Julia Hicks and Chloe Kliewer sat around the table at the Community After School Program's Norman office stuffing small goody bags full of toys for the many children that attend the after school program.
Both women are 22 and studying international and area studies at the University of Oklahoma. And, both women decided to work for AmeriCorps over the standard college employment.
"It's a job where I feel like I'm impacting the community," said Hicks, who first heard about AmeriCorps in middle school and knew it was something she would pursue one day.
After graduating high school, Hicks spent a year as a full-time AmeriCorps worker in their intensive National Civilian Community Corps, a traveling program that took Hicks across the country.
Kliewer learned of AmeriCorps through an ad placed in The Oklahoma Daily, OU's student-run newspaper.
"I didn't know it was something I could do part-time," she said. She signed up with AmeriCorps and is now in her second year with the Community After School Program (CASP).
Building on previous national service organizations, AmeriCorps was established in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. The first class of AmeriCorps members was launched in 1994 with 20,000 workers in 1,000 communities nationwide. Today, AmeriCorps has 75,000 positions throughout the U.S. spread across three different service programs: AmeriCorps State and National, which Hicks and Kliewer are a part of, AmeriCorps VISTA, a full-time program, and the full-time, traveling AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, in which Hicks previously participated. All members receive an educational award at the completion of their service to pay college expenses.
In 2008, AmeriCorps has provided 570 workers to programs in Oklahoma.
All members receive an educational award at the completion of their service to pay college expenses. Since 1994, according to AmeriCorps statistics on the state, more than 5,800 AmeriCorps members in Oklahoma have qualified for the education award, more than $14,600,000.
Terri Craig, executive director of the Community After School Program, learned of the AmeriCorps opportunities in Oklahoma, called Oklahoma Serves, and felt it would be a perfect fit. CASP is a nonprofit organization that started in 1974. It operates 16 before and after school programs in elementary schools in the Norman Public Schools system.
CASP applied for Oklahoma Serves members in 2007. It was granted two workers; Kliewer was one of them. The 2007 program focused on providing enrichment activities for the 700 children in the program, said Craig.
The Oklahoma Serves members recruited, coordinated and developed activities, like multicultural studies, music, recycling, yoga and arts and crafts.
"Many children were given their first opportunity to participate in activities they might never have been exposed to otherwise," Craig said.
Based on the success of CASP's partnership with Oklahoma Serves, they again applied for members in 2008, receiving three part-time workers.
Craig said members must complete a minimum of 900 hours of work during their year with CASP. Each member, she said, receives a living stipend, the education award upon completion and also a loan forbearance, making it ideal for college students.
This year, based on parent feedback, CASP has utilized their Oklahoma Serves members to develop an on-site tutoring program. Craig said the program, called the CASP Cranium Crew, was developed in part by second-year member Kliewer.
Hicks, in her second year with AmeriCorps and her first year with CASP, is dedicating her time to recruiting volunteers for the program. The third Oklahoma Serves member is focused on an anti-bullying program.
"The CASP tutoring program is designed to support and enhance what children learn during the school day and to build positive relationships between children and caring adults," Craig said.
Hicks and Kliewer worked closely with Craig and Brenda Birdsong, the director of child services with CASP, to develop every aspect of the new tutoring program. They've worked on a volunteer handbook, which outlines the goals of the program, and also gathered tips and suggestions for working with children and a database of literacy and math games for tutors to use.
"Both have been instrumental in connecting with the administrative staff at each tutoring site, working closely with both principals and counselors in identifying the children in our program who could most benefit from this opportunity," Craig said.
After training new tutors, the volunteers get a supply bag with everything they might need to help the children they're tutoring. They spend 30 minutes with each child, helping them with their homework, literacy, and just being a positive influence.
As of now, there are 25 children in the new program, Kliewer said. Each tutor sees between two and three kids. The program is currently running in three Norman elementary schools, though a fourth school is in the works. The program utilizes nine tutors, with three more signed up to receive training.
"Our hope for the CASP tutoring program is that it will not only allow the children we serve the opportunity to work on important literacy and math skills, but perhaps more importantly, to work one-on-one with a caring adult," Craig said.
"The most important part of what we do are the academics, but we're also able to make a positive impact on a child," she said.
Both Hicks and Kliewer are proud of the program they have helped to start, and they hope it can thrive after their time with CASP is up. Kliewer has also been inspired by the volunteers they have recruited who, like them, want to make an impact on their community.
Craig said she feels fortunate to have members of Oklahoma Serves working with their organization. "This program has allowed CASP to offer enrichment opportunities to its children and families that would not have been possible otherwise."
The CASP Cranium Crew is always looking for new volunteers to join the program and begin tutoring. For more information on the program, e-mail CASP at firstname.lastname@example.org. "Jenny Coon Peterson