PIKEVILLE, KY—Three AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTAs, from Berea College were thanked by members of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, at their Executive Committee meeting Monday. David Bellnier, Jeffrey Helton, and Marcus Plumlee of Berea College were thanked individually by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers for their commitment to serve eastern Kentucky for one year. The VISTAs were invited to attend the meeting to help the Corporation for National and Community Service to celebrate their announcement of a more than $1 million investment to engage 52 full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to support the SOAR initiative to improve the economy and quality of life in Eastern Kentucky.
Gov. Beshear, co-chair of SOAR along with Rep. Rogers, said that he looked forward to the arrival of the VISTAs. “As Governor, I have seen first-hand the impact of AmeriCorps in meeting a variety of needs across our state,” he said. “We are grateful to the Corporation for National and Community Service for being one of the first agencies to come forward to support the SOAR initiative by providing a surge of human capital to strengthen Kentucky’s Appalachia region.”
Bellnier, who began his VISTA work in Eastern Kentucky in May, said service was important to him and his fellow VISTAs. “As a Berea graduate, I feel that service is a challenging way to find out what I’m capable of—to test my strengths and limits,” he said. “I hope that the work that I do as a VISTA, and the culture of service that entails, will shape the person I become professionally and personally.”
The VISTA program was founded in 1965 as a national service designed to fight poverty in America. Members serve for one year and receive a stipend and education award. To find out more, visit http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps-vista.
SOAR’s mission is to expand job creation, enhance regional opportunity, innovation, and identity, improve the quality of life, and support all those working to achieve these goals in Appalachian Kentucky. To learn more, visit http://www.soar-ky.org.
Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. Through a suite of programs, including GEAR UP, i3 and the first rural Promise Neighborhood, Partners for Education leverages $18 million annually to serve 15,000 young people and their families. To find out more, visit http://partners.berea.edu.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—A 2014 graduate from Jackson County High School was invited to the White House Monday to meet with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama. Julie Jent of McKee, Kentucky participated in a roundtable discussion with the First Lady as part of the Reach Higher Initiative. The discussion, called “Beating the Odds: Student Voices,” included ten students from around the country. The students had the opportunity to share the significant challenges they faced, their paths to success despite the obstacles they had to overcome, and their recommendations for ensuring that other students can achieve.
“I had a life-changing experience today,” Jent said. “I told Mrs. Obama how much of an impact it made for me to have a mentor, and that I think all students should have a mentor.” The First Lady then asked Jent what her educational plans were and Jent shared that she will be attending Berea College in the fall. “She said she thought Berea College would be an excellent fit for me.”
In addition to her meeting with the First Lady, Jent participated in a discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Both the First Lady and Secretary Duncan invited students to share their experiences and recommendations so that the Department of Education can better support all students to get them college and career ready.
Partners for Education at Berea College was invited to send a student to Washington because of the work they do to help Appalachian Kentucky students overcome odds and succeed in school. Jent was chosen to represent Partners for Education because of her participation in multiple programs, like Upward Bound Math and Science Center, Families and Schools Together (FAST), and the Promise Neighborhood Youth Working Group. “Julie’s success is a testament to the impact education programs can have on a young person. Through our programs, Julie was provided with a mentor who connected her to opportunities to build the academic and leadership skills necessary for success in college and in life,” Gentry said. “We are proud of Julie and look forward to seeing what the future holds for her. Our goal is that one day every student in Appalachian Kentucky will have a mentor to assist them in navigating the journey from high school to college to career.”
The Reach Higher initiative is the First Lady’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university. For more information, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/reach-higher.
Partners for Education at Berea College uses a place-based, student-focused approach to improve educational outcomes in Appalachian Kentucky. Through a suite of programs, including GEAR UP, i3 and the first rural Promise Neighborhood, Partners for Education leverages $18 million annually to serve 15,000 young people and their families.