AmeriCorps Member Spotlight – Clarissa Ornelas

Clarissa was born and raised in Santa Maria, California, where she dedicated many years to working hard and raising her five children. As a single mother, Clarissa always had to work hard to give her children the best life she could. Being a life-long community member in Santa Maria, Clarissa feels blessed to have the opportunity to continue the work she has been doing for the office and to continue giving back to the community that she holds so close to her heart.

For the past three and a half years, Clarissa served as an AmeriCorps member in the Northern Santa Barbara County United Way’s SBC AmeriCorps program, serving in the Public Defender’s Office to work with the most vulnerable populations in the community. As a member of the Community Defender Division (CDD), Clarissa and the other advocates brought a holistic approach to public defense by providing client-centered services. As a first-time AmeriCorps member in the Public Defender’s Office, Clarissa was able to permanently house over 85 individuals and families and transitionally house over 200 individuals in the past three years.

Through helping clients, Clarissa was inspired to return to school at Allan Hancock College. For the past three years, she has been studying Human Services, and because of the impact of working with the clients in the Public Defender’s Office, Clarissa was inspired to add another degree in Addiction Studies to her schooling.

Because of Clarissa’s work with AmeriCorps, she had the opportunity to speak as a panelist during the opening plenary at the AmeriCorps State and National Symposium as an outstanding alumnus, where she offered insight and advice to those just beginning their service. In addition, Clarissa was invited to present on the housing programs in Santa Barbara County at the NLADA Annual Conference in November. She is very much looking forward to sharing her experiences and insight on a national level.

This last term, Clarissa became a lead member at her site and mentored other AmeriCorps members on how to advocate for people experiencing homelessness. She has been an invaluable resource to the SBC AmeriCorps program and offered her guidance. After four terms of service, Ms. Ornelas has joined the Public Defender’s Office as a staff member and brings her skill, knowledge, and commitment to serve to her new position.

Serving in the office through AmeriCorps changed Clarissa’s life in such a positive way and she found her true passion in working with justice-involved individuals experiencing homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues. Clarissa strongly believes in the work that the office does, and the CDD Team in particular. She is excited to bring her experience and knowledge that she gained during AmeriCorps to continue providing client-centered services and positively affecting the lives of clients and the community.

Thank you for your service, Clarissa!