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AmeriCorps worker closes out year in Austin

Paula Lemar has helped many young children learn to read and write this year, and now she is preparing to pass the opportunity to another.

Through AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Lemar has served since September as a literacy program coordinator at the Austin Community Learning Center.

She will finish her work in August, when the learning center will need to replace her with another VISTA member.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a national service program designed to fight poverty. VISTA members serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or government agency.

“It’s been a great experience,” Lemar said. “I’ve learned a lot and I think I’ve accomplished a lot.”

The Austin High School and Augustana College graduate is paid at the poverty level to work 40 hours a week developing a children’s literacy program for kids in grades K-5.

The program is held two nights a week, running concurrently with adult English Language Learning classes. The children must have parents taking the ELL classes to participate in the program.

What: A one-year position, beginning in August, developing children’s literacy programming at the Austin Community Learning Center

Deadline: June 1

Application: Apply online at myamericorps.gov

The pay is low, Lemar said, so that she can identify with the people that the programs serve. Upon completion of an AmeriCorps job, workers receive more than $5,000 to be used to pay student loans or further their education.

The purpose of Lemar’s work, and that of the two VISTAs who will follow her, is to design and polish the children’s literacy program, making it self-sustaining by the end of the third VISTA’s term.

In addition to setting the framework for the literacy classes, and working with the kids herself, Lemar has written a tutor training manual, contributed to the CLC newsletter, organized children’s games, worked with the CLC’s Kids Club and coordinated the Taste of Nations event during her stint. She has also given presentations to the community to garner support for the program, and written a grant to purchase 200 books to form a mini-library for the kids.

Lemar said she will take the organizational and multitasking skills she’s learned from her VISTA work into a career in editing. She hopes to find employment with a small book publisher.

Her replacement VISTA will start where she leaves off, Lemar said. They will be charged with developing the tutor component and further promoting the program to area businesses and organizations. They will also work on planning next year’s Taste of Nations event.

Lemar said she also hopes the next VISTA will work to incorporate theater activities into the evening literacy classes. This is something she hoped to establish, but grant funding was denied.

“We’d also like something implemented to track their progress, and see how they are improving,” Lemar said of the kids in the literacy classes.

“We’ve done a lot this year,” she said. “But, there’s more to do.”

Applications for the AmeriCorps VISTA position which follows Lemar’s are being accepted online through June 1 at myamericorps.gov/mp/listing/viewListing.do?fromSearch=true&id=9869. AmeriCorps VISTAs must have a four-year college degree, in any field, and a desire to help adults of many diverse backgrounds in an educational environment.

What: A one-year position, beginning in August, developing children’s literacy programming at the Austin Community Learning Center

Deadline: June 1

Application: Apply online at myamericorps.gov