May 08, 2009

SIUC’s AmeriCorps members dedicated to service

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale became home to one of the first AmeriCorps programs in Illinois in 1995 and since then, dozens of University students have left their mark on the community and in the lives of children around the region.

“Some of our best students are selected each year for AmeriCorps and I’m fortunate to get to work with and advise them,” said Mythili Rundblad, coordinator of Student Development. “Being the coordinator of all aspects of the program, I observe their dedication, their enthusiasm and passion to help children. They are awesome because it takes a special kind of person to work with children who present different needs and challenges. The team sets a high standard and it is an honor for me to work with them.”

National AmeriCorps Week is May 9-16. The Corporation for National Service in Washington, D.C., created the designation to highlight AmeriCorps members and the difference they make across the country. It is a “thank you” for their dedication and hard work, too. Rundblad said the national observance is a fitting time to mark the remarkable contributions her team makes throughout the region.

An extensive application and interview process selects the SIUC AmeriCorps group each year. Members serve 20-25 hours a week at one of the following partner service sites: the Boys and Girls Club or schools within the Carbondale elementary district, Murphysboro district, Du Quoin district, or Unity Point district. They pledge to complete at least 900 hours of service during the year-long period.

While enrolled as full-time University students, the AmeriCorps members serve as tutors and mentors for children ages pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Working directly with classroom teachers, they serve as role models for the children while helping children improve their literacy and the quality of their academic work.

“Each day I see children who struggle in class, and then due to my tutoring, they understand the material and it makes sense to them. It is an incredible feeling,” said Sarah Ritcheson, an AmeriCorps member from McLeanboro.

Rundblad said their efforts have reduced absenteeism, enhanced the children’s self-esteem and self-confidence and improved student behavior and social skills too. While final statistics for this school year aren’t in yet, Rundblad said statistics from past years and preliminary reports from site supervisors already illustrate the ongoing positive changes. She said member evaluations from the site supervisors have been “outstanding” this year.

Helping younger children isn’t all the SIUC AmeriCorps is about. Members also participate in a wide variety of service projects. This year they have helped landscape Carbondale’s downtown square during Day of Service, created specialized T-shirts for AIDS orphans in Zambia and participated in environmental projects on Make a Difference Day, among other efforts.

AmeriCorps participants say they joined the program to help children and make a real contribution to the community, but they’ve received something important as well.

“When you serve, you learn so much about yourself,” said Toni Manzella, an SIUC AmeriCorps participant from New Lenox. “The best part of my experience, without a doubt, is the children I work with. When I am at the school, I know there is no place I would rather be and the students have touched my life in a way I could not have thought possible.”

Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps is part of the AmeriCorps USA national service program with the Corporation for National Service as administrator. The Serve Illinois Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service is administrator for the state’s program.

First lady Michelle Obama is, in fact, founding director of the Chicago chapter of Public Allies AmeriCorps and President Obama recently signed into law a major expansion of AmeriCorps and national service programs, Rundblad said.

“AmeriCorps is an eminent example of serving while learning and learning while serving. Participants earn a modest monthly living allowance and an educational award on completing their term of service while providing meaningful community service. We look forward to continuing to serve this region,” she added.

The 2008-2009 SIU Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps membership, listed by hometown with current year in college, where applicable, and major is:



• Kamilah Banks-Word, MEDPREP program.

• Raymone Fleming, junior, business.

• Paul Flowers, senior, biological sciences.


• Nicholas Sellers, junior, psychology.


• Sarah Ritcheson, senior, English.

New Lenox

• Jackie Bessette, junior, English education.

• Toni Manzella, junior, psychology and social work.


• Anthony Cruitt, senior, political science and economics.


• Jason Bustamante, senior, economics.


• Drew Levy, senior, physical education.



• Stephanie Marshall, MEDPREP program.



• Paula Adamson, MEDPREP program.



• Carnai Simpson, MEDPREP program.