While this past year has been difficult for many, including Ohio AmeriCorps programs, there have been some incredible stories of success. We’d like to highlight Project BEAR and their success stories from this past program year. Project BEAR, which is hosted by Shawnee State University, allows its AmeriCorps members to provide literacy instruction in local childcare facilities and preschools, local head start classrooms, and family childcare centers. In 2020-21, Project Bear maintained a partnership with EasterSeals by promoting the Imagination Library and literacy support in a 7 county region. Imagination Library is an organization “dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by gifting books free of charge to children from birth to age five.” Project BEAR helped share the opportunity of Imagination Library to many families in their service region. “When the year began the Imagination Library had the following percentages of eligible students enrolled in the program: Pike 31%, Scioto 31%, Jackson 35%, Gallia 41%, Hocking 32%, Megis 43%, and Vinton 28%. Through partnerships made with local libraries, attending YMCA events, and other activities as well as working in local childcare centers to sign children up for the program we ended the year with the following percentages of children enrolled in the program: Pike 44%, Scioto 42%, Jackson 50%, Gallia 49%, Hocking 45%, Megis 49%, and Vinton 34%. On top of the number of students who were enrolled, we were also able to plant two little free libraries in the 7 county region as part of our days of service.” This incredible growth in participation was possible by a partnership with the new, local children’s museum. A new program Project BEAR instituted was a summer literacy academy held at the Children’s Learning Center. “The program served 43 students providing intensive exposure to early literacy skills, specifically letter names and sounds, to help recover learning loss from COVID and prepare students for kindergarten. Of the 43 students we served, 23% met the 60% requirement of attendance to have their data evaluated. Of that 23%, 100% of the students showed gains in their letter name and sound knowledge with 90% of those students performing above average.” AmeriCorps members were able to make such an incredible impact in a short 8-week program. The impact was clear for many parents. “Three years ago, we enrolled our son at the Children’s Learning Center. I cannot explain the difference this made in my son. We enrolled a little boy who was delayed, speech delayed, and possibly autistic (he was not, just early in the evaluations). An only child with little social skills outside of his parents and grandparents. That is NOT the same boy that we enrolled in kindergarten for next week. Not at all. The difference in this child is unfathomable. We never dreamed our son would be who he is now. I can’t explain how grateful we all are to his teacher Ms. Cile & his BEAR Member Ms. Ellen. Thank you for everything you’ve done for our boy." An AmeriCorps program’s impact goes beyond the people it serves. Some of the biggest impact can be on the members themselves: Member Heather Payne says that her “AmeriCorps experience has been exciting and challenging. My most rewarding task was seeing children who didn’t recognize many letters start to recognize their own letter in their name. I performed many literacy-related centers and activities. My AmeriCorps experience was one of ups and downs and it is bittersweet seeing it come to an end. I am happy to report that after my service ended, I was hired full-time by my service site!" McKenzie England told a heartwarming story of her experience. "There was a child in my classroom who had a really tough time with transitions. This child particularly did not do well with drop off in the morning and would often cry and hold onto their parents. The parents knew that their child enjoyed being in our program during the day, but it’s always hard to see a child so upset. One day I had an idea, and I grabbed the clipboard and asked the child to help me find their name on there so that I could write what time they got here this morning. The child instantly smiled, let go of their parent, and helped me look all over the page until finding their name. This became our routine every morning. Something so simple made a huge impact on that family and it helped to show me the importance of my service and bringing literacy to these students. I think of the word 'growth' when I reflect on this experience. I am grateful for each fellow member who became a friend and each child who became 'my kid'. Growth is something that I will always be grateful for." "The fact that I was able to give these students the tools they need to be successful in kindergarten is rewarding. I hope that I had some type of impact on my students that will make them successful in kindergarten,” said Brittany Russell. AmeriCorps members impact many but are also impacted by their service. Many members go on to careers that are directly related to their service, others find their passion in other places. Learn about current Ohio AmeriCorps programs and how you can make an impact while being impacted here .