LOUISVILLE, KY—On Friday, September 12, AmeriCorps members, new volunteers, and professionals from all over the region gathered at the Yum Center in downtown Louisville to celebrate AmeriCorps’ 20th anniversary. The event featured a live stream of President Barack Obama and recordings of former Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. The celebration culminated with the swearing in of 400 new AmeriCorps volunteers by Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)—the federal agency that administrates AmeriCorps.
AmeriCorps volunteers and professionals from multiple Berea College programs, including Grow Appalachia and Partners for Education, made the journey to Louisville to add their voices to the celebration.
PartnerCorps Project Director Rob Bowers attended the event with many volunteers from the PartnerCorps program. “The 20th anniversary event allowed all of our members to see we are part of a much larger team which goes beyond our service area,” Bowers said.
Holly Korb, an AmeriCorps VISTA with Grow Appalachia, was impressed by the event. “What struck me soon after was the atmosphere—fun, contagious, excited. We were all there together, united by a common thread of service and devotion to our communities.” Korb also commented on her experience with her fellow VISTAs. “An added bonus to the day for me was getting to know some of my fellow VISTAs serving in Berea. We’ve all met before, but we’re all so dispersed throughout campus that we don’t get to connect often; this day, however, we all shared so many stories and facets from our own lives. We all have some pretty incredible stories. I was overall very inspired by the day, and I will carry the memories with me as I continue my service, and hopefully beyond.”
Rachel Tsvetanov, Partners for Education’s associate director of grant services and compliance and AmeriCorps alum, offered her thoughts after the event. “The AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary was a great opportunity to see how many different kinds of people are involved in national service. I hear it said over and over that national service isn’t a partisan cause and it’s true. There’s a lot to celebrate in our region and in our country—a lot of civility and spending a day with a large group of people committed to doing good and taking action really makes you hopeful for our shared future.”
Over 900,000 AmeriCorps members have served their country since the programs founding in 1994. To learn more about AmeriCorps visit http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps.
September 12th will mark the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps. The expansive program is designed to engage Americans in service that will strengthen communities and fight poverty. AmeriCorps funds Partners for Education’s PartnerCorps: School Turnaround program. The program places 40 volunteer mentors in either Knox Central High School or Leslie County High School. In order to celebrate the anniversary, we want to share stories and reflections from three of our current PartnerCorps members.
Dana, a PartnerCorps member at Leslie County Hih School, has been working in education for 28 years. He began his career in education as a math teacher. After teaching middle school for 10 years, he worked as a principal for 17 years. Dana was the first in his family to graduate from both high school and college.
While working with PartnerCorps I have had the chance to help the students on my caseload in many different ways. As someone who has spent his entire career in education, I am excited about the role and impact that mentors can have in the lives of students. I feel that in my current position I can connect with students in a way the teachers and administrators cannot. One wonderful example of this was with a student on my caseload who I was able to share my own personal experience. By sharing, I was able to help them both academically and personally.
This particular student missed a total of seventeen days last year. While working with this student, I asked him about his attendance and why he had missed so much the previous year. He told me it was because a bully picked on him and that he did not enjoy going to school. I was able to empathize with the student because I had also had trouble with bullies while I was in school. I shared my own personal experience about how I overcame my own bullying problem. Through this, I was able to create a personal connection with the student and help the student overcome his own problem. This year that student has only missed two days, because he can enjoy coming to school. As I watch this student become more confident in his studies and more relaxed in dealing with his peers, I am so proud and excited that I was able to help him. I see situations like this on a daily basis working with PartnerCorps, and I look forward to the opportunity to help more students in the future.
Kelley, a PartnerCorps member at Knox Central High School, attends to the needs of students and provides guidance in their daily lives. She collaborates with staff and faculty to fulfill Knox Central’s mission statement: “Every student college and career ready.”
Kelley has a Bachelor of Arts in ministry, a Master of Arts in clinical mental health counseling and a Master of Science in school counseling. She aspires to be one of those tenaciously perceptive people, with her knowledge and experience at hand, comforting where she, herself, has been comforted.
“Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort.” Sir Humphry Davy
Sir Humphry Davy, a renowned English chemist and inventor of the 18th century, described my definition of the life of a PartnerCorps Mentor emphatically well. We are committed to the cause of serving our community, not merely out of “great sacrifice” or “duties,” but to “preserve the heart and secure comfort” of the people who make up our communities. This preservation of the heart is accomplished by the “little things,” such as: “smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually.”
What does Sir Humphry Davy’s idealistic quote look like from day to day in the life of a mentor? Initially, through smiles: William Hazlitt, an English writer of the early 19th century, reflected, “A good natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.” Emily Dickinson wrote, “They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.” At Knox Central, student to student, our smile is our instrument of effectiveness.
Moreover, we carry out this great task of preserving hearts and securing comfort through kindness. Bob Kerrey, an American politician in 1943, reflected, “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly and most underrated agent of human change.” Mentors are agents of human change, and as such, unexpected kindnesses flow from our services. From baking cupcakes for our students birthdays, to notes of affirmation, from sitting in the stands at a student’s baseball game to show our support, to being the reciprocal arms of embrace – kindness is our service.
Simultaneously, those “small obligations given habitually” look akin to our pledge to consistency. Aristotle brilliantly arrived to this conclusion: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” Excellence is what we strive for within ourselves, but also what we desire for our students – in their emotional well being, in their academic performances, and in their daily attendance. Excellence is showing up even when we are stressed, excellence is setting aside time to tutor, excellence is having the courage to admit failure, and persevering despite the fact. Hopefully, we reflect these habits into the students we mentor.
A PartnerCorps member at Leslie County High School, Benjamin graduated from Leslie County High School in 2007 and went on to attend Morehead State University. While there, he actively participated on campus, serving as the treasurer of the Paralegal Club as well as a member of the Student Government Association. He graduated from MSU in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in legal studies. He now works to ensure that students have the same opportunity to receive a secondary education as he did.
During my time with PartnerCorps, I have had some meaningful interactions with students, but a particular event comes to mind. One student, an intelligent and outspoken girl on my caseload, needed help completing a project for her history class. She was rather stressed, as the class is accelerated by nature. A couple of days before the due date, we worked extensively on the assignment until completion, learning more about each other in the process. That time allowed us to develop a rapport in a positive and productive manner.
Later that week, I was leaving after extended school services let out. As I was getting into my car, an approaching vehicle stopped me. The window rolled down and I discovered it was the student and her mother. I had only briefly spoken with the mother a couple of times on the phone. A fairly quick dialogue occurred, where the mother mentioned that her daughter had told her all about me. She thanked me on behalf of herself, her daughter, and then drove away. I felt satisfied to know my work had been effective but gave it no more thought.
Looking back, the moment was a significant one. For the mother to stop the vehicle and talk to me, the student had to have pointed out I was her mentor. Not only had she complimented me to her mother, but felt compelled that we meet in person. She was not ashamed or embarrassed of me or the help I had given her. This experience acted as a microcosm of the PartnerCorps program as a whole. When students receive individual attention from caring mentors, most often the family will notice and support it. On a wider scope, when this occurs at schools in two counties, the communities will begin to notice and support it as well. Eventually the model will be duplicated and used elsewhere. PartnerCorps works, the program works, and success begins with the smallest actions.
About the Program:
PartnerCorps: School Turnaround is a strategic partnership between AmeriCorps, Leslie County High School, and Knox Central High School designed to improve educational outcomes. Each of the 40 volunteers commit to serve for one year, act as mentors and advisors, and create college-going cultures in their high schools.