Judith Verdin’s hope for a career in wildfire mitigation being aided by classes put on by nonprofit
By HARRY HARRIS | Bay Area News Group
HAYWARD — Dreams can come true.
They have so far for Judith Verdin, who is seeing her dream of a career in wildfire mitigation coming closer to reality.
Through Oakland nonprofit Civicorps, the 27-year-old Hayward resident was placed into the inaugural Community Trainee Program at East Bay Municipal Utility District, a unique one-year pilot program that hires trainees from partnering workforce development agencies that serve underutilized populations.
The program provides hands-on training plus experience. The goal is to prepare trainees to qualify for permanent civil service jobs at EBMUD or other agencies in the water/wastewater industry, said EBMUD spokesperson Andrea Pook.
“I’m doing something I like and I am going to see how far I can go,” Verdin said. “My family is proud and happy for me and that is what matters the most.”
It’s only one example of the ways in which Civicorps helps young people find their footing.
Civicorps was founded in 1983 in Oakland as the East Bay Conservation Corp. It has helped thousands of people over the years, delivering work-based learning, college and career readiness preparation, and wrap-around support to over 250 youth annually in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, spokeswoman Rachel Eisner said.
The non-profit’s mission is to re-engage young adults, age 18-26, to earn their high school diplomas, gain job skills, pursue college, and embark on family sustaining careers. It envisions a world where all youth have the education and resources needed for career success.
Many youth who join Civicorps have experienced multiple barriers to their success including systemic racism, homelessness, and poverty. Their most urgent concerns are food security, securing stable, affordable housing and childcare, and obtaining upwardly mobile employment.
Civicorps hopes to raise $15,000 through the East Bay Times’ Share the Spirit program to help pay the salary of a lead case counselor, who provides trauma-informed counseling, conflict resolution, social services support, and case management to its participants.
Verdin said she could not believe her luck when she was accepted into EBMUD’s trainee program in April. She always had a love of nature — something she says was nurtured by working with her father on his landscaping jobs — and hoped for a career in wildfire mitigation.
It was while working for the Oakland Zoo last year as a custodian when wildfires were raging all over California that she made her move.
“The wildfires were pretty bad,” she said. “I wanted to do something to help nature and reduce fire danger.”
Despite her intent, Verdin said, she had difficulty finding a place that would give her the training and experience she would need. Plus, she was not getting much support from some of those close to her who thought such careers were more suited to men.
She heard about Civicorps, which focuses on conservation and recycling, and started learning as much as she could about the organization.
When she saw its Conservation Career Pathways Program, she said she thought it was “too good to be true.” She joined the corps less than a year ago with a goal of finding her career choice. Now, as a participant in the yearlong EBMUD training program, she is building her skills, learning how to network and gaining confidence through physical work and classes Monday through Friday.
She has learned CPR, computer and safety skills, and also trained for an outdoor career, learning how to secure a heavy tractor, identifying plants and trees and studying fire suppression and pest management. Two years ago she said she did not know how to use a power tool. Now she says she can take apart and reassemble a chain saw in a matter of minutes.
She and the other trainees will also go to different sites on EBMUD and other public agency properties with a mentor and do hands-on work like weed abatement, removing tree branches from standing or downed trees, mowing operations, creating trails and assisting with pesticide applications.
Verdin said she eventually wants to go back to school and study fire science, but for now she is hoping that her internship will turn into a full-time job,with EBMUD, in the field she loves.
“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished,” Verdin says, especially after having some doubts in her early stages of the training. “But I didn’t give up. I know I still have a lot to learn; you never stop learning.”
Verdin is also grateful for the role Civicorps has played in her life, and considers herself lucky they took her at age 26, the borderline for applicants.
“I’m really happy I found them. I would recommend them to others who are looking for a career. They’ve helped me in reaching my dream.”
Eisner said Civicorps is “extremely proud” of Verdin.
“She seized every opportunity presented to her,” Eisner said. “She really became a model of the work we do.”
How to Help
Donations will help Civicorps pay the salary of a lead case counselor, who provides trauma-informed counseling, conflict resolution, social services support, and case management to its participants annually.
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