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Open House will celebrate AmeriCorps' local efforts

WORTHINGTON -- As the three AmeriCorps members stationed out of West Learning Center will be the first to tell you, rounding up volunteers isn't always easy.

An upcoming open house will thank those who have stepped up to the plate and give community members a taste of what's been accomplished.

"Hopefully they'll find it interesting to see what's been going on in the community as far as volunteer work," said Susan Fratzke, the volunteer coordinator for District 518 Community Education and an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

"They can learn about new opportunities and see how they can get more involved in the community," added AmeriCorps Promise Fellow Robby Vargas.

The Nobles County Integration Collaborative and Community Education's Literacy Volunteers will host the event, set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. May 12 in the large gymnasium of West Learning Center. The open house falls during the fourth annual AmeriCorps Week.

Awards for students and volunteers and a presentation on local AmeriCorps projects will be from 5 to 6 p.m.; and there are plenty of projects to review.

Maria Basilio, an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow with the collaborative, spent the past year working with the afterschool program at Worthington Middle School, where students receive homework help and participate in enrichment activities that include tours of local businesses and of the high school.

Students also volunteer, helping with the annual Kindness Retreat, the Bread of Life Feeding Ministry and working with students in the afterschool program at Prairie Elementary.

"They like going out to volunteer in the community," Basilio said. "Anytime there is a volunteer opportunity, they will sign up and they will go along."

Vargas has been busy recruiting student tutors for the afterschool Homework Zone program at the high school and leading the afterschool drumming program at Prairie. He also helped create the Student Ambassadors Program, an initiative to help newcomers to the high school get involved and feel more comfortable.

Vargas works with students in Dynamic 507, a civic engagement group for high school students run by the collaborative. Members volunteer in the community, attend leadership development events, tour local businesses and go on college visits.

"A lot of them may not have the best outlook for their future, and we give them the push that they need to go to college and be successful," Vargas explained. "I think the whole year is an accomplishment. I do see how what we do does benefit youth," he added.

The number of volunteers for Community Education programs has also increased since the addition of a full-time volunteer coordinator last fall. Fratzke reported the number of total volunteers increased from 15 in September 2009 to 85 in April; 33 of whom are considered active volunteers.

Volunteers assist with English as a Second Language, GED and citizenship classes; help with the Even Start Family Literacy Program; assist students in the 21st Century Learning Grant afterschool programs; and deliver books to families for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. A small group of volunteers also works with ESL students in Fulda.

"There's such a need for basic literacy services in Worthington. ... Volunteers make the experience so much more meaningful for students," Fratzke said. "Students who work with volunteers advance their English skills more quickly than those who don't and have better class attendance."