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Two men with harnesses on hold a solar panel. Behind them is an aerial view of trees and the tops of houses.
Working with Conservation Corps of Long Beach and installing solar panels for GRID Alternatives inspired Ryan Shelton to enter the solar industry.
Photo: Conservation Corps of Long Beach
Volunteering & Giving
October 1, 2020

Helping at-risk youth connect to their communities

Since 2017, Wells Fargo has supported the Conservation Corps of Long Beach in connecting young adults to their communities through work, service, education, and conservation.

When Ryan Shelton was 19 years old, he was incarcerated for the second time and wondered how he could find a job with two felonies on his record. He had entered the foster care system a few years before and said he didn’t have the guidance he needed in his teenage years.

About a month before he was released from prison, an instructor for a class he was taking told him about Conservation Corps of Long Beach, which connects young adults to their communities through work, service, education, and conservation in partnership with local, state, and federal organizations.

“When I joined Conservation Corps, people motivated me, and slowly, with that encouragement, I started building confidence and thinking bigger,” Shelton said.

Five years later, Shelton is now working in the solar industry, pursuing a college degree, saving up to buy a home with his wife, and has started a nonprofit to give back to others like himself.

‘Building them up so they can realize their potential’

Since 2017, Wells Fargo has donated $217,000 to Conservation Corps of Long Beach. “We support organizations like Conservation Corps of Long Beach because they provide access and opportunities to at-risk youth, giving them a chance, removing barriers, and building them up so they can realize their potential and have a fulfilling future as they become adults,” said Linda Nguyen, Community Relations senior consultant for Wells Fargo in Greater Los Angeles.

While working for Conservation Corps of Long Beach, Shelton planted trees and did trail maintenance in a local forest, in addition to sweeping the streets and changing trash cans liners in Long Beach, California.

“You’re supposed to utilize the opportunities they give you,” Shelton said. “For me, that was solar. When I was working with Conservation Corps, we didn’t do anything solar related, but when it’s 100 degrees and you’re picking up trash, it changes your mindset.”

Shelton began interning and working full-time installing solar panels for GRID Alternatives, which has a partnership with Conservation Corps of Long Beach and is also supported by Wells Fargo. Now, he is pursuing an associate’s degree in electrical construction and maintenance and is working as an apprentice electrician for Xero Solar, where he is responsible for installing solar panels and batteries. As a new board member for Conservation Corps of Long Beach, Shelton also helps connect potential job candidates from Conservation Corps of Long Beach with Xero Solar.

“Every now and then, you get a young person that motivates you as a mentor,” said Kedrin Hopkins, director of Corpsmember Development for Conservation Corps of Long Beach. “That is somebody like Ryan who knows what they want to do and doesn’t let mistakes hold them back. Working with people like him is why we do what we do.”

‘We run to disaster’

On the left, two people bend down to use a power tool and hold the wooden beam. On the right, several people lift up the wooden beams of a wall.
Crews for the Conservation Corps of Long Beach work in Lakewood, California.
Photo: Conservation Corps of Long Beach

This year, Conservation Corps of Long Beach is continuing its work in the community and pivoting in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “As a conservation program, we generally don’t run from disaster,” said Dan Knapp, CEO of the organization. “We run to disaster. This is a little different because we want to run toward it, but we had to make sure we are as safe as possible.”

With a $25,000 grant from Wells Fargo, Conservation Corps has helped the city of Long Beach with testing facilities, creating a makeshift hospital, and setting up food banks and pantries. The organization has restricted operations and implemented safety protocols and measures, like requiring its participants to wear masks and having smaller, staggered work crews, Knapp said.

“We’ve been very busy, but the busier we got, the more difficult the resources were to secure,” Knapp said. “We appreciate Wells Fargo’s support.”

Nguyen said Wells Fargo is proud to help with the effort. “Like family, their corpsmembers are there for the community when there is tremendous need brought on by a natural disaster or crisis,” she said.

‘My plan is to give men what I had’

An image shows a couple standing outside, with their arms around each other, as they smile at each other, and the image next to it shows the man standing at a podium in a suit while smiling.
Ryan Shelton with his wife, Camila. Shelton received The Corps Network’s 2020 Corpsmember of the Year award at the organization’s annual conference in February.
Photo: Ryan Shelton and Voices for National Service

Shelton is continuing his desire to give back as he sets up his own nonprofit, K. Nyumbani, which is short for “Karibu Nyumbani” or “welcome home” in Swahili. He also wants to build a tiny home community for young men to live in rent-free while building tiny homes, training in trades while getting paid, and receiving financial education and mental health services. The overall goal is to ease the integration process from incarceration back into society.

Shelton, who had his record expunged in 2018, knows how important it is to have opportunities and encouragement, and he’s hoping to do the same for others.

“At the end of the day, I want to put men in a position where they’re comfortable to open up and really take advantage of the community setting, the same thing I had,” Shelton said. “My plan is to give men what I had.”

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