As a young man in his early 20s in Rialto, Andrew Goodman was heading down a rough path.
"I hit a fork in the road," he said. "I was incarcerated, but staying positive kept me going forward." When he was 26, a relative introduced him to Bobby Vega. Vega, a beloved community figure who died in 2014, founded the nonprofit Southern California Mountains Foundation's Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire in San Bernardino.
The Urban Corps provides at-risk youth with education programs and job training in environmental conservation and land management. Corpsmembers fan out into the Inland Empire to work on landscaping, recycling, litter abatement, beautification and tree-planting projects in the cities. In addition, they build, restore and maintain trails and wildlife habitats in the region's ample mountainous forestland.
The Urban Corps gave Goodman, now 33, a fresh direction. "When I first started, this was totally new to me," he said. "I had never been up in the mountains. I didn't know my calling, but knew I wanted to help people."
Today, Goodman serves as deputy director of the Urban Corps, paying it forward by offering guidance and mentorship to young people in his community who may find themselves on the same rough path he was on.
Goodman said the most important part of his job is to provide empowering options to people who haven't had many in their lives. "It's about equal opportunities, second chances and rehabilitation of individuals who fell through the cracks," he said.
One of the many young people whom Goodman has helped to guide is Malcolm Cade, who works as a crew supervisor and site coordinator of the Urban Corps' Indio location.
"I was getting in a lot of trouble, running the streets all day," Cade, now 24, said of his time before the Urban Corps. "My brothers and cousins were in gangs — both parents had been in prison. I was looking for jobs, but once they knew I had a record, they'd close the door on me."
One day five years ago, Goodman and Urban Corps founder Vega showed up to interview Cade after a gang prevention class he was taking at the time. They opened a door so many others had shut in his face.
Goodman got Cade involved as a volunteer with the Urban Corps and encouraged him to get his high school diploma through the Urban Corps' charter school. It wasn't long before Cade was on the Urban Corps payroll as a full-time employee, and he attributes it all to Goodman. "He took the time to get to know me. He wanted me to do better for myself," Cade said. "It felt really good when I got my diploma, and I thanked him for pushing me."
In addition to providing workforce training, education and job placement help, the Urban Corps, which was founded in 2006, plays an important role in conserving the wilderness areas around San Bernardino and beyond.
Corpsmembers help clear wilderness trails for the U.S. Forest Service and prevent destructive wildfires by removing dead trees and brush to create what are known as fire breaks. They also maintain roughly 300 miles of trails in the San Bernardino Mountains and have created a 1.5-mile nature trail near Lake Arrowhead. As importantly, they remove thousands of pounds of trash and recyclables annually to help safeguard wildlife and help prevent water contamination.
One of the Urban Corps' supporters is the locally based and sourced Arrowhead® Brand Mountain Spring Water. "Arrowhead donates resources to our organization, and working alongside them has given our Corpsmembers opportunities they never would've had," Goodman said.
Arrowhead donates materials that corps members use every day — tools, trailers and a plenty of water. "We do a lot of projects with Arrowhead Water," Cade said. "Those are some of my favorite projects."
The Urban Conservation Corps of the Inland Empire has been a path to a better life for many members, both current and former.
"I've had offers from the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and a lot of other agencies," Cade said. "I could've ended up in prison or dead, but I found the Urban Corps and I made the best of it. I'm living proof that the program works."