The #CaliforniansForAll College Corps program commenced Sept. 22, with 195 Cal Poly students sworn into the service organization. The selected volunteers, called fellows, will serve local organizations under three main umbrellas: K-12 education, food insecurity and climate action.
Program manager for AmeriCorps projects Allison Priola is part of a team of three that runs the program at Cal Poly. She said this year, the Corps program partnered with 10 organizations, including San Luis Coastal Unified School District, City Farm SLO and the SLO Climate Coalition.
Students can take on a number of different positions within the partner organization to which they are assigned.
“At our food pantry at Cal Poly, [fellows] are helping with anything from keeping the shelves stocked to welcoming students and to helping with CalFresh,” Priola said.
Leslie O’Connor, director of secondary school and adult education for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, gave thanks to the program during a speech at the launch party.
“We couldn’t do the programs we’re doing without [the fellows]” O’Connor said.
Priola said that bilingual fellows leave a particularly lasting impression on students in the district.
“[The kids are] seeing students who look like them or speak their language and that’s giving them vision for their future for college,” Priola said.
The College Corp program services the community, but it also benefits the fellows. They receive a living stipend, an Education Award to use for their tuition and training to improve their professional skills.
The fellows are enrolled in a class taught by the AmeriCorps team that often trains them in professional skills. Skills range from creating a resume to networking or goal setting.
The College Corps program is open to all students but geared toward first-generation and lower-income students, according to Priola. She said that the program is also a unique example of the state of California acknowledging the need to provide opportunities for undocumented students to volunteer and get professional development
“I really love that about the program that whether you’re documented or undocumented, you have an opportunity to do this program,” Priola said.
In addition to financial and professional support, Priola said the program provides students with the ability to put action into their words and passions. She said that students have always been activists, but do not always have tangible ways to make a difference.
“The climate action [work] is really giving students a platform,” Priola said. “[They go] from caring about sustainable practices to actually getting to inform the community.”
The swear-in ceremony was part of a launch party celebrating the beginning of the second year of the program. The program is part of a larger state-wide initiative, so the party also served as a way to welcome and connect fellows from Cal Poly, Cuesta College and Allan Hancock College.
The launch featured speeches from administrators from all three colleges, staff at the partner organizations and former fellows, as well as a a video from California Governor Gavin Newsom. Priola said this was a reminder that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
“[They’re] not just a Cal Poly College Corp fellow, but they’re a college corp fellow for the whole state,” Priola said.