Getting to The Finish Line: A Clean & Green Program Story

When a young person enters his/her first job experience, there’s bound to be several lessons ahead. The Clean & Green Program is no exception, as it’s often a Corpsmember’s first job and first opportunity to earn a paycheck. This program, funded through the City of Los Angeles and the individual LA City Council Districts, focuses on developing a solid work ethic, patience, effective communication, working well in a team, valuing accountability, believing in one’s own abilities and building leadership.  

“I didn’t know how to use any of the tools on my first day—I didn’t even know how to use the rake!” shares Clean & Green Corpsmember Diego.  He says, “I started studying my Crew Supervisor to learn how to do things and then I started jumping in to help. Sometimes you doubt yourself because it’s a lot of work.  You have to have good expectations and not put yourself down. I learned you have to show initiative. Someone is always watching, even if you don’t think so. I love the job. It’s everything you don’t expect.” 

The opportunity to earn a diploma while working at the Corps is what makes the difference for some Corpsmembers.  They are able to pair their work project obligations with a class schedule at our Los Angeles Education Corps partner, Saito High School.  “When I was younger, I used to say school was for suckas! I regret that. I eventually realized that window shopping all the time and being broke wasn’t good,” confesses Diego. “Everyone is out here trying to survive. If you don’t have a diploma, it’s hard to get a job. When I went to Saito to get my classes taken care of, I was happy to learn that I could have a job with the Corps while I worked on my diploma.  It’s a blessing for me. Not only am I finishing school, but I’m making money.  And I’m going to get my diploma. I’m going to walk the stage. I never thought I’d do that. I’m thankful for everything.” 

As a member of Clean & Green, Corpsmembers build a sense of kinship and a greater awareness about conservation through interactive teambuilding and leadership activities, environmental education programming, and hands-on community beautification work throughout the City of LA. Diego says, “You really mature and grow up around your crew—it feels good being a part of a team. It’s motivating to see their work and put in my work, too.” Diego has watched his brother Juan elevate from being a Corpsmember to becoming a supervisor on staff at the Corps.  He adds, “I’d like to tell a lot of young people to join the Corps. It will help you change.”  

A highlight for Clean & Green Corpsmembers is their participation in a team building challenge course at Fulcrum Adventures in Culver City.  Diego shares, “I have a good support system here. Everyone wants to see me on a good path. And I’ve overcome some fears here. At Fulcrum, I conquered my fear of heights by climbing a big tree. Everyone helped me and supported me to get to the top. When I got up, and everyone looked like ants down there, I wanted to face my fears.  So, I jumped down when they told me to, and I trusted the Crew Supervisors who were there. I felt good after.  I’d been waiting all my life to conquer my fear.  If I did that, it means I can do a lot of things. If I did it yesterday, I can do it again. It makes me confident. I thank my brother and my supervisor for encouraging me to do right.” 

Clean & Green Corpsmembers are collecting over 11,000 bags of trash, cleaning up close to three million pounds of garbage, clearing over one million square feet of weeds, and removing more than 18,000 illegally dumped bulky items from more than 6,000 of Los Angeles’ streets and alleys. Looking closer, it’s apparent that these numbers don’t tell the full story. When their youthful energy is unleashed and guided by caring, committed Corps staff, each Corpsmember’s efforts are a step on their journey to future ambitions and goals. Their desire to learn and grow as individuals with unlimited potential fuels them to show up at 7am every morning, eager and willing to do some of the dirtiest work in the community—work that revitalizes so many areas of the city.  Block by block, street by street, they feel good about being a part of something bigger than themselves.