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Federal Way AmeriCorps: Largest in the nation

The Federal Way's AmeriCorps is now the largest in the nation.

For years, Federal Way School District's group was the largest in Washington state. The group, which consists of 1,244 volunteers and 76 full-time members this fall, has now taken the spot as the biggest in the United States, district spokeswoman Deb Stenberg said.

This past school year, the members put in more than 87,000 hours, and the volunteers put in more than 1,000 hours.

AmeriCorps helps in classrooms and after school, including programs at the Camelot Square neighborhood, Westway neighborhood, Forest Cove Apartments and at the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center.

The group tutored 3,042 students in the past year — well over a goal this year of 1,830. According to a report submitted to AmeriCorps' head office, 89 percent of teachers reported an improved attitude among students who received AmeriCorps tutoring.

AVID and more

One big change this year was with the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Program. AmeriCorps facilitates AVID and is credited for making the program possible. The group holds tutorials two days a week in every secondary school. AmeriCorps received extra funding for more members to work with the AVID students.

Federal Way High School and Totem Middle School, the two schools designated as national demonstration schools, were commended for their relationship with AmeriCorps members and their efforts in supporting students.

Teachers pick out students who may benefit from extra tutoring, said Monda Holsinger, director of Federal Way's AmeriCorps.

"It's the students in the middle that have the possibility of passing through the cracks," Holsinger said. "We serve under the direction of the teachers. We are on the same page as the teachers. It's a close partnership where they identify the students that get tutors. It's all about bringing more adults into a community to support more children."

As for how AmeriCorps got so many volunteers to come into the fold, Holsinger cites a good program as well as good recruitment.

"We run an excellent program," Holsinger said. "We are meticulous and tenacious."

Members also keep in close touch with the volunteers, recognizing them at a national volunteer week and sending out birthday cards.

Volunteers range from ages 18-73, and represent every race and both genders, Holsinger said.

AmeriCorps does more than tutoring. This past year, the group helped with the Federal Way Senior Center garden, sponsored an enviromental fair at Saltwater State Park and made a gravel trail at the West Hylebos Wetlands. AmeriCorps also held its Sweets for Success program, which raises money for children to participate in sports, music, art and debate. In the past five years, AmeriCorps has raised $60,000 through Sweets for Success.

"It's all through the efforts of our members," Holsinger said. "What they do in the community is a little overwhelming. It's so beautiful."

AmeriCorps members receive federal student loan deferments, training, child care, health insurance, a $950 monthly living allowance, and a $4,725 education award at the completion of 10.5 months and 1,700 hours. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and at least 17 years old.

Service statistics

• 76 members serve 40 hours a week for $1,050 a month.

• About 50 percent of AmeriCorps members represent states outside of Washington.

• FWPS AmeriCorps maintains a 98 percent member retention rate.

• 2008-2009 AmeriCorps Team served 87,498 hours.

• Awarded Humanitarian Of The Year from the Franciscan Foundation in 2007.

• 35 of 37 Federal Way schools served.

• 27 before or after school programs and four community sites.

• To learn more, call (253) 945-2282, e-mail mholsing@fwps.org or visit www.fwps.org/dept/volunteer/acfw.html.

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