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January 18, 2012 / HandsOnCorps

Learn and Earn

In these past few months of AmeriCorps service I have gained wonderful working experience and have made an impact on my community. My host site is the United Way of Lake County in Gurnee Illinois. I am responsible for co-coordinating the Computer Learn and Earn program. This program gives away refurbished computers to parents who attend three computer training sessions. The classes cover basic computer skills, the parent portal at the high school, and parenting tips and graduation requirements. I am responsible for parent recruitment, volunteer sustainability, and record tracking.

Parent recruitment is one of the best parts of this job. I have come in contact with parents who are skeptical about the program and do not want to participate. Parents believe that they will not actually receive a free computer. The area that we service has a large immigrant community. I have found that there is also hesitation to participate because they believe that that there will be a review of their legal status to be eligible for the program. When I explain to them that the Computer Learn and Earn program only requires them to have a child in grades 6 through 12 in district and not have a home computer they are happy to participate. That change that occurs once the parents know there is no threat and the services are provided in their native language. Parents become more receptive to receiving help and accepting new ideas.

At one of my recruitment events I met the Colunga family. They have three children in the Waukegan public schools, and the two oldest daughters attend the high school. I introduced the program to them informing them if they attended three training sessions they could earn a free computer for their home. They started to tell me that they could not afford a computer for their family, and that they really wanted their daughters to attend college. They asked me a few questions about my high school and college experience. I gave them information about possible scholarship opportunities that are available to their daughters locally. They were extremely happy to know that there are opportunities available for their children. They told me that it was nice to see a kid from the neighborhood giving back. This made me feel that my term of service is going to make an impact in the community were I grew up. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to inform people of different possibilities available to them and maybe guide families to support their children’s aspirations for higher education.

I cannot write a blog about my AmeriCorps service without thanking all the volunteers that make the programs that I coordinate possible. Without the time and dedication of these individuals there would be no Computer Learn and Earn program. 177 families would be without a home computer. Parents would be less aware of their student’s academic progress. For the past year volunteers have helped to collect, refurbish, and distribute computers to low income families in the Waukegan area. They have had a hand educating parents about the American educational system. When parents are informed about their child’s educational life they are more willing to address problems that come up. The volunteers of our program have provided families with tools and education that can help students succeed in school.

This year of service has changed the way I look at “problems” in the community. One would think that parents who do not access educational tools to track their student’s academic progress have no interest to do so. Providing families with the proper education in a comfortable setting begins a process for change. Change can be the difference between a high school student graduating or dropping out.

Cynthia Castrejon

HandsOn Corps National Direct Member: United Way of Gurnee Illinois

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