Ryan Shelton

Ryan Shelton speaks at Voices for National Service in February about his experience in AmeriCorps.

Ryan Shelton could have let bad choices define him. Instead, the young man who once led police on a car chase and landed in county jail has been selected to be a board member for the Conservation Corps of Long Beach.

Shelton is the first former Corps member to serve on the CCLB Board of Directors.

Sent to the Orange County Central Men’s Jail in 2015, the 19-year-old decided to turn his life around. Shelton said he taped a list of goals to the bedframe in his jail cell and enrolled in a class called “Back on Track.” One of the class instructors told him to visit the Conservation Corps of Long Beach (CCLB), a nonprofit youth development agency, when his sentence was up.

Initially, Shelton ignored this advice and sought employment from a series of temp agencies. But again and again, he found that his criminal record was limiting his workplace options. Discouraged and in need of a regular paycheck, he decided to give CCLB a try.

“Ryan came to CCLB in 2017 and within a year he was promoted to ‘Red Hat’,” said Kedrin Hopkins, director of Corpsmembers and Community Engagement.

CCLB Executive Director/CEO Dan Knapp said the “Red Hat” is the highest level of CCLB leadership; designated “Red Hat” Corpsmember trainees are given an opportunity to manage small teams and develop leadership and supervisory skills.

“Only the most responsible and mature Corpsmembers are nominated for a ‘Red Hat’ position,” Knapp said.

According to Knapp, Shelton continued to impress his supervisors. After working in recycling, urban forestry, park maintenance and habitat restoration, he was offered an internship with a CCLB partner organization, Grid Alternatives. During this 13-month fellowship, Shelton learned the fundamentals of the solar industry as he installed solar panels on homes in Compton and Long Beach. He also started taking classes at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and will complete his Associates Degree in Electrical Construction and Maintenance in 2021.

Shelton was named the 2019 National Corpsmember of the Year and was asked to speak at the Friends of National Service Awards in Washington, D.C. in February 2020. In that speech, he thanked CCLB for the support and opportunities he received. Now married and saving for a home, Shelton is working as an apprentice electrician with Xero Solar, a Tesla Certified Partner Installer.

In addition to bettering himself, Shelton has a deep commitment to helping others. He offers advice and assistance to two mentees and said he is excited to open doors for them. He is also launching his own nonprofit organization: K. Nyumbani. K. Nyumbani, which means “welcome home” in Swahili, will work to integrate those coming out of incarceration (www.K-Nyumbani.org ). Shelton said his vision is for former inmates to live together in a tiny home community for 24 months. During this time, participants will receive financial advice and mental health support while learning new skills as they build additional tiny homes.

Knapp said Shelton is a “true role model” whose passion and sincerity are genuine.

“The Conservation Corps of Long Beach is a better place because of Ryan Shelton,” Knapp said. “After several board members had the opportunity to meet Ryan in person and review his Washington, D.C. speech, the nomination (to join the CCLB Board of Directors) was natural.”

Knapp said that Shelton’s nomination and election to the board were unanimous. His first meeting as a CCLB board member will be July 10.

For more information about the Conservation Corps of Long Beach, go to www.cclb-corps.org.

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