On December 9th, Impact Justice celebrated the 2022 cohort of California Justice Leaders-AmeriCorps Members in a graduation ceremony packed with stories of perseverance, self-discovery, and the beauty of giving back and being of service to others.
Embedded within community-based organizations throughout California, the 33 Justice Leaders took on the challenge of supporting and mentoring justice involved youth, in part by drawing on their own experience of the justice system and overcoming odds. The members also mastered the skills required to be successful in their roles, paving the way for their own continued professional development.
Several members shared how the program transformed their lives.
“After I was able to embrace my own story, that’s when I was able to help others with similar stories. … It’s my duty to pass the torch,” said Salvador Espinoza, a CJL Member who is now moving on to become a full-time reentry case manager with Volunteers of America.
The keynote speech was delivered by Robert Ortiz Archila, a formerly incarcerated army veteran who, after a battle with addiction and homelessness, earned several degrees and now works as an enrollment specialist at Project Rebound at Cal State Long Beach.
In framing life as a journey, Archila reassured graduates that “when times get difficult, it’s OK to stand back and get in touch with your network.”
Recognizing the potential in all of them, Kriss Goss-Marr, Director of Leadership Programs at Impact Justice, encouraged the graduates to forge ahead.
“Don’t stop there,” she said. “Keep conquering your goals. Keep pressing forward. Lean into your fears. Keep growing and transforming.”
Among the members’ notable achievements:
- Helped nearly 400 justice-involved individuals learn about the Honorable Discharge petition process and nearly doubled the number of Honorable Discharge certificates received since the creation of the petition;
- Helped close to 80 young adults develop and work to complete their re-entry goals; and
- Held virtual coaching and navigation sessions with young adults in all DJJ facilities, supporting over 40 currently incarcerated young adults.
- One hundred percent of members increased their workforce and professional development skills and ability to gain permanent employment.