Member Spotlight

Fast Forward – How Service Shaped One Alumni’s Career

Throughout the state, past AmeriCorps members continue to make a big impact. Using skills they refined during service, our alumni stand out among other applicants in terms of professionalism, communication, practical experience and more. AmeriCorps is a launching pad for leaders! 

Recently, Reading Corps alum Briana Gruenewald was recognized as one of Finance & Commerce’s Rising Young Professionals, an annual list featuring successful, young leaders in Minnesota businesses.

Upon earning a degree in journalism and marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Briana served with Minnesota Reading Corps as a literacy tutor and ThreeSixty Journalism as a VISTA member. “I joined Minnesota Reading Corps as a preschool literacy tutor right after graduating from college,” Briana said. “With a journalism degree, I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist but didn’t quite know what career move I should make next.”

As a Reading Corps tutor, Briana served PreK students at American Indian Magnet. Looking back she says her year of service was more than she could have hoped for. “Not only was I making meaningful relationships with students, but I knew I was helping grow their literacy skills because there was data to prove it.” As part of her Reading Corps service, Briana joined a corps-wide communications committee to help recruit tutors. “I truly felt like I was living the dream of getting to make a direct impact on preschoolers’ lives and ensuring many more tutors were recruited to continue the legacy.”

Through service, Briana found a passion for mission-driven work and the nonprofit sector. Today, as a senior account executive and graphic design lead with Bellmont Partners, a public relations agency based in Edina, she focuses on nonprofit clients like Second Harvest Heartland, People Incorporated, MnFIRE, Midwest Dairy and more. “Every day, I get to contribute to life-changing missions – and my AmeriCorps service prepared me for it.” 

Be sure to check out Finance & Commerce’s recent Rising Young Professionals of 2019 feature on Briana. We’re so proud she’s part of the Reading Corps family!

Photo: Sharolyn B. Hagen Photography
Suzanne PagelFast Forward – How Service Shaped One Alumni’s Career
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Building Math Muscles

Guest Writer: Therese Folsom, Math Enrichment Tutor at Westwood Elementary in Zimmerman, MN

As a Math Corps tutor, I spend my days at Westwood Elementary School in Zimmerman, Minnesota. After retiring from a human resources analyst position with Target, I found that I missed the stimulation of working with a team of people to solve problems. When I saw there was an opening for a math tutor at Westwood Elementary, it seemed like an excellent fit for me!

I knew the position would enable me to help students, but what I did not realize was the extent to which the position would help me grow as a person. The training Minnesota Reading and Math Corps provided was excellent. My coaches and manager were a wonderful support system and helped me succeed.

While at the school, many of the students in my group were quick to tell me that they were not good at math. I let them know that almost everything takes practice and that we would practice together to build their “math muscles”. The weeks flew by and the end of the school year arrived.

During her last session with me, one of my students took my hand and said, “I hated school until I got to come to Math Corps.”  When I heard that, my heart melted and I vowed then and there to spread the good news of Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps.

In August 2019, Therese will begin her third term of service with Minnesota Math Corps. She’s looking forward to helping more students build their skills and confidence!

Suzanne PagelBuilding Math Muscles
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From High School to AmeriCorps: A Recent Grad’s Decision to Join Reading Corps

Republished with permission from ServeMinnesota

When Yailyn Moran graduated from high school last spring, she knew that college was in her future. She just wasn’t sure what she wanted to study or where she wanted to go.

So, she decided to take some time to figure it out while serving a good cause — young students in her hometown.

Yailyn, 19, signed up to serve in AmeriCorps as a Reading Corps tutor in Northfield, Minnesota, where she had recently graduated from Northfield High School.

Yailyn Moran, Reading Corps Tutor

“I chose to go into AmeriCorps because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for college yet ,” she said. “I’ve always loved people. I love kids. I have four siblings, so it’s always been easy for me to relate to kids, which made being an AmeriCorps member for Reading Corps a good choice.”

Inspiration to Major in Education

Yailyn said she had been wavering between a career in the medical field or education, and her placement at Sibley Elementary School has swayed her toward becoming a teacher. She said she has been especially inspired by the teachers at the school who talk to her about why they are passionate about their careers in education. Learning about their experiences and listening to their perspectives has been very helpful as she considers her college major, she said.

But the students are her greatest inspiration, Yailyn said. She tutors 15 children from Kindergarten through third grade every day, and she said she especially  enjoys her interactions with the Kindergartners.

“They absorb everything,” she said. “Seeing the progress they make in such a little amount of time is just amazing. Helping them achieve the goals they have to get to is fun and so rewarding – even though they might not always think it’s fun.”

She said that becoming a Reading Corps tutor just out of high school was nerve-wracking at first. However, after going through training and meeting the Sibley teachers, she felt more comfortable with her service. Plus, she said her time with the students is carefully planned and  scripted so that she can optimize the 20 minutes she spends with each of them. “Of course, the kids think 20 minutes is like, forever,” Yailyn said with a laugh.

The kids typically seem happy to see her when she comes to their classroom to pick them up for Reading Corps, which takes place in another room. “They are almost always like, ‘Yes! I get to go with Miss Yailyn!’”

‘It’s Really Going to Pay Off’

In addition to serving full-time in Reading Corps, Yailyn is also enrolled full-time in an online courses at Riverland Community College through the Northfield Community College Collaborative. As an Education Fellow in a new program started by Northfield Promise, her community college tuition and other expenses are paid by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. When she finishes two years of service and school, she said she plans to transfer to a four-year university and will use her AmeriCorps education credit to help cover those costs.

She said her service truly complements her coursework and future direction as an education major. However, she noted that not all Reading Corps members need to have an interest in a career in education. Really, she said, Reading Corps service just requires the right mindset.

“You really have to have patience, go in with an open mind,”
she said. “Not all the sites are the same or have the same resources. You have to be flexible and ready to put in the hours, but you also should realize that it’s really going to pay off in the end.”

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Darcie MooreFrom High School to AmeriCorps: A Recent Grad’s Decision to Join Reading Corps
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Coming Back to School

Guest Writer: Maria Jimenez Perez, Math Enrichment Tutor at Middleton Elementary in Woodbury, MN

I worked as a math and science teacher at the high school level for nine years. My family had just moved from Puerto Rico to Minnesota and we had decided I was not going to work the first year to help the kids with the transition. One day, I was volunteering at their school, and I saw a Math Corps sticker at the main office’s window. I was intrigued, took a picture, came home and did some research. I thought that it was a great opportunity—especially when I couldn’t teach in Minnesota since I didn’t have a teaching license. Plus, I had seen firsthand how my 9th graders lacked basic skills needed before taking algebra. I kind of saw it as a sign.

Now, I learn so much every day—my students are great teachers! I have discovered myself, my passions, my strengths and my areas of opportunity. But I think the best part about being a tutor with Math Corps is being witness of the incredible transformation these students make. They start off a little hesitant and reluctant, then they start to understand what we are doing, having fun with it, and their confidence levels go up the roof. At the end of the year they all say that they didn’t know math could be fun! Not only does their confidence improve, their attitude toward math changes—which I think is a great thing!

The relationships we build with our students are also so important. One time we were working on the box method for division in our sessions. One of my students asked if she could apply this method to the decimal division problems problems she was doing in class—they had a test that day and she was not feeling ready. I didn’t know if the process would work, but we tried it together and it did! A few days later I came to my desk, and her graded test was on it. She had gotten a B+. I think this was the first passing grade she had gotten in her math class. I thought the teacher had left it there for me to see, but when I asked her she said she had not left it—my student left it there for me to see! She was so proud of her grade, she brought the test over to me first instead of taking it home for her parents to see.

Serving as a Minnesota Math Corps tutor has been one of the most enriching opportunities I’ve had. You don’t have to be a teacher or have experience teaching/tutoring. Anybody with a will to help, to learn and to make a difference can do this! If you are not sure, just give it a try—you will not regret it!

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Why We’re Participating in MLK Day of Service

 

 

MLK Day of Service, a federal holiday created to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy of service, not only brings whole communities together, but also gives AmeriCorps members and alumni a unique opportunity to come together in the name of helping others.

For Dr. King, giving back meant strengthening the bonds of community and working toward something greater than ourselves. In honor of Dr. King’s vision, we asked some of the AmeriCorps and PeaceCorps alumni who now work to support Reading Corps and Math Corps what MLK Day of Service means to them. Their answers were inspiring:

 

Ryan Kjesbo-Johnson
“Serving others is a chance to open our hearts to the struggles of those around us. Some of the most transforming moments of my life have happened while serving others—whether it was teaching someone how to apply for
a job each day in AmeriCorps, to filling bags of food at feed my starving children with my kids, to teaching reproductive health skills in Uganda to young men or helping push strangers’ cars out of the snow. Serving others
opens our hearts, and creates a tapestry of understanding and connection that does not happen if we merely pass by each other. This tapestry of understanding and connection defines the beloved community that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about and lived out.

Service on this day honors a man, and a movement, that was driven on the backs of service to others. From driving neighbors to work during the Montgomery bus boycott, to helping comfort bodies broken by the batons on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to church members hosting visitors of the movement in their homes, the Civil Rights movement was defined by sacrifice and service to others. On this day take time to honor the legacy of Dr. King by serving your neighbors, and let that spark of service create a wildfire of service throughout the year.”

 
 

Alison Zellmer
“When I reflect on the MLK Day of Service and why it is so important, this quote from Martin Luther King Jr. always comes to mind, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.’ I think one of the greatest ways you can share love to your community, your school, your neighbors, to anyone is through service. We honor Martin Luther King Jr. on this day by doing just that.”

Jenny Rangel
“I remember listening to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech when I was younger. His words and actions left a huge impression on me and opened my eyes up to the inequality in the world. He challenged the status quo and believed that everyone can be great and make an impact no matter how small. MLK Day of Service is a time to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and to give back to the community. I am participating to honor Dr. King’s legacy and do my part to make this world a better place.”

Megan Peterson
“I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a family that valued service to one’s community, and it has led me to always try to give back. I have had the opportunity to serve at soup kitchens, help build playgrounds, volunteer at the local food shelf and lead excited parents through Toys for Tots gift selection. Perhaps most impactful for me, I have served as a Reading Corps tutor helping to improve confidence and skills in children. The hugs, smiles and genuine happiness to see me every day that I experienced from these students will live with me forever. MLK Day of Service is an opportunity for me to be intentional about giving back and serving my community in new ways. I encourage you to join me in helping to make the world a better place this MLK Day.”

 

Andrew Mueller
“A day of service to me means showing as a community that we both celebrate the legacy of Dr. King and we recognize that there is a lot of work left to do to create a just and equitable society for everyone. I participate in service because ground level work is as important as systems change work and directly serving the community expands my perspective and often the best relationships are formed when serving others.”

 

Chris Erickson
“For me, MLK Day of Service is a chance to do something for others in a way that’s outside my day-to-day tutoring role. It’s a chance to find a service program, organization or opportunity that speaks to my passions, and give back to others. This was also a great way for me to connect with other AmeriCorps members, and people from the community at large who had similar interests and personal service passions. Now, years later I’m so grateful for my experiences in AmeriCorps as a Reading Corps member, and still find joy from taking part in meaningful service projects on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

 

 

If you’re interested in joining us for an MLK Day of Service project, check out our last blog post to view the full list of opportunities and learn more about getting involved.





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Reading Corps Alum to be Honored with January Spirit of Service Award

Spirit of Service Award honoree Kristi Jo Sanders

​“It’s just simple little things you can do to help make tiny little things better for your community.”

Kristi Jo Sanders began her Reading Corps journey during the 2009-10 school year at Lincoln K-8 Choice School in Rochester. After receiving her K-12 reading license and teaching preschool for a few years, Kristi Jo had her “aha moment” when she realized all her students weren’t experiencing that same connection with books at home and in school. As she was looking to continue teaching, she found that becoming a tutor not only opened up new professional opportunities for her, but also gave her a different perspective she could use in her future career. “As a classroom teacher you make a big impact, but as a tutor…the one-on-one chance you have to work with kids allowed me to develop a relationship with kids and get to know them as readers on a different level,” Kristi Jo said.

After her service, Kristi Jo was hired on as a Reading Specialist at Jefferson Elementary School, where she continues serving students as the Internal Coach. A major proponent of community involvement, Kristi Jo also works to collect school supplies for the Running Start program, heads up the school’s backpack program, and helped build a school kitchen for children in Tanzania, Africa—a service trip she hopes to replicate soon. Always working to educate parents and families on the importance of reading at home, Kristi Jo hopes to encourage others to give back, even in small ways: “It’s your chance to make a difference and it’s a difference that’s going to follow a kid through the rest of their life.”

For your continued impact in the classroom and beyond, it’s our privilege to honor you with the Spirit of Service Award. Thank you, Kristi Jo! If you’re interested in making a difference in your community, apply to become a Reading Corps tutor at www.readingandmath.net. Be sure to apply by December 14th to start in January!

 

About the Spirit of Service Awards

Launched in 2018 to celebrate alumni and commemorate the 15th anniversary of Reading Corps and 10th anniversary of Math Corps, The Spirit of Service Awards honor individuals who continue to embody the AmeriCorps pledge as alumni. Honorees were celebrated as part of Institute in August, October and January.

Recipients during the 2018-19 program year include: Sarah Warren, Mary Borrell and Lindsay Taute, James Magee and Kristi Jo Sanders.

 

 
 

 

administratorReading Corps Alum to be Honored with January Spirit of Service Award
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Reading Corps Alum Receives October Spirit of Service Award

Spirit of Service Award honoree James Magee

“To work one on one with kids who just needed that extra push was really important to me.”

What better way to celebrate our anniversary (15 years of Reading Corps, 10 years of Math Corps) than recognizing the amazing achievements of our alumni? The Spirit of Service Award is presented to alumni in recognition of their efforts to live the AmeriCorps pledge and continue to focus on community after completing their service.

The first Spirit of Service Awards were presented at August Institute to alums Sarah Warren, Mary Borrell and Lindsay Taute. In honor of October Institute, we were proud to recognize Reading Corps alumni James Magee.

After completing his degree in classical music performance, James was drawn to the idea of becoming a teacher. While working as a paraprofessional at Royal Oaks Elementary school in Woodbury, he learned about Reading Corps and thought it might be a great pathway to becoming a teacher. James served as a Reading Corps tutor in 2009-10 and went on to earn his teaching license and complete an MA in education. After teaching kindergarten for six years, he now works as an instructional coach for South Washington County Schools.

“[Reading Corps] wasn’t a program that was looking out for itself; the kids were the primary goal the entire time,” James said. “That level of care and concern for each student was something I was able to take with me and adjust my instructional strategies moving forward.”

James cites his AmeriCorps experience as a driving force behind his desire to do meaningful work in his community and beyond. He has participated in global service by working to construct buildings and gather curriculum materials for primary students in Rwanda, and frequently volunteers locally with his children to support education. A passionate advocate for service, James says, “If you’re not willing to invest in education, you’re not willing to invest in your community’s success.”

Congratulations, James! We thank you for your service to Reading Corps and ongoing leadership in both the classroom and the community. We continue to be amazed by the incredible work our alumni do after service, and we look forward to honoring even more alumni during January Institute!


administratorReading Corps Alum Receives October Spirit of Service Award
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Reading Corps Alum Awarded Duluth’s 20 Under 40

Recently, Reading Corps alum Jodi Broadwell was recognized as one of Duluth’s 20 Under 40, an annual award honoring local leaders for their community impact and involvement.

Jodi first discovered Reading Corps when she spotted a flyer while dropping her son off at school. A single parent who not only was juggling multiple jobs and a preschool student, but also going to school herself, Jodi thought serving during the same hours her son was in school was just the solution she needed.

And it was while serving as the first preschool literacy tutor at Laura MacArthur Elementary’s Head Start program that Jodi found her passion for helping those in need. “I had never served on a committee before Reading Corps, and now I organize events all the time,” Jodi said. “that introduction into civic engagement is important.”

After Reading Corps, Jodi was inspired to get involved even more, serving on the board of directors for Community Action Duluth, the League of Women’s Voters-Duluth, Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, Inc, and Ecolibrium3. She has also been a caretaker for a Big Red Bookshelf for five years, served on the Duluth-Superior Pride Committee, and is a city commissioner for the Duluth Public Arts Commission.

“When you’re doing work in the community and making a difference, it makes for more meaningful life experiences,” Jodi said, “and sometimes it might benefit the person doing the volunteering more than the person on the receiving end.”

Serving as a Reading Corps tutor at a Head Start had a major impact on Jodi’s life, spawning a lifelong love for ensuring children and families living in impoverished conditions have the resources they need to succeed. Currently, she runs Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, a small nonprofit that strengthens the community by connecting families who care about children. Though her projects might include parent support groups, free family activities or a new day care center, Jodi has never forgotten the importance of reading. “Everything we do [with the kids] has some sort of early literacy component, whether it’s the whiteboards, signing in each day, or reading aloud…and we’re always encouraging parents to have those conversations with their children.”

With community service being such an important part of her life, what advice would Jodi give to those looking for a way to make a change? Get involved! “I really encourage people to embrace a national AmeriCorps service because it’s a wonderful experience—and looks great on a resume too!”

An alphabet mural Jodi and her students made during her 2nd year at Laura MacArthur Elementary, which has been hanging at UMD Children’s Place for ten years!

 

 
administratorReading Corps Alum Awarded Duluth’s 20 Under 40
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Reading Corps, Math Corps Alum Receive First Spirit of Service Awards

Spirit of Service award honorees Mary Borrell (left) and Sarah Warren (right) receive their awards at August Institute. (Not pictured is honoree Lindsay Taute.)

At Minnesota Reading Corps and Minnesota Math Corps, we’re constantly amazed by the dedication and passion demonstrated by each and every one of our tutors. Community-driven people from all across Minnesota volunteer a year (or more!) of their lives to inspire and encourage students to build the skills and confidence for a brighter future. We’re so incredibly grateful!

This August, as we celebrated Reading Corps’ 15th year and Math Corps’ 10th year, we also recognized some of the amazing alumni who have taken this dedication to service and extended it beyond our programs and into their day-to-day lives. The first ever Alumni Spirit of Service Awards were presented to three such alum during Institute on August 14th.

Both Reading Corps and Math Corps alumni who had completed their service during the 17-18 school year or earlier were eligible, with winners chosen based on continued service after Reading Corps and Math Corps and their dedication to making a difference. Whether it was continued involvement in a school, volunteering to help communities across the globe, or writing children’s books to foster a love for reading, these alumni have made service an essential part of their lives and work. In addition to the award certificate, winners also received new alumni jackets.

We know that the desire to give back doesn’t end after your AmeriCorps service, and we hope that these stories will help inspire you to continue to get involved in your community and make a difference for those in need. We are excited to launch this tradition and look forward to celebrating more honorees as part of October and January Institutes!

Mary Borrell

“I think it’s really powerful to have those years or whatever time period just to give back.”

Mary served for two years as a Reading Corps tutor at Vista View Elementary in Burnsville. During her service she pursued a master’s degree in Autism Spectrum Disorders at St. Thomas University. She was subsequently hired on at Vista View Elementary where she now works with children on the autism spectrum. In addition to supporting incoming tutors to Vista View, Mary is also involved with Girls on the Run and  serves on the Cultural Proficiency Team for ISD 191.



Sarah Warren

“It’s service to others but also an incredible opportunity to grow as a professional.”

An experienced early childhood educator, Sarah served for two years as a PreK tutor and two years as a Family Child Care tutor. After completing her fourth term of service in 2016, Sarah has continued to be a champion for literacy in Minneapolis. She leads teacher trainings, workshops for teens and local story hours for families. Her book Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers has been recognized by The Amelia Bloomer Book List and has also been featured on amightygirl.com.

 

 

Lindsay Taute

“There is no sense in doing what we’re doing unless it impacts a person’s life.”

Lindsay served as a Math Corps tutor in 2009 at North Junior High School in St. Cloud. Her service with Math Corps was a gap year before beginning medical school at the University of Minnesota. She has participated in a month-long medical mission to Haiti, is credited on multiple case reports and studies, and recently presented at the American Academy of Pathologist’s Assistants annual meeting in Oregon. She continues to invest in her community and now practices medicine in New Mexico.



administratorReading Corps, Math Corps Alum Receive First Spirit of Service Awards
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Finding Her Direction in Education

Cassandra Stoll, K-3 Literacy Tutor at Zimmerman Elementary School in Zimmerman, MN

Having recently completed her bachelor’s degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Cassie Stoll knew she wanted to launch her career and do something she was passionate about.

As she reflected on possible next steps, she remembered her nephew’s remarkable experience with Reading Corps as a kindergartner. “He made tremendous strides in his literacy skills,” Cassie said, “so I knew firsthand that the program works.”

An avid reader herself, Cassie was drawn to Reading Corps and thought working in a school would be a new and challenging experience for her. After starting her service at Zimmerman Elementary School in Zimmerman, Minnesota, Cassie quickly found out that to the kids, she wasn’t just a tutor, but a cheerleader, educator, advocate and friend.

“There’s never a dull moment when you’re serving,” Cassie explains. “My students could always make me smile, regardless of what kind of day I was having. One of my favorite [memories] is when I found out that two of my students would play ‘Reading Corps’ together at daycare after school. They would do all of our reading activities and take turns being ‘Miss Cassie’!”

Cassie enjoyed her service so much that she was inspired to enroll at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota to complete a master’s in Special Education. Within the next couple of years she hopes to have a classroom of her own. “My tutoring experience has given me a purpose and helped me discover what I want to do with the rest of my life!” Cassie says.

And to those considering service? She has one piece of advice: “Go into the experience with an open mind and an open heart. You never know where your service year will take you.”

If you think Reading Corps sounds like your next adventure, send us an email or give us a call at 866.859.2825 to learn more about opportunities near you.





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