PRESTONSBURG – Members of Operation UNITE’s Service Corps (AmeriCorps) program were lauded for their exceptional work to keep youth on a drug-free path during an end-of-the-year celebration on May 23.
“The brilliance of the UNITE Service Corps is (that they are able) to take a proactive approach,” said Aaron Anderkin, who served as chairman of the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service (KCCVS) from 2010-12. “You help, not for recognition, but because you realize the urgency of the moment.”
KCCVS is responsible for coordinating the AmeriCorps program across Kentucky.
“UNITE has been the catalyst in this region,” Anderkin stated. “They are able to activate the power of its greatest resource – it’s people.”
Anderkin, a 2003 graduate of Rockcastle County High School, was appointed in 2005 by then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher as KCCVS Youth Commissioner and was reappointed two more three-year terms to an at-large Commission seat by Gov. Steve Beshear. In addition to serving as chairman, he has spent the past seven years on the Commission’s Program Committee.
“Youth here have as much of an opportunity to live the American dream as anyone else in the country,” Anderkin told the Service Corps members, but noted the drug epidemic has been a big hurdle.
The work you do “is emotional,” Anderkin said. “I’ve seen some pretty dark clouds. Addiction cost my father his life. I truly learned what real empathy looked like.”
Operation UNITE employed 44 full-time AmeriCorps members to serve 42 schools in 11 counties as part of its Service Corps initiative during the 2013-14 school year.
AmeriCorps members provide math tutoring, teach the “Too Good for Drugs” and “Healthy Futures/Take 10” wellness curriculums and coordinate anti-drug UNITE Clubs. In addition, members provide thousands of hours of volunteer service and recruit volunteers for school prevention activities.
Although the final numbers are not yet available, this year UNITE Service Corps members have tutored approximately 2,800 students in math and taught drug resistant education to more than 2,500 fourth- and fifth-graders.
Eugene Newsome, who oversees the UNITE Service Corps initiative, said mid-term reports indicate significant growth in the number of students being tutored in math and that 83.5 percent have improved at least 30 percent since the start of the year.
In addition, average drug education knowledge increased by 40 percentage points, Newsome said.
While the statistics are impressive, Anderkin said the most powerful messages are the testimonials about individual successes that are making a difference.
“The UNITE Service Corps is laying a foundation. We’re saving lives,” said Nancy Hale, co-program director. “We have to equip students with knowledge that they are in charge of their choices. Many of them, at the age of nine or ten, have already seen (the effects of substance abuse) first hand.”
“You may never know the impact you’re making in someone’s life,” Hale added.