn their high school diploma while receiving paid job training in the green industry. The majority of youth employed at Urban Corps did not succeed in a traditional high school setting, and have little or no work experience. Our program provides our participants with meaningful work opportunities, high-quality education, and crucial support services to help them break the cycle of poverty and successfully transition to higher education, or the workforce.

Check out our website urbancorpssd.org.

Please give me an idea of some of the specific programs you offer.

All year, while at work on their personal and professional transformations, our Corps members work hard to make San Diego a better place to live. We have five primary departments: Recycling, Community Improvement Services, Graffiti, Environmental Services, and Green Building. Corps members circulate through the departments based on need, interest, and job performance. Project locations range from the wilds of Julian to the heart of downtown San Diego, and all involve bettering our community and environment. Some recent examples include removing invasive plants from the San Diego River in Santee, power-washing sidewalks in Pacific Beach, rebuilding trails at Cowles Mountain, and cleaning Petco Park after a Padres game. All of the work is hard, and a lot of it is dirty, so if you want to join Urban Corps, you’ve got to be willing to roll up your sleeves, put on your gloves, and get to work.

In addition to job training, our Corps members attend school for an hour after work each day, and for two full days a week. We go beyond traditional high school curricula to offer classes in life skills, environmental literacy, and driver’s training. Our Corps-to-Career department helps to prepare senior students to transition into the job market by assisting with resume and cover letter preparation, mock interviews, and college and financial aid applications. We have developed a great reputation in the community, and are often able to offer our graduates internships and job placements at agencies such as AECOM Environmental, Alvarado Hospital, One Earth Recycling Center, State Parks, Nuera Construction, and Downtown San Diego Partnership.

What kind of time and financial commitments do these programs require?

Urban Corps is a year-long program with rolling admissions. Some students (such as English language learners) may require more than a year to obtain their diploma, and may apply for a program extension.

There is no cost to attend Urban Corps. In fact, you’ll get paid when you’re at work. Corps members generally work 24 hours a week earning minimum wage, and are eligible for raises and promotions based on merit and completion of community service hours. You’ll also receive free breakfast, lunch, and a snack each day, and a reduced rate on a monthly trolley/ bus pass.

Who is eligible?

In order to be eligible for Urban Corps, applicants must be between the ages 18-25, and looking for an opportunity to earn a wage while attending school. We give priority to youth who need to obtain their high school diploma, but we also welcome high school graduates who are in need of additional training.  Our students are a diverse bunch with a variety of backgrounds; many have struggled with issues such as homelessness, incarceration, and teen parenthood, and some are international refugees. Some of our students simply need a fresh start. What connects Corps members is their desire for a better life.

And what kinds of candidates are you looking for?

Our goal is to provide an opportunity for youth who need a chance to change their lives. We know that our applicants are often new to the professional world, so we’re not going to turn anyone away for lack of experience, or wearing the wrong thing to their interview. That being said, in order to be successful in our program, you have really got to be ready to make a change. People who are not motivated don’t make it far, as we are very strict on issues like attendance, punctuality, and dress code. The benefit to this structure is that our program graduates have been instilled with a strong sense of discipline. Not only do you graduate from Urban Corps with a year’s worth of work experience to put on your resume, you will have also developed the soft skills that employers are looking for.

Care to share any success stories?

One of the great things about Urban Corps is that there is no shortage of success stories around here. Back in 1989, our first graduate left Urban Corps and then went on to pick up her bachelor’s and master’s degrees before returning, first as a teacher and now as our director of academics. Another graduate went on to earn an engineering degree and is now working as a defense contractor. One recent graduate started as a housekeeper, and is now managing the facilities department at a local hospital. Another is now earning $40.00 an hour as a union carpenter. About 85% of our graduates either enroll in school or find employment.

What is the application process?

Applications are accepted in-person Monday through Friday at our campus, which is located two blocks from the Old Town Trolley Station. For the initial application, you need to bring a state ID, social security card, and high school transcripts. Once the application is complete, your name will be placed on a waiting list for orientation. Orientations are generally offered monthly, and space is very limited.

Our orientation period, or Pre-Corps, is an unpaid period of time when you’ll begin to take classes at our charter school, and become familiar with our program. New Corps members generally remain in Pre-Corps for about a month before they are hired on to our crews.

Can you offer any advice for those interested in applying?

Before you sign up for Urban Corps, make sure you’re ready. Figure out childcare, transportation, and any other obstacles that may keep you from attending each and every day. There’s a long waiting list, so be patient and keep your contact information up-to-date. It never hurts to call and check on your application. One thing you’ll learn as you gain more experience in the job market is that persistence pays off.

Once you begin the program, try to start practicing professionalism. This means leaving your personal drama at home, unless you’re speaking with your counselor or case manager, and keeping a positive attitude. Urban Corps can be challenging, but so is any change that’s really worth making.

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