Climate Action Corps Expands, Paying More Californians To Fight Climate Change


Inside a small warehouse, tucked behind a shuttered pawn shop in the heart of Hollywood, Crystal Lipps took the handle of a large black rolling cart loaded with donated boxes of carrots, bananas and other fresh food that once would have been destined for a landfill.

The 25-year-old guided the cart into a refrigerated room, where the food would be stored until one of 40 local nonprofits swung by her Hollywood Food Coalition site to “shop” for ingredients to help feed hungry people throughout Los Angeles.

Lipps is part of the second cohort of 112 annual fellows in the California Climate Action Corps, which is the first such state-level initiative in the nation. The program uses a combination of state, federal and private funds to pay $30,000 in stipends and $10,000 toward college tuition or student loan debt to state residents who help lead climate-focused efforts in communities throughout the state. Lipps is about halfway through her 11-month stint, which she described as a “gap year” of sorts, after graduating from UC San Diego. She’s said the work is helping her bank experience, network and narrow down what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

California Climate Action Corps fellow Crystal Lipps sorts food in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“I feel like I’ve gained so much valuable knowledge,” the Riverside native said. “I think it’s a great opportunity, especially if you’re not sure what you want to do.”

California Volunteers, a team in the governor’s office that runs the program, is now recruiting people to serve summer and full-year positions that will start in the fall. And with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed January budget calling to double the previously announced $4.7 million in funding for California Climate Action Corps — even as funds for other climate efforts may shrink as inflation strains state revenues — the team aims to offer positions to even more fellows for the upcoming terms.

“We’re living in the middle of an existential crisis with climate change,” said Josh Fryday, chief service officer for California, who oversees service projects for the state.

“People want to take action. They just need to be given the opportunity to do that.”

Newsom created the program by executive action in 2020, and the first teams were recruited, trained and deployed in 2021.

California modeled the initiative after the federal service program AmeriCorps, which places more than 200,000 people each year to support a broad range of organizations across the nation. The climate corps similarly partners with government agencies, nonprofits and colleges, but it focuses on placing fellows where support is needed for programs that can have a positive impact either on slowing climate change or lessening the climate crisis’ impact on Californians.

That includes food recovery efforts, like the one Lipps champions to ensure viable food makes its way to hungry people or to compost piles instead of adding climate-warming methane to the atmosphere as it rots in the landfills. Other climate corps fellows are supporting wildfire prevention and recovery projects, efforts to boost green spaces in urban communities, and programs to educate their communities about climate issues.

Interest so far has been solid on both ends. California Volunteers reports 1,726 applications to date, with about five applications for every position available in the past two full-time terms. And Fryday said they got about three to four times as many requests from organizations wanting help as they had workers to fill the slots.

Phil Meister, who oversees the Hollywood Food Coalition site where Lipps and another fellow work, said the pair have helped his team think more about how diverting food waste from local restaurants, grocery stores and warehouses not only helps needy residents but also how it can positively affect climate change.

“It was truly a night and day difference once they started,” Meister said. And — standing in front of a chalkboard with sketches of produce and Star Wars characters and words of encouragement for supporters — he said they’d jump at the chance to get more fellows for the year ahead.

In Southern California, 180 fellows so far have served with 42 host partners in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, from the Koreatown Youth and Community Center to the city of Long Beach.

Together, fellows in those four counties so far have planted, maintained or given away 141,860 trees, per data from program leaders. They’ve diverted more than 1 million pounds of food or organic waste, helping to get 732,110 pounds of recovered food to people in need. They’ve also worked with more than 4,000 community volunteers to put in 18,424 hours of climate action work and helped launch Long Beach’s first Climate Ambassador Program.

Kali Krishan, 22, is serving this year as a fellow with University of Redlands doing work focused on urban greening. That’s included planting trees in lower income parts of Redlands, which tend to have less shade and therefore are more vulnerable to health impacts during increasingly severe heat waves. Krishan said she’s also enjoyed talking with people in the community, sharing information about native plants and public gardening. And she’s particularly proud of efforts to turn part of the university’s garden into a space that pays homage to local Native Americans.

Krishan said she wasn’t quite sure what direction to head when she graduated last spring from UC Riverside with a dual-major degree in environmental science and applied mathematics. She thought about going directly into a masters program, but felt she first needed to take a step back.

“It’s only experience that can help show what kind of roles I prefer vs roles I don’t like as much,” she said. “Schooling doesn’t necessarily do that.”

Plus, Krishan said she finds the work fulfilling.

It’s not, however, going to fill anyone’s bank account.

“You certainly don’t do the program to get rich,” Fryday acknowledged.

Finances are tight for Lipps. She has two roommates at her place in East L.A. But once she finishes the program, she’ll get $10,000 to help pay off her student loan debt. She owes about $22,000, and the money from the state will take a big weight off her shoulders. She said she never would have been able to pursue this sort of work without the climate corps stipend.

With cost of living in mind, Fryday said his team pushed to make both the annual stipend and school scholarship a few thousand dollars higher in California than the federal payments for AmeriCorps volunteers. They also try to place fellows in their home communities, so they can tap into support from family and friends if needed.

That’s what Krishan does. Since she’s able to live with her parents, she said she’s been comfortable on payments that work out to about $1,400 every two weeks.

Year-long fellows also get health insurance and may be eligible for child care and food stamp benefits. They also can receive training and professional development. And Fryday said it’s been exciting to see that experience translate into new careers for former fellows.

During a recent Climate Action Day in San Diego — where the corps brings hundreds of volunteers together to tackle a big project at the request of local cities or organizations — Fryday said a young man tapped him on the shoulder. He told him he participated in the pilot program back in 2021, then got a job with the Audubon Society.

President Joe Biden tried to champion a new federal Civilian Climate Corps, which would have paid tens of thousands of young people to help fight climate change. The concept was in the version of the Inflation Reduction Act passed by the House, but it was stripped away before the bill got through the Senate and become law in late 2021.

Other states are following California’s model, though, with similar climate corps programs taking off in more than a dozen other states from Maine to Colorado.

For Californians, applications are open online for all ages interested in serving 1,700 hours between Sept 18, 2023 and Aug. 15, 2024. California Volunteers also is taking applications for a summer program, which includes a $5,294 stipend plus $1,374 school award for anyone who serves at least 300 hours between June 5 and Aug. 4. Applications received by May 15 will get priority consideration, though agency spokesperson Shaleeka Powell said they’ll accept them on a rolling basis until every slot is full.

The California Climate Action Corps also offers tips online for climate action that anyone can take at home and it helps connect residents with one-time or recurring volunteer opportunities. Options can be filtered and searched by ZIP code on their website,


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