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California needs more young people in community service, leaders say. Here’s how Valley college students are stepping up

Students from UC Merced are a part of of the College Corps, which is run by the California Service Corp and Josh Fryday (center), the California Chief Service Officer.
Rachel Livinal
Students from UC Merced are a part of of the College Corps, which is run by the California Service Corp and Josh Fryday (center), the California Chief Service Officer.

MERCED, Calif. — Sarahi Castaneda spent a recent Wednesday morning filling metal trays with red and brown paint, handing her fellow students gloves and paint rollers to repaint benches and curbs at Yosemite Lake.

In her second year at UC Merced, for Castaneda the activity is part of a service-based fellowship that directly works for communities in the San Joaquin Valley.

“I always dreamed about bettering the communities that I came from and increasing the resources that they do have,” Castaneda said.

The service activity at the lake, which is just a short walk away from the university, was in preparation for Earth Day.

Castaneda, 21, said it’s her second year in the program specifically for college students that’s part of the California Service Corp. Students who participate are placed with a nonprofit organization working in kindergarten through 12th grade education, food insecurity or climate action. They provide at least 450 hours of service, and in return, receive $10,000 toward cost of living or their education.

The College Corps program is just one of them provided in the San Joaquin Valley, and now, the service corps is asking for 1,000 more volunteers to service the region through College Corps, California Climate Action Corps, Youth Job Corps or AmeriCorps California.

It’s part of an initiative brought on by Gov. Gavin Newsom to get 10,000 volunteers for the state, adding to the largest service corps in the nation.

Giving back to the community

Students from UC Merced and Fresno State participated in the park beautification event Wednesday.
Rachel Livinal
Students from UC Merced and Fresno State participated in the park beautification event Wednesday.

Josh Fryday, California Service Corps chief service officer, said there are three benefits to the programs: paid opportunities for young people who volunteer and that allow them to pursue their passions, lifting up the community and creating the workforce of the future.

UC Merced Chancellor Juan Munoz said at a Wednesday press conference that service is conducive to learning and a prime component for the growth of Merced..

“The mission of the University of California since its founding in 1868 has been teaching research and public service,” Munoz said. “We often overlook the importance of that public service component in the service category.”

Castaneda has traveled to Madera and the unincorporated town of Snelling for her fellowship. When she was a little girl in Ceres, she experienced food insecurity and witnessed the pressures families endure from lack of cheap child care and little quality time spent together. But her experiences in the program have led her to connect and learn from the community in areas where she otherwise might not.

Castaneda said since UC Merced is on unincorporated land on the northern outskirts of the city, people in the county think the campus keeps students isolated, but the program allows them to get involved with the community.

Fryday said the launch of the college corps was also intended to provide jobs to everyone, including undocumented students. In January, the University of California voted to suspend consideration of a proposal that would allow the university to employ undocumented students who do not qualify for federal work authorization.

According to KQED, the regents instead offered to expand educational opportunities modeled after California College Corps.

Angelica Guadalupe, an undocumented UC Merced student, spoke at the press conference Wednesday.

“It's just hard to find opportunities for us,” Guadalupe told KVPR. “So finding college corps and finding ways to participate is very eye-opening and I believe it could be helpful for everybody because it helps you build on those career skills that you may need.”

Serving for their future

Both Castaneda and Guadalupe plan to continue nonprofit work in the Valley, something they said was encouraged through their work in College Corps.

“Corps is not just the money you're getting paid to do the work, but the social networks and the social capital that all of these service members are gaining,” Fryday said. “They're meeting people who end up hiring them.”

Fryday said many people who have participated end up becoming teachers, nurses, business leaders or skills trade workers for the area they served.

At the press conference, Fresno State student Adela Delores-Cruz said she is now planning to pursue her teaching credential in early childhood education after putting in more than 850 hours through a jumpstart program with the service corp.

Fresno State Jumpstart works on language literacy and social-emotional learning with preschool children and the Fresno community.

Fryday said this is a prime example of the outcomes the service corps brings.

“Adela reminds us in a powerful way that the California Service Corps not only helps us solve real big problems, not only connects us in our communities together, but also is training our future workforce for our state.”

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.