Civicorps’ Kiara Alexis was honored this week as one of six national Corpsmember of the Year award recipients at the Corps Network 2018 National Conference in Washington, DC.
Watch Kiara share her story in an inspiring speech. As a mother, an author, a recycling driver, and now a union apprentice with Waste Management, Kiara has become a role model to other women who want to enter this male-dominated field.
While in DC, Kiara has been meeting with other Corpsmembers and leaders from across the country as well as meeting our representatives like Congresswoman Barbara Lee!
From left to right: Brian Hickey, CFO; Alan Lessik, Executive Director;Congresswoman Barbara Lee, 13th District; Kiara Alexis; Yvette Arroyo-Agradano, Career Pathways Coordinator
My name is Kiara Alexis and I’m From Oakland, CA.
Growing up in Oakland, CA was pretty rough for me. My mother was a single parent raising four children on her own. The neighborhood was corrupted by drugs, gangs and violence but this was no excuse for my siblings and I to fall short and become a product of our environment. Although my mother worked, we had very little and it still amazes me how she managed to keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. Watching her work so hard, always putting her children first, instilled hard work and selflessness in my heart.
From the time I was in junior high school I had a dream, a mission, a goal to become a wealthy woman.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be or do, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be well off, living on the other side of town, in my dream home, with a husband and two children and a cute Yorkie named Sweet Pea. But this dream was almost shattered when my sixth grade P.E. teacher told us that “If your parents are poor, then you’ll be poor too.”
I almost allowed this to totally destroy my motivation and self-worth, but there was something inside me that kept telling me not to heed that message. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I knew that I would find a way. So I set my mind on learning everything I could in order to find my calling. I’ve worked with children… I’ve worked in the food industry… I’ve done clerical work… and now I have the opportunity to work in the recycling industry. Each opportunity has served a great purpose and has increased my knowledge and capabilities in becoming the woman I am today.
Out of all my previous job positions, recycling was the only one I thought I wouldn’t last long in. I mean it’s a pretty dirty job, and dirt has never been a friend of mine. So how did I, a woman, find my way to this dangerous, male dominated industry? Well, let me tell you a little story.
I was nineteen years old, a newlywed with a one-year old daughter who had needs beyond which I could provide. I was also released from my job, so the pressure was really on. This was unacceptable to me so I began seeking employment every single day. I searched high and low for anyone to hire me. As I began to feel hopeless, I even considered joining the NAVY. It seemed like everything in my life started going downhill. Joining the NAVY was something that I had considered before, but now I had a family and I couldn’t make a decision like that so quickly- this option was ruled out. I began to wonder why I hadn’t been called back for any positions: I had no criminal background and a pretty good work history. This hopelessness and stress continued for almost six months until I finally applied for a position at Civicorps. They called me back quickly with an interview date. At that moment I saw a ray of hope beaming in my direction.
Upon accepting the Corpsmember position, I had no idea what great possibilities Civicorps had to offer me. Although I was told how they could help me progress in life; like being able to earn Americorps Education Awards, get my Commercial Driver’s License and to get forklift certified, I just wasn’t too confident I would fit in, or if I could even last in a field like this. The manual labor and smelly uniform was enough to make me run for the door, but the fact that I needed this opportunity, and my responsibility as a mother sank in. So I put on my big girl pants and, as my mother says, “handled my business”. My mother also told me that I wouldn’t be able to make it in life just by being pretty; she told me I would have to get my hands dirty sometimes and this enlightenment was so on time.
Although her words weren’t always easy to swallow, she had a way of preparing me for life: thanks, momma. Listening to her words and taking a chance on myself, I was able to turn my whole life around. I worked from the bottom to the top – as a sorter on the recycling line, then a helper on the waste collection trucks. I obtained my Commercial Driver’s License permit, but I ended up leaving the Corps because I got pregnant with my son. I found employment with a transportation company, where I got my Class B Commercial Driver’s License with a passenger endorsement. Although I appreciated my time with this company, my heart was in maneuvering my Civicorps truck through the East Bay, so to the Corps I went. They welcomed me with open arms, and this is where I was thankful that I had kept a good rapport with them, because if I had not, this probably wouldn’t have happened.
The next challenge for me was obtaining my air brakes certification. That test is such a bugger, but not impossible. I say that because it took me all three chances to finally pass, but through my failed attempts, my Civicorps family never gave up on me even when I said “Nope, I’m not doing it again!” They encouraged me to keep on trying until I got it and I did!
During my time at Civicorps I earned AmeriCorps Education Awards and have already put them to use at the community college. I’ve also earned the respect of my community: everyone is impressed when they realize it’s a woman in the cockpit of my 23,000 lb work truck. Random people just walk up and tell me what an excellent job I’m doing, and some are amazed at how well I’m able to maneuver my truck and handle those heavy carts. When children see the truck approaching, they are so excited and they wave at you like you’re a movie star. It’s incredible! I have created so many great memories during my time at Civicorps, but the one I will always remember is the first time I fell behind schedule on my route and I reached out for help from the other drivers. I remember looking up to see not only one truck, but two trucks there to help me. My coworkers jumped out of their trucks saying, “We got your back! We won’t leave you out here by yourself!” This memory replays repeatedly in my mind as a clear demonstration of teamwork, and it was also the beginning of a lasting friendship between my coworkers and me.
Through Civicorps’ partnerships, I now work for Waste Management, a blue-collar job that pays lots of green dollars! With that money I plan to do great things for my community. I have hopes of one day opening a community center to refocus the minds of the youth, spread love, and motivate greatness. I have also written my first children’s book, which will be published. As for my family and me, our dream home – the dream home that almost never was- will be paid for, as will a good education for both my children. I look forward to planning annual camping trips and family vacations, too. Thanks to Civicorps I am happy to say that I will now be able to give my children the life I didn’t have growing up.