2019–20 AmeriCorps Service Members
Three AmeriCorps members began serving with the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership on Oct. 7. Members along with their host site supervisors attended a day-long training session to kick-off their AmeriCorps service. Pictured from left to right:
- Jill Harris, skills gap facilitator placed at LINK;
- Chad Nath, host site supervisor for LINK;
- Nikki Laug, Healthy Readers Taskforce coordinator placed at UPH Public Health-Grinnell;
- Shauna Callaway, host site supervisor for UPH Public Health-Grinnell;
- Via Montgomery, after school enrichment aide placed at Drake Community Library;
- Karen Neal, host site supervisor for Drake Community Library.
AmeriCorps Members will focus on health and wellness to ensure kids are prepared to learn (healthy readers taskforce coordinator), socio-emotional skill development (skills gap facilitator) and supporting after-school literacy efforts (after-school enrichment aide).
Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership and COVID-19
In times of hardship during the coronavirus pandemic health emergency, the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership’s Members continued to make a difference. The program had to re-imagine how the Members could fulfill their term of service. Working with each Host Site, Grinnell College’s Melissa Strovers, Director Collective Impact and AmeriCorps Program Manager and Liz Hansen, AmeriCorps Program Assistant, immediately adapted the program to incorporate the state’s declaration for social distancing and working remotely, while at the same time, completing the term’s 300-hour commitment.
Barely a month into her AmeriCorps service term as the family engagement task force coordinator, Esther Hwang was researching a Laundry and Literacy project, starting with a series of meetings. Suddenly everything changed in mid-March. Her service site, the UnityPoint Health – Grinnell Department of Public Health, was transformed into a walk-in clinic for COVID-19 patients.
As AmeriCorps members moved their service terms into the virtual world, Hwang found inspiration from her AmeriCorps cohort and restarted her planning for Laundry and Literacy, by drafting a grant proposal. Additionally, she coordinated creating flashcards for MICA’s home visits with families and filmed a video for a Grinnell Middle School (GMS) teacher who was collecting videos from volunteers reading aloud for GMS students. Through her collaboration with Drake Community Library AmeriCorps member Via Montgomery and host site supervisor Karen Neal for summer 2020 planning, Hwang discovered Neal’s interest in the Laundry and Literacy project. She began to write the grant proposal narratives.
Once implemented, Laundry and Literacy is intended to benefit families of Grinnell by providing free literacy resources in laundromats. The reading kits will create fun opportunities for families with kids to engage with one another in a novel way. Community events attached to the Laundry and Literacy in Grinnell project will benefit the health of the community at large by providing rich cultural experiences around the joy and importance of reading and learning with one another in creative ways.
During her final weeks, Hwang focused on attending Tuesday webinars offered by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, learning Spanish, and collaborating with the creation of online programming for summer programming at Drake Community Library (DCL). She reported finding joy in the teamwork approach to establishing the READsquared program at DCL. Hwang’s determination to make a difference for kids in Grinnell leaves behind a project ready for implementation and legacy of the collective spirit that Grinnellians and AmeriCorps members proudly represent.
Jill Harris, Skills Gap Facilitator for the Grinnell AmeriCorps Partnership, was determined to finish the Raising a Reader project, even if it meant completing that work after her service term ended on May 15. Working with her task force until early March 2020, Harris planned to create a series of videos featuring task force and local community members reading at their workplace, illustrating how reading is vital to lifelong success.
As the pandemic took hold, Harris pivoted to the development of a new plan that could be executed in the era of social distancing. Illustrating the AmeriCorps motto, “AmeriCorps Members Get Things Done,” Harris collaborated with fellow AmeriCorps Healthy Readers Task Force member Nikki Laug on the Raising a Reader project. They collaborated on the creation of a brochure featuring the 10 Benefits of Reading Aloud to Your Baby from Day 1 and Top 10 Skills for Kindergarten. In conjunction with the Grinnell–Newburg Community School District's (GNCSD) early childhood and lower elementary teachers, a survey was created and administered regarding school readiness skills. The brochure lists the top ten skills GNCSD teachers believe are essential for kindergarten success.
Brochures will be distributed with a book to new moms when they are dismissed from the OB ward at UnityPoint Health–Grinnell and at their well-baby checks with local doctors. A URL on the brochure will take parents to a website featuring new parents Ashley & Matt Kriegel. Matt recorded the video, so he is not visible on the video reading to their new daughter. Harris and Laug also worked with the Grinnell Read to Lead program to promote the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program that provides books to children from birth to age 5. The Raising a Reader project created awareness for the impact of early literacy in Grinnell. COVID–19 may have changed the way AmeriCorps members work, however, it could not keep them from making a difference!