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California Today: California’s Own Peace Corps


California’s brand doesn’t emphasize connection. Single-family homes, single-occupant vehicles — we’re supposedly all rugged individuals in the Golden State.

But in my experience — even in this polarized, traumatized, socially distant moment — a huge amount of pitching in and reaching out and general finagling to be together goes on here. Beach cleanups. Food banks. Baths for birds caught in oil spills, glasses for nearsighted schoolchildren. Zoom choirs. I’ll never forget, decades ago, stepping outside after my first major earthquake to a chorus of Southern California neighbors in darkened yards calling out to one another: “Are you OK? Is everybody OK?”

In the past two weeks, a bunch of initiatives aimed at facilitating that kind of engagement have rolled out from California Volunteers, a commission on public service that, before Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, mainly just administered the state’s federal AmeriCorps funding. Tens of thousands of young Californians will be involved.

Last week, the commission announced a new Californians for All College Corps, a kind of state G.I. Bill for volunteer work, offering $10,000 tuition subsidies for some 6,500 college students to work part time on climate change, food insecurity and tutoring programs. On Thursday, it unveiled a Youth Job Corps in more than a dozen California cities to employ tens of thousands of underserved young people in community service.

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

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

Overseeing both will be the state’s chief service officer and head of California Volunteers, Josh Fryday, whom I connected with this week. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

California Volunteers is suddenly all over the place. What happened?

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

What sort of programs?

The state has invested considerably through the commission in keeping food banks operational in California during the pandemic. We operate the California Climate Action Corps, in which we’ve funded 132 full-time positions for young people to do fire prevention work and urban greening and other climate projects. And we have launched a neighbor-to-neighbor initiative with Nextdoor as a partner to create networks for neighbors to check on each other during natural disasters and public safety power shut-offs.

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 state’s 13 biggest cities, with funding determined by population, and it will be flexible: Some will do summer jobs, some will do full time, but they’ll be meaningful jobs in the communities in things like Covid-19 recovery and climate action. We’re really targeting young people who are low income, unemployed, justice-involved, transitioning foster youth — underserved populations. A second phase will put $35 million into smaller cities and towns.

And the College Corps?

If, while you’re in school, you commit to a year’s service, in return you receive the $10,000 scholarship, job training and of course job skills and professional networks. Many students will also be receiving academic credit. We are also proud to offer this opportunity to Dreamers, who historically have been excluded from national service programs. The $10,000 isn’t arbitrary. It’s the amount a Pell Grant recipient typically has to come up with themselves in a financial aid package. So it’s a comprehensive program to train civic leaders while helping them pay for college. It’s different than AmeriCorps because that’s full-time work, usually for people who are out of college. This is for students who are still in school.

Can these programs last if they’re using federal stimulus money?

We think this is important to decreasing student debt and to fostering a generation of Californians who understand the concept of serving. If these programs are successful, we hope to go back to the Legislature for additional funding. We’re looking both to grow this in California and to make it a model for the country.

It’s certainly a lot of civic action.

To give you a sense of scale, the College Corps alone will involve 6,500 young people. That’s roughly the size of whole Peace Corps.


Today’s travel tip comes from Barbara Moran:

“We recently rented a farmhouse in Mendocino, a couple of miles inland but still under 10 minutes from the town — far enough away to avoid summer fog while we enjoyed our deck and yard. We used that vantage point to explore north and south along the coast, and spent a day visiting the wonderful wineries along Highway 128.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.


Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers for the N.F.C. Championship, baby. Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Pacific on Fox.


We’re adding to our California Soundtrack, a playlist of songs that are about 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 about why you think it should make the cut.


Nearly a half-century after the first victim was found lying at the water’s edge off Ocean Beach in San Francisco, the police announced on Thursday that they are doubling to $200,000 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.

The impetus? Fresh attention to the unsolved mystery, generated in part by an eight-part podcast and seven-part story series in The San Francisco Chronicle that the paper says is “attracting international attention and generating dozens of promising tips.”


Thanks for reading. We’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “The big brother of the blues,” per B.B. King (4 letters).

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

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