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Reading Corps volunteer receives President’s Lifetime Award

Posted on 25 June 2018 by calvin

By STEPHANIE FOX
Kristen Evanston’s life has always been one of service, whether to her country or her community. And on June 14, Evanston received some deserved recognition when she was presented with the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, given to those with a commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service.

For the last four years, Evanston has been working as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the Minnesota Reading Corps, tutoring at the Lake Nokomis Community School’s Wenonah Campus, a school serving kindergarten through 2nd-grade students.

Evanston lives in South Minneapolis and calls Wenonah Elementary her neighborhood school.

The Minnesota Reading Corps is a statewide effort to tutor students in math and reading. The program focuses on the one in three students who, without intervention, will not be reading at grade level by 3rd-grade. A study at the University of Chicago found that the Reading Corps was one of the most effective national literacy programs available.

Schools identify the kids who might fall behind and then, volunteers like Evanston are called upon. “They just need a little bit of support,” Evanston said. “Up through the 3rd grade, they’re learning to read. From the 3rd grade on, they are reading to learn. That’s why this is so important.”

The AmeriCorps program allows volunteers to serve for only four years and no longer, and this year, Evanston had reached her the maximum time allowed. Minnesota is one of the top states for volunteering, with more than 40 percent of people putting in time on their favorite causes. Nationally, most people who put in time volunteering serve about 52 hours a year, averaging an hour a week. But, based on this ‘average,’ Evanston’s work—4,000 hours of volunteerism—added up to a comparable 76 years of service.

Right out of school, Evanston joined the military hoping to follow in her military father’s footsteps. She was looking, she said, for a chance to serve her country and to travel the world. Her 18 years in the army took her to Germany, France, and Switzerland and then to a two-year assignment in Iraq.

Photo right: Kristen Evanson (left) receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from Chris Erickson, the program manager with the Reading and Math Corps for her for her years of commitment to local children. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

“I was in Iraq in 2003 until the end of 2004, part of the Iraqi Freedom. As an officer—I was a first lieutenant—I was put in charge of a supply unit, distributing items that soldiers needed and helping work with our unit to reach our goal,” she said.

When she returned to the states as a civilian, she worked for eight years as a graphic designer, but the job just didn’t seem to fit. She wanted to do more. “I wanted to work with kids,” she said. She went back to school, earning a degree in early childhood education, with the goal to work with the very youngest students.

“In that age range, the kids are eager to learn new things. We try to help improve their confidence and their skills, and when we can do that, then they just fly,” she said.

This last year, Evanston worked tutoring 55 kids, teaching them basic reading skills, working on vocabulary words and reading aloud with them. “We work with all kinds of kids. When they come in, you get to build a relationship with them. Kids need adults to support them in everyday things.”

This year, her job with the tutoring program ending, Evanston applied for positions around the Twin Cities and got three offers. She chose Lucy Craft Laney Community School in North Minneapolis where she begins in August, working with 1st-grade students. But, she still strongly supports the Minnesota Reading Corps.

I wish everyone who graduates high school or college would have to serve on a volunteer program, she said. “It’s not just what you can give, but what you get back. You learn to work with a staff; you get connections to a community. I want my own kids to volunteer and interact with everyone, to work with all kinds of people. Once you give, you want to give more.”

Evanston has advice for the parents of young kids, recommending that they read to their children every day. “It’s essential to get them to love books. And you can build relationships with them and with their educators. “

The tutoring program is currently looking for 1,700 volunteer tutors throughout the state, in reading and math. Locally, they’ve already recruited about 20 percent of the 325 volunteers needed, but are looking for more people in the community who can work full or part-time, teaching reading or math to students who need a little extra help.

In schools, each tutor is paired up with a professional educator working in the school. For Evanston, her guide was Andrea Carter, the school’s media specialist at Wenonah, and she attributes some of the program’s success to the training and support tutors are given. “The initial training starts with a week of intensive training at the Minneapolis Convention Center. When they are done with that, they are ready to go,” Carter said. “We have a rigorous support structure, internal coaches are provided, as are master coaches.”

The program accepts volunteers just out of high school, those taking a year during a career change, college students, and those who have retired but are looking to make a difference.

Anyone interested is urged to call 866-859-2825 or visit www.minnesotareadingcorps.org or www.minnesotamathcorps.org.

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