Harrisburg – Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jennifer Berrier this week recognized the important work of dedicated AmeriCorps members as part of national AmeriCorps Week during a visit Wednesday at the Olivet Boys and Girls Club in Reading.
The week of celebration – from March 13 through March 19 – highlights the commitment of millions of Americans who have chosen to step up and serve their communities through a variety of diverse, public-focused programs.
"Here at L&I, our PennSERVE staff work every single day to support organizations that utilize service and volunteerism to tackle Pennsylvania's most pressing challenges," said Secretary Berrier. "As the state service commission, PennSERVE helped to engage more than 1,000 AmeriCorps members last year. Those members served more 32,000 kids, provided job training to 450 Pennsylvanians, served more than 200 veterans and military families, treated 645 acres of public land, and provided essential supports to communities throughout the COVD-19 pandemic. Programs like the one we are visiting this week truly show the power of serving your community and prove that by working together, a difference can be made."
Secretary Berrier was joined by PennSERVE Executive Director Maureen Eccleston for the visit to Reading, where they met AmeriCorps members, staff and club kids of the Olivet Community Builders AmeriCorps program. Each year, the Olivet Boys & Girls Club engages up to 68 AmeriCorps members who support the delivery of afterschool and summer academic initiatives including homework help, high-yield learning activities, reading enrichment, and STEM programming for K-8 club members across 10 club locations in Reading, Robesonia, and Shillington.
"AmeriCorps Week gives us the opportunity to be reminded of the power of service to lift up communities," said Executive Director Eccleston. "Pennsylvania AmeriCorps members are building literal homes and figurative bridges. They are tutoring and mentoring youth, college students, refugees and immigrants. They are fighting the ongoing impacts of a global pandemic, while also restoring our natural environment for the benefit of generations to come. PennSERVE is proud to support 25 AmeriCorps programs as they engage Pennsylvanians in meeting critical needs."
Secretary Berrier and Executive Director Eccleston observed and participated in reading enrichment activities with club kids and learned about the new "Hubs of Hope" Care Closet, which was developed to respond to emergent needs during the pandemic.
Earlier in the week, L&I and PennSERVE announced the recipients of the 2022 PennSERVE AmeriCorps Week Awards. The following awards were presented to individuals who provided exceptional service to the commonwealth as participants in, or supporters of, AmeriCorps:
AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteer of the Year
Elizabeth Anderson, known as Grandma Elizabeth, is an AmeriCorps Seniors Foster Grandparent Program volunteer with Wesley Family Services in Pittsburgh. Grandma Elizabeth has served for over eight years, continuing through the pandemic so her students – her children – would know she cares and is there for them. At the Urban Academy of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School, teacher Ms. Hanner once said that Grandma Elizabeth is "the greatest addition" to her classroom. Grandma Elizabeth builds strong relationships with everyone she meets at the school including children, teachers, staff, and the families of the children she serves.
Exemplary Supporter of National Service
Art Block is a proud graduate of Philadelphia public schools and has served as a Board member for City Year Philadelphia for nearly 20 years. Having faced challenges in his own life, Art recognized that he had a village of people who helped him stay on track to complete high school, college, and law school. Art's support of AmeriCorps and City Year knows no bounds, having served as the Board co-chair and development chair. He has leveraged corporate sponsorships to generate more than $5 million in donations to City Year Philadelphia. Art has met with elected officials, reached out to leaders of major corporations, and engaged with School District leaders and other decision makers on City Year's behalf.
AmeriCorps member of The Year
Devoratt Martinez is a full-time AmeriCorps member with CarbonCorps, serving the Weatherly Area School District. In this role, Devoratt mentors up to 10 students weekly and meets with groups of kindergarten through third graders to facilitate social-emotional learning opportunities. In all her service activities, Devoratt goes above and beyond, collaborating with guidance counselors, faculty, and families to provide progress updates and determine if there are new areas to be addressed. With the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, she helped to provide students with a "hope chest" full of holiday gifts. With the BRC TV13 hat and glove drive, she made sure that all students in need received donated hats and gloves.
Lifetime of Service Award
On October 31, 1994, Carol Overly began a term of service in the inaugural class of AmeriCorps with the Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps. With her team, Carol earned a Governor's Excellence Award for producing a video on the dangers of childhood lead poisoning. In the same year, Carol co-authored a book titled "My Mommy's in Prison" as a resource for families engaged with the local Head Start; that book is registered with the Library of Congress. After her AmeriCorps term, Carol was hired as a Regional Coordinator and, in December 2000, she became the Program Director of the Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps. As Director, Carol led the program through substantial growth; once a program of nine counties and 40 AmeriCorps members, the PMSC later covered 16 counties and engaged up to 157 members per year.
AmeriCorps Member Perseverance in Service Award
As an AmeriCorps member with Compass AmeriCorps in Pittsburgh, Emily teaches an adult English as a Second Language class to Congolese refugees. With a can-do spirit, Emily has faced an ever-changing service placement, constantly switching back and forth from in-person service to remote. Still, she has provided continuity across her lessons to ensure she meets the critical learning needs of her students. Emily shows up with the utmost positivity and is prepared for any outcome that may arise that day. She has the leadership and organizational skills that are needed to help lead and thrive in the classroom. Emily keeps her students engaged and connects them to external resources such as the community library, organizing a field trip to help her students access the library as a resource for them and their families.
Dr. Dominique Thornhill
Exemplary Supporter of National Service
Dr. Dominique Thornhill is the Owner and Director of Each One Teach One Childcare & Learning Center. The Center serves children from infancy to high school with childcare, tutoring, and summer enrichment; and is a volunteer station for AmeriCorps Seniors, Foster Grandparent Program, sponsored by Wesley Family Services. With safety precautions at the forefront, Dr. Thornhill's Center was the only virtual learning service for school-age children in Wilkinsburg – outside of Pittsburgh - in 2021. Dr. Dominique Thornhill dreams big, makes things happen, and provides incredible support for AmeriCorps Seniors and youth.
In Pennsylvania, AmeriCorps programs are funded through PennSERVE, which L&I oversees. Each year, PennSERVE awards approximately $12 million in federal funding from the federal AmeriCorps agency to various programs across Pennsylvania. Those programs are responsible for vital work in their respective communities, like helping to manage COVID-19 response, ensuring students stay on track to graduate, combatting hunger and homelessness, responding to natural disasters, fighting the opioid epidemic, helping seniors live independently, supporting veterans and military families, and much more.
Learn more about PennSERVE on our website, and be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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