The LA Conservation Corps was founded in 1986 by former U.S Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor. We have led the way in a national conservation and service corps movement that is more than 35 years old, and now encompasses more than 100 corps in every state and the District of Columbia. Present-day conservation corps are modeled on the depression–era Civilian Conservation Corps which provided meaningful environmental work to thousands of young men during one of our nation’s most difficult periods. Today, these programs exist in urban and rural communities, and employ more than 26,000 young people annually in a variety of conservation and service projects.
The LA Conservation Corps has won numerous awards for its programs including:
The Kodak American Greenway Award
The Corps’ Network 2012 Project of the Year Award for Paddle the LA River
PEPNet (Promising and Effective Practices Network) Award for the National Youth Employment Coalition
Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor founded the LA Conservation Corps in 1986.
“We walked into the bank with two cents in our pocket.” says Mr. Kantor, reflecting on the early days in the organization. “We needed a $45,000 loan to purchase three passenger vans. I’m pretty sure they laughed at us and asked us what our collateral would be.” He co-signed the loan, convinced it was important to the success of the Corps, but unsure how it would all work out. He just knew it would. And he was right.
He credits the Corps’ growth and success to leadership, as well as hard work by everyone affiliated with the Corps. “There is tremendous commitment and caring by the staff, the board and all of the donors who support the work of the Corps,” he says. When asked about his proudest moment in the Corps, Kantor smiles. “We all ought to be proud of the Corps’ legacy of good human beings. We have helped create better human beings and contributing members of the community. Now that’s impact.”
Among the many awards and honors he has received are the following: the Civic Medal of Honor by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Order of the Southern Cross Award by The Government of Brazil, 2001, the William O. Douglas Award by Public Counsel, the Thomas Jefferson Distinguished Public Service Medal from the Center for the Study of the Presidency, the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award from the Hugh O’Brien Youth Foundation, and Elihu Root Distinguished Lecturer, Council on Foreign Relations.
Mickey received a Bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University in 1961. After four years of service as a naval officer, he went on to study law at Georgetown University’s Law Center. He practiced for 17 years at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Phillips & Kantor in Los Angeles, where he was instrumental in building a relationship between the LA Conservation Corps and Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, which, to date, has provided countless hours of pro bono assistance to the LA Corps, and also valuable board members and financial support. Mickey continues to remain actively involved with the Corps, and its fundraising and public outreach efforts. He is currently a partner in the law firm of Mayer Brown.
On November 1, 1986 Mickey Kantor enlisted the help of Martha Diepenbrock and Bruce Saito to establish the Los Angeles Conservation Corps.
Founding Executive Director 1986-1995
Prior to joining the Corps, Martha helped jump-start the City Volunteer Corps in New York City, organized a youth corps exchange program at Philadelphia’s NASCC, and worked for the California Conservation Corps (CCC) as a fire center director, program coordinator and corpsmember recruiter. She was exactly the person the Corps needed to set our roots and grow our mission. As the Corps’ founding Executive Director, Martha led the charge in developing our organization into one of the most reputable youth corps programs in the country, putting 300 inner-city youths to work year-round while visibly improving the community. After serving as our Executive Director for nearly a decade, she gracefully handed over the reins to a very humble and hard working Bruce Saito in 1995. Martha has since helped launch a public charter school in Oakland, CA and in 2011 was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to rejoin the CCC as Director of External Affairs, where she is currently responsible for its development, legislative affairs and communications.
Executive Director 1995-2014
Bruce joined the California Conservation Corps in 1976 and served as a Supervisor/Instructor at the Bret Harte Training Academy, San Jose and Camarillo Residential Sites, and at the CCC’s first Urban Corps in Los Angeles. As a founding staff member, Bruce did the heavy lifting that built the LA Conservation Corps from the ground up. He took on the role of Executive Director for 20 years from 1995 – 2014, and then as the Executive Director Emeritus & Senior Advisor until his departure on July 1, 2015. To many, he is considered a living legend in the community and has been recognized for his dedicated service to the youth of Los Angeles by the City and County of Los Angeles, the State of California and the Federal Government. The Corps recently honored his nearly 30-year legacy with our organization by awarding him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at our 2015 Spring Luncheon Celebration.
Bruce has more than 39 years of experience developing and delivering quality youth leadership and environmental programs that engage and work with our country’s most under-served youth. He continues his work to forward the corps movement both state-wide and nationally as he rejoins the CCC to serve as its new Director (appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in August 2015). Currently Bruce serves on the Board of Directors at the Durfee Foundation, the LA League of Conservation Voters, LA River Revitalization Corporation, Friends of Manzanar, and the Little Tokyo Senior Citizens Nutrition Program. In 2003 Governor Schwarzenegger and later in 2010 Governor Jerry Brown appointed Bruce to the CA Board of Forestry and Fire Protection where he still currently serves. Since 2008, Bruce also has served on the CA Prison Industry Advisory Board.