Sixteen elementary schools in eight Eastern Kentucky counties are receiving additional assistance during the 2009-10 school year through Operation UNITE’s Service Corps.

Provided in conjunction with the state AmeriCorps program, UNITE Service Corps members teach the “Too Good for Drugs” curriculum, tutor students in mathematics, and help set up and coordinate an anti-drug UNITE Club at their school.

Currently Service Corps members are serving in Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Leslie, Magoffin, Pike and Wolfe counties. (See list of members below.)

“We have had tremendous success with our AmeriCorps partnership,” noted Gary Perkins, UNITE Service Corps project director. “Most schools in our region have a need to improve mathematics skills, and we all know the problems that substance abuse causes within our families, schools and communities.”

Through a three-year grant awarded by the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2008, UNITE employed 10 AmeriCorps members at schools in six counties during the 2008-09 school year. An additional $65,500 in grant funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 enabled UNITE to add an additional five positions for the current term.

School districts receiving a UNITE Service Corps member contribute $5,500 per person for the year.

The UNITE Service Corps members are among more than 300 first- and second-year AmeriCorps members to embark on a year of service by helping address unmet needs in 115 of the state’s 120 counties.

“We are pleased to be able to join with school districts to add another dimension to UNITE’s education initiative,” said Karen Engle, director of UNITE. “We believe reaching out to youth at the earliest levels provides an advantage as they grow older.”

“In addition, this is a way for UNITE to help communities raise graduation rates, provide positive mentoring opportunities, and to tackle other national challenges such as substance abuse,” Engle added. “It’s a perfect fit with the goals of our UNITE Clubs.”

The “Too Goods for Drugs” prevention education curricula, provided by the Mendez Foundation, teaches children that they are, indeed, too good for drugs and violence.

These programs specifically teach youth how to make good decisions in the context of goals, outcomes and consequences. The program lessons and activities give them concrete, how-to skills to counter social influences and refuse peer pressure. It teaches them the facts about drugs – alcohol, tobacco and other drugs – as they relate to their health and well-being.

Through role plays and age appropriate activities, it models healthy pro-social behaviors and attitudes, including identifying and managing emotions and communicating effectively.

From 2007-2009 more than 7,100 students were enrolled in “Too Good for Drugs” courses taught by UNITE’s AmeriCorps members and substance abuse counselors.

AmeriCorps is a program of the Kentucky Commission on Community Volunteerism and Service (KCCVS) in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). AmeriCorps members may serve two years and must be at least 17 years old and legal U.S. residents.

“AmeriCorps members truly make a difference, and I am proud of the enthusiasm and zeal these members bring to their service in Kentucky,” noted CHFS Secretary Janie Miller. “Our AmeriCorps programs have grown each year as more Kentuckians choose to contribute to their communities in these difficult economic times when the need is even greater.”

In addition to performing community service tasks, members also recruit local volunteers to help ensure programs and progress continue after members complete their terms of service.

Eileen Cackowski, executive director of the KCCVS, said Kentucky AmeriCorps members continue to prove the value of community service in meeting even the most serious social, academic and preparedness challenges.

“Faced with challenges, they persevere and overcome, reaching out to their fellow Kentuckians with direct service, compassion and care,” Cackowski said. “AmeriCorps members … help at-risk students catch up and even surpass their academic peers and, perhaps most valuable of all, they offer an ear to listen and a strong desire to help that inspires and appeals to others seeking a way to serve.”

Below is a list of UNITE Service Corps members by county. Those identified as a “Recovery” member are paid for with the additional grant funding.

Floyd County

Cathy Cole, J.M. Stumbo Elementary – Now in her second year of service, Cole lives in Salyersville and holds an associate’s degree from the Big Sandy Community and Technical College. She hopes to finish her degree in education upon completing her service year.

Jessica Fraley, Prestonsburg Elementary – Fraley, of Prestonsburg, holds an associate’s degree from Big Sandy Community and Technical College. Now in her second year of service, she plans to pursue a speech pathology degree.

Harlan County

Malissa Lewis, Rosspoint Elementary – A resident of Baxter, Lewis obtained an associate’s degree in English from Southeast Community and Technical College. She is in her first year of service and plans to pursue an education degree.

Meghan Miniard, Cawood Elementary – In her first year of service, Miniard is a Recovery-UNITE member. A resident of Baxter, she has attended Southeast Community and Technical College and Brown Mackie College. She plans to continue her studies after completing her service.

Sara Mika Nolan, Wallins Elementary – Nolan, a resident of Lynch, is in her first year of service. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University and plans to pursue a teaching career.

Johnson County

Lura Cantrell, Paintsville Elementary – The Paintsville resident is in her second year of service. Cantrell has been working toward her bachelor’s degree in education at Big Sandy Community and Technical College.

Kelli Vanhoose, Central Elementary – A Recovery-UNITE member, Vanhoose lives at Thelma. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education from Morehead State University, and plans to become a teacher.

Knott County

Rachel Perkins, Carr Creek Elementary – Perkins is a Littcarr resident in her first year of service. She has an associate’s degree in radiology and plans to complete her bachelor’s in the future.

Leslie County

Tonya Asher, Hayes-Lewis Elementary and W.B. Muncy Elementary – Now in her second year of service, Asher lives at Yeaddiss. She holds an associate’s degree from Sue Bennett College with additional work at the community college. She hopes to pursue a degree in education.

Magoffin County

Jayson Helton, Salyersville Elementary – In his second year of service, Helton lives in Salyersville and has attended Morehead State University to pursue degrees in biology and radiology.

Pike County

Christina Bogar, Johns Creek Elementary – A resident of Canada, Bogar is a first-year member currently pursuing her degree in education. She has previous experience as a substitute teacher in the Pike County School District.

Courtney Coleman, Millard Elementary – Coleman lives at Raccoon and holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Pikeville College. Now in her first year of service, she has ambitions to teach elementary school upon her completion of service.

Crystal Hunt, Mullins Elementary – A resident of Kimper, Hunt is Recovery-UNITE member in her first year of service. She has a bachelor’s degree in education from Pikeville College and plans to pursue a teaching position after serving two years in this program.

Jenny Kender, Phelps Elementary – Kender lives in Phelps and attended Phelps High School. Now in her second year of service, she has ambitions to obtain a teaching support position while pursuing a degree in education.

Wolfe County

Candice Burnette, Campton Elementary – A Recovery-UNITE member in her first year of service, Burnette lives in Campton and holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Kentucky University. Her varied experiences include both the private and education sectors.