From Fresno to Washington D.C., two very hardworking students from Fresno EOC Local Conservation Corps (LCC) had the opportunity to attend a National Leadership Conference. The conference brought together over 50 students from across the country who share similar backgrounds.
For the last 35 years, the YouthBuild USA AmeriCorps Conference of Young Leaders (CoYL) has played a crucial role in bringing YouthBuild students together to engage in the global YouthBuild movement focused on leadership, service, education, and job skills training.
Ezekiel Thomas and Alize Mendez were chosen to attend the conference based on their attendance and dedication to their schoolwork and being examples of what AmeriCorps members are.
Mendez, a part of the Recycling Program at LCC, shared her excitement, “I was excited and nervous when I found out I was going to D.C. because It was first time flying on a plane and traveling that far.”
Throughout the three-day conference, Mendez found the different workshops to be the most rewarding part.
“I met other students in different states, so the number one thing I took from the conference is that many people go through different things, especially homelessness.” said Mendez.
This year’s theme was “Connecting Communities,” and students had the opportunity to discuss the significant issues in their home communities.
Mendez reflected, “I now understand that there are many reasons people become homeless. It’s not just about money; it can be from things like drugs, mental health, or being abandoned without opportunities.”
For Ezekiel, also in the Recycling Program, said this opportunity meant a lot to him. “I’ve made lifelong friends, and the things we learned at CoYL, I brought back to Fresno to share with other YouthBuild students.”
Ezekiel added that he never saw himself traveling soon, given his family’s living situation. “I come from a family stuck in poverty, and I’m the only one in my immediate family who has gotten this opportunity to fly across the country. I’m grateful for this experience,” he said. “My family was happy for me, even though they knew I’m afraid of heights, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity.”
After the conference, Ezekiel expressed his desire to educate the community more about drug use and homelessness.
“Poverty is a really big issue, and as someone that is experiencing it, I think if we found a way to push money into neighborhoods facing poverty, and teach them more about ways to get out of poverty, I don’t think it will be a big issue anymore.” said Thomas.
YouthBuild Fresno is a part of YouthBuild USA, which receives a grant from YouthBuild AmeriCorps, also a part of YouthBuild USA. YouthBuild AmeriCorps is all about improving communities and helps students do that when they join the program. By enrolling in the program and YouthBuild AmeriCorps simultaneously, students learn about their community’s needs and develop the mindset to address those needs. As they work on these needs, they gain leadership skills and become more employable by learning both soft skills and technical skills in areas like construction, recycling, trail building, and maintenance.
The National Leadership Conference serves as a remarkable platform for students like Ezekiel and Alize to broaden their horizons and bring their newfound knowledge back to their communities.