How California is using the pandemic to build its own Peace Corps

The Californian brand does not emphasize connection. Single-family homes, single-occupant vehicles — we’re all meant to be hardy indivi...


The Californian brand does not emphasize connection. Single-family homes, single-occupant vehicles — we’re all meant to be hardy individuals in the Golden State.

But in my experience — even in this polarized, traumatized, socially distant moment — a tremendous amount of pitching and reaching out and general finagling to be together is going on here. Beach cleanups. Food banks. Baths for birds caught in oil spills, glasses for myopic schoolchildren. Zoom choirs. I’ll never forget, decades ago, walking out after my first major earthquake to a chorus of Southern California neighbors in dark backyards who called out to each other, “Are you okay? Is everyone okay?

Over the past couple of weeks, a slew of initiatives aimed at facilitating this kind of engagement have been launched by California Volunteers, a public service commission that, prior to Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration, primarily administered federal AmeriCorps funding from the state. Tens of thousands of young Californians will be involved.

Last week the commission announced a new Californians for all academic bodies, a kind of state GI bill for volunteer work, offering $10,000 tuition grants to some 6,500 students to work part-time on climate change, food insecurity and tutoring programs. On Thursday, he unveiled a Youth Employment Corps in more than a dozen California cities to employ tens of thousands of underserved youth in community service.

At a press conference, Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland said the youth jobs program would support nearly 350 summer and full-time jobs in his city; Mayor Jerry Dyer said Fresno would focus on hiring at-risk youth; Mayor Robert Garcia promised ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of climate initiative concerts in Long Beach; and Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would leverage the funds to underwrite some 20,000 community service jobs for young Angelenos.

Youth Job Corps is being paid with $185 million in federal stimulus funds; the College Corps, to begin this fall at 45 public and private university campuseswill be funded by a mix of $146 million in state and federal stimulus appropriations and AmeriCorps dollars.

Overseeing the two will be State Services Director and California Volunteer Leader Josh Fryday, whom I met with this week. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

California Volunteers is suddenly everywhere. What happened?

AmeriCorps is a federal program, and when I joined, all of our funds were federal funds. But Governor Newsom has made significant investments using public funds to increase the number of AmeriCorps positions and to expand volunteer opportunities in California. For example, California increased the education award for AmeriCorps service from $6,000 to $10,000 in scholarships per year of service. And state money has built our infrastructure for volunteer programs.

What kind of programs?

The state has invested heavily through the commission in keeping food banks operational in California during the pandemic. We operate the California Climate Action Corpsin which we funded 132 full-time positions for young people fire prevention and urban greening works and other climate projects. And we launched a initiative between neighbors with Nextdoor as a partner to create networks for neighbors to monitor each other during natural disasters and power outages for public safety.

So what will the Youth Job Corps add?

This is a new collaboration between California Volunteers and local governments. The first phase will be $150 million in the 13 largest cities in the state, with funding determined by population, and it will be flexible: some will do summer jobs, others full-time, but this will be meaningful jobs in the communities. like Covid-19 recovery and climate action. We’re really targeting low-income, unemployed youth, youth in trouble with the law, adoptive youth in transition—underserved populations. A second phase will invest $35 million in small towns and villages.

And the Corps College?

If, during your studies, you commit to one year of service, you receive in return the $10,000 scholarship, professional training and of course professional skills and professional networks. Many students will also receive academic credit. We are also proud to offer this opportunity to Dreamers, who have historically been excluded from national service programs. The $10,000 is not arbitrary. This is the amount a Pell Grant recipient typically needs to find in a financial aid program. It is therefore a complete program to train civic leaders while helping them pay for their studies. It’s different from AmeriCorps because it’s a full-time job, usually for people who aren’t in college. This is for students who are still in school.

Can these programs last if they use federal stimulus money?

We believe this is important for reducing student debt and fostering a generation of Californians who understand the concept of service. If these programs are successful, we hope to return to the Legislative Assembly for additional funding. We’re looking to both grow that in California and make it a model for the country.

That’s definitely a lot of civic action.

To give you an idea of ​​the scale, the College Corps alone will involve 6,500 young people. That’s about the size of the set Peace Corps.


Today’s travel tip comes from Barbara Moran:

“We recently rented a farmhouse in Mendocino, a few miles inland but still less than 10 minutes from town – far enough to avoid the summer fog while we enjoyed our deck and yard . We used this vantage point to explore north and south along the coast and spent a day touring the wonderful wineries along Route 128.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Send your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.


Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers for the NFC Championship, baby. Sundays at 3:30 p.m. Pacific on Fox.


We add to our California Soundtracka playlist of songs that speak or evoke the Golden State.

If you have a suggestion, please email me at CAtoday@nytimes.com with the name of the song and a few sentences explaining why you think it should be selected.


Almost half a century later the first victim was found lying at the water’s edge off Ocean Beach in San Francisco, police announced Thursday that they double the reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the “Doodler”, a notorious serial killer who terrorized the city’s gay community in the 1970s, to $200,000.

The momentum? New attention to the unsolved mystery, generated in part by a eight part podcast and in seven parts series of stories in The San Francisco Chronicle which, according to the newspaper, “is attracting international attention and generating dozens of promising tips”.


Thanks for reading. We will be back on Monday. Have a good week-end.

PS Here today’s mini crosswordand a clue: “The big brother of the blues”, according to BB King (4 letters).

Soumya Karlamangla, Jonah Candelario and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can join the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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Newsrust - US Top News: How California is using the pandemic to build its own Peace Corps
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