AmeriCorps Success Story
Summer is a busy time with Summer Learning programs and AmeriCorps members play a vital role in the success of these programs.
Members work long days helping with classroom support in the District Summer Learning classes in the morning and serving as youth leaders in the afternoon with Community Connection. Community Connection is a collaboration with multiple agencies and local resources that rotate programming among the five sites. Each site has 60-65 children, grades K-4. This program exemplifies community collaboration and collective impact.
It is tremendous to watch the growth of those working in this program. We have two Site Coordinators who are former AmeriCorps members. We have many AmeriCorps members returning and doing additional terms of school year and/or summer service. We have former high school Community Connection staff that have become AmeriCorps members and are grooming some current high school staff to consider future service. I am confident that some of our future staff will be current participants.
These members all bring unique knowledge and skills that they are eager to apply in their interactions with students, some who are studying to become social workers, guidance counselors, teachers, doctors and nurses. Over time, some who had not considered a career with children have changed direction after service to work with children and families. In talking with some members whose parents are educators, I learned that they have gained a deeper appreciation and respect for the work their parents do each and every day and have for years.
This summer it has been wonderful to watch the staff at each school function as a team. They have strategized together how best to group the students. The need for time before the program starts to spend time together to bond, prepare and better understand their role was a goal for this year and by observation it seems to be greatly improved.
They all have stories to share….children pulling fire alarms; children obsessed with touching things at the Woodson Art Museum; children who got on the wrong bus on a field trip day; children who came along on their field trip who were not enrolled in Community Connection; children who refused to go on field trips; overly affectionate children with head lice; children who need a million band aids or ice packs a day; children who go into deep water even though they do not know how to swim; children who seem to be both the victim and the perpetrator of conflict.
Members seem to recognize that they find special connections with some kids that other members do not and they are able to make adjustments. It was noted by one member that one of his challenging kids is much like himself at a young age.
But they also have stories of students so excited to see them out in public during non school hours. The positive relationship between the AmeriCorps members and children was so evident at a family night at Memorial Pool. AmeriCorps members lined the entrance, greeted children and families and gave them wristbands. It was heartwarming to see the interaction between the AmeriCorps members and the children. It was evident that these are key people in their lives this summer.
I coordinate out-of-school programs during the school year, which between all the sites serves over 2,000 children. But for some reason this 6-week period is one of my most intense time periods. It is many months of preparation, which seems disproportionate to the length of the program. However, it is vibrant and a time when one feels a great sense of accomplishment (this year had many challenges with construction at several of our facilities).
As a coordinator, I love the energy, passion, humor and commitment of the AmeriCorps members. They are beginning new adventures for weeks 7 and 8 of Summer Learning. Like me, they are ready for Community Connection to conclude and to experience new programs (Summer Stretcher, Summer Saunters and Camp Friends).
I congratulate these folks for a job very well done!
We match federal dollars with private and public state and local resources to address local problems using local solutions and resources in support of services, labor and the personal/professional development of AmeriCorps members, their students, families and community. Our focus area is Education, and our primary audience is potentially at-risk students due to income-eligible households as defined by free and reduced lunch eligibility.
I refer to it as a win, win, win, win, win, win, win, situation. By that I mean the students tutored and mentored win. Their families benefit. The teachers and staff benefit. The host sites win. The community at large wins, especially when we also consider the community service projects and events the members plan, participate and engage in. The AmeriCorps family, including the Corporation for National & Community Service, Serve Wisconsin and our grant’s fiscal agent, North Central Community Action Program all win because what we accomplish is all in line with each entity’s mission statement, goals and purpose. I win, because it is especially rewarding to work for a worthwhile and meaningful cause that I sincerely believe in. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the members who serve win as they develop, grow and mature both personally and professionally.
They, along with the students they serve are our future, and as I contemplate and reflect upon our impact, I am filled with hope for our future! The care, compassion, concern and dedication that I witness and experience within this program and community is awe-inspiring. The tears I’ve heard about in the school’s faculty restrooms due to the stress, anger and/or frustration of the situation at hand are as real as the tears I encounter in the AmeriCorps office as members describe their personal challenges that are heightened by the nearly overwhelming challenges of their AmeriCorps positions, responsibilities and commitment coupled with the tasks of making ends meet on a “modest” AmeriCorps living allowance. And then, there are the tears at the end of each program year, as members attend their students’ graduation ceremonies, and receive the hugs from the little elementary students they’d helped learn and grow throughout the year as they all recognize that this chapter is coming to a close…
I am most impressed by this latter win. It is what we refer to as member development. AmeriCorps is, similar to what Peace Corps was for me, a life-changing experience. I’ve grown on to see, recognize and appreciate the bigger picture, and understand my role in it. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my efforts do make a difference, and that my impact is significant, even when it seems simply miniscule. And I am proud of this. I believe we all have reason to be proud. I am grateful for the support of those around me, both personally and professionally. I am content that my community, both locally and globally is benefitting from the investment of AmeriCorps and matching resources. I am with AmeriCorps, and I will get things done!
Steve Frodl has been the NCCAP AmeriCorps Team – Greater Wausau Area Program Director for a bit over eight years. He was an AmeriCorps Host Site Supervisor prior to that for five years with the Boys & Girls Club at DC Everest/Greenheck and for two years with the Salvation Army Community Center. He served three years with the Peace Corps in the Comoros, Africa after graduating from the UW Madison with a degree in French and a Certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language. He has worked in some capacity with Education his entire adult life, and considers himself to be a life-long student/learner.