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AmeriCorps Brings Role Models To Children's Lives
By Dina Sanchez
October 20, 2001
Pressed Into Service.
Andrea Carrier had her first taste of AmeriCorps last year when she volunteered with Apopka Middle School students. This year she's back for a second helping.
"I was starting to build relationships with the kids," said Carrier, a University of Florida graduate who lives in Apopka. "I wanted to stick with them another year."
This time around Carrier will be working with students at Apopka High School in an after-school program. But she still will be able to keep in touch with the children she mentored last year.
Things are just getting off the ground for this year's Notre Dame AmeriCorps class. With one and a half weeks of training under their belts, the group of 15 was dispersed to their respective assignments.
AmeriCorps, the domestic Peace Corps, is a national federally funded program. A group of community members and recent high school and college graduates, AmeriCorps participants donate one year of their time to aid children and adults in areas with unfavorable economic situations.
Local nonprofit groups select and supervise the AmeriCorps members. In Apopka, the Farmworkers Ministry trains members and coordinates students' work with the public schools. The ministry is the umbrella group for the Farmworkers Association, which works mainly with Mexican agricultural workers.
Apopka itself is about 18 percent Hispanic, with the population about equally split between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, according to Census 2000.In nearby Zellwood Elementary, where José Onate is volunteering with bilingual students, Hispanics make up 34 percent of students.
Onate plans to spend his days with the students Mondays through Thursdays, helping to eliminate language barriers from lessons, homework, among other things.
"I wanted to work with little kids and help them out," said Onate, 18, "Now I can."
But AmeriCorps volunteers do much more than help with schoolwork, their hand reaches further into the lives of the students who many times come from broken homes.
"They can be role models for the minority students in schools", said Carolyn Canright co-director of the program in Apopka. Students look to the AmeriCorps workers, who are oftentimes themselves minorities, and in turn are able to "see themselves as leaders."
"I feel the need of the people of my culture," added Pilar Raya, who five years ago immigrated from Mexico. "I want to make a difference in their lives."