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AmeriCorps is making a difference

Monday, November 11, 2002

Young members get as much out of program as they give to it

From the hug of a kid to the satisfaction of helping a 6th grader with a math problem, AmeriCorps members find many different opportunities and rewards in Storm Lake.

Through Community Education, AmeriCorps members serve in Project UNITE where they work in elementary students, coordinate a mentor program for middle school students and help other students in afterschool programs. Also, AmeriCorps members are involved with Student M.O.V.E. on the BV campus, which coordinates volunteer opportunities and recruits student volunteers.

Jennifer Movall, director of the AmeriCorps program, said Project UNITE brings together different areas of service while encouraging others to participate.

"The primary goal of the program is academic improvement in the areas of math and reading for those youth served," Movall said. "The program also seeks to strengthen the community through the recruitment of volunteers for service projects."

There are 15 AmeriCorps members serving throughout Storm Lake and the surround area, and the students involved in AmeriCorps say it is a great opportunity.

Phouthai Inthongsay found out about AmeriCorps through a teacher. Now she assists with the TLC afterschool program at the middle school.

"It's a chance to make a difference in the community," she said.

It's not the first time Inthongsay has volunteered. She worked with the afterschool program Early Tornado Academy when she was a high school I-JAG student.

She feels the afterschool programs are valuable activities for students. "When I was younger I probably needed the help also, but there wasn't any of these programs," she said.

Now she is studying business at Iowa Central, and sees AmeriCorps as a chance to get out into the community. She would recommend it to anyone.

"I like the service, and it gives me the understanding of kids and how different kids act and how different cultures of kids act," she said.

Working with kids also is nothing new to Michael Bierman, a sophomore at BVU. Like Inthongsay, he volunteered with the elementary afterschool program last year before becoming an AmeriCorps member this year.

"I think it's very important to be involved in he community," said Bierman, who is from Paulina. "I'm not from Storm Lake and it's hard to jump out and get involved."

He works Monday through Friday afternoons in the classrooms with students, while also helping out teachers. With the students, he'll help them on different activities, from reading to computers.

He's studying management information systems, finance and banking at BVU, but finds he gains a different sort of education from AmeriCorps.

"The hands-on experience that AmeriCorps allow you to have is something that you most likely not receive anywhere else," he said.

A benefit to AmeriCorps are the education awards available for members who complete a set amount of time on their contract. Full-time members complete 1,700 hours in a nine to 12-month period and part-time members complete 900 hours in one year. Awards can be up to $4,725.

Tracy Lonning said while the awards are encouraging, when serving they are the last thing on any AmeriCorps member's mind.

"I know I'm getting paid, but I don't even think about it," she said. "This is volunteer work to me."

Lonning works with the kindergarten classes at West Elementary. She's following in the footsteps of her older sister, who is very involved in volunteer work. From Worthing, S.D., Lonning has been involved in the Red Cross Youth Corps.

Lonning said there's a sense of satisfaction from working with the kids.

"I really like the feeling of being needed and being able to help," she said. "It's a good feeling when you walk in the door and they run up and give you a hug."

AmeriCorps members also do monthly service projects.

"It makes you feel like you're doing something good for the community, and it's a good way to get involved," Lonning said.

Many of the AmeriCorps members decided to apply to the program through Community Education because of the opportunity it presented to get involved in the community.

"I got involved because I wanted to get more involved in the Storm Lake community," said BVU student Jessica Kolnes.

Now she is a mentor in the BV Buddies program, where college students team up with 6th graders. They get together every Tuesday to help with homework and to do activities together.

"It is a great program because it allows me to be with the same student each week so I can get to know what subjects he has the most difficulty on," said Kolnes, who is majoring in social work and business. "We can focus on it and I can see how he improves throughout the year."

Along with that, she assists with the afterschool programs at South and West.

AmeriCorps also brings practical experience.

"From being an AmeriCorps member I've learned to better organize my time and have gained experience working with children of all different ages," she said. "An the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of service projects in the area."

Project UNITE is not limited to Storm Lake. Nicole Peterson volunteers in the Schaller-Crestland afterschool program.

"i wanted to help out the community and share what I could give them," she said.

She's volunteered before while attending BVU as part of a leadership program for students.

"I like to devote my time to the community and the kids," she said.

She also likes the fact that AmeriCorps reaches outside the Storm Lake community.

"It's really neat that AmeriCorps goes out to the surrounding area schools," she said.

Another way it is reaching out is through Student M.O.V.E., the student-led advisory board at BV that works on coordinating both volunteer projects and recruits students to volunteer.

M.O.V.E. stands for Mobilizing Outreach Volunteer Efforts, and it started in 2000 as an advisory board for all the community service groups on campus, said Clint Czizek, vice-president of public relations for the the Student M.O.V.E. board.

The group organizes its own events to offer different volunteer and service learning opportunities to BV students, he said. Some of those include Alternative Happy Hours, Alternative Weekends and the AWOL (Alternative Week of Off-Site Learning) week.

Those programs range from the local - sorting food at Upper Des Moines and writing letters to military personnel - to volunteer opportunities elsewhere. For example, this weekend students are going to the Presbyterian Camp on Lake Okoboji to help paint. AWOL is an entire week of service during spring break, with students going to different sites around the country.

This is the first year that AmeriCorps members have been part of Student M.O.V.E.

"They mobilize volunteerism on this campus and serve in the Storm Lake community," said Maggie Baker, director of community service and internships at BVU.

Baker feels the students do excellent work. The AmeriCorps program provides more support and reinforcement for what they're doing, she said.

"It's so nice for them to receive that, though it's not the reason why they're doing it," she said. "It sure is deserved for those who are giving so much of their time for the benefits of others."

More than 50 percent of the BV student body participated in some sort of volunteer activity last year, Baker said.

"One of the things they're working hard to do is to bring these opportunities to other students and let them know there are a number of ways to serve the Storm Lake community as well as communities throughout the United States and worldwide," she said.

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