Latinx Heritage Month

October 20, 2017

Carmen Palacios-Aguirre is a minimum time member and Olivia Sandin is a part time members serving at the Read to L.E.A.D program . This program uses literacy, a social justice, and mentorship to improve youth and their college mentors’ cultural competency and sense of self.

For the month of October, we decided to do lessons to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month with our mentors and mentees. We serve a large Latinx population, and wanted our mentees to understand that their cultural identity was something to be proud of and value. We chose to call this month “Latinx” Heritage Month because it encompasses more of the population we’re trying to reach. Often times the word “Hispanic” brings the Spanish colonization into view, which many Latinx populations are wary of. Interacting with the kids and offering them different views from what they’re used to is eye-opening. We started this month by bringing awareness to Puerto Rico and having our students brainstorm action plans to help the island.  We wanted our community to understand that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and that the country needs help.  We also wanted our mentees to understand the link between poverty and natural disasters, and that people living on poverty are affected more by hurricanes.  We were very impressed by the action plans our mentees came up with, and how passionate they were about helping.

The next week, we put Christopher Columbus “on trial” with our mentees, and challenged them to view the “founding” of America from two different perspectives—the Taino people and Columbus’s men, and then decided if we really should celebrate Columbus Day.  After reading about some of the terrible things Christopher Columbus did, the children decided we should not celebrate Columbus.  Our mentors agreed—and believed we should celebrate the Taino people instead.  It’s important that our children get to see history from a different point of view than they’re used to.  We wanted them to understand the roots of the people in the Caribbean, as they had just learned about Puerto Rico the week before.

We also did a lesson in which the children read biographies about famous Latinx people. The younger kids made a “trading card” that highlighted the important roles of Latnix people in the larger world, and the older kids made a “Snapchat story” highlighting the role of the person they chose.  The idea was that in addition to highlighting the important roles of Lantix people individually and as a community, the children would see the diversity within the community by trading cards with others and “viewing” their friends story.  Latinx people are singers, writers, politicians, Supreme Court justices, athletes, and actors, and they come from more countries that just Mexico.


Finally, we did a lesson that highlighted different Latinx holidays. We got to explore holidays from around Central and South America, including Dia de los Muertos, Dia de los Niños, Cinco de Mayo, Semana Santa, Navidad,  Día de los Reyes. For the younger kids, we focused on holidays that weren’t very religious based, but we did engage the older kids with those holidays. We understood that we are not there to preach, but to inform and understand. Mentioning these Holidays are important because both the mentees and the mentors can see where traditions come from and how religion is a very big thing in many Latinx populations.

This month was definitely rewarding for us.  Not only did we change a lot of our children’s and mentor’s perspectives about history, we also made them aware of the current need for aid in Puerto Rico.  Our Latinx mentees are very excited when we highlight their community, and how enthusiasm arises for the lessons that celebrate their holidays and people that look them.  Our Latinx kindergarteners were especially excited, because these lessons first made them aware of their own cultural identity.  Even better, they painted their culture in a positive light, and helped them develop a positive cultural identity.




Diaper Awareness Week

October 19, 2017

Bria Yates is a minimum time member serving with the America Reads program. The America Reads program offers tutoring for grades K-2 in 6 of the Durham Public Schools. 

The National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) was founded in 2011 to raise awareness that throughout the United States, families have difficulty keeping their infants and toddlers clean, healthy, and dry because they cannot afford a most basic necessity…a diaper. NDBN raises awareness about diaper need and the remarkable work that community-based diaper banks are doing to help by collecting donated diapers, purchasing diapers with donations and ensuring families and babies get the diapers they need.

Unless you are a person who wears or routinely changes a diaper, diapers would be the furthest thing from your mind. However, for infants, toddlers, and those suffering from medical conditions diapers are a necessity in everyday life. Diapers can be expensive—as much as $100 for a month’s supply. Most people are unaware that diapers cannot be bought with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka “food stamps”) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). For some people, their resources are already stretched thin with food, housing and utilities. Not having enough money can limit a parent’s ability to work as many daycare facilities require a week supply of diapers for them to attend.

Luckily for these people, the National Diaper Bank Network understands that not everyone has funds to afford diapers. That’s why Diaper Need Awareness Week was established 5 years ago. Since its start, this initiative has gain support from more than 211 diaper banks in 44 states and the District of Columbia.. Diaper Need Awareness Week is an initiative of the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) created to mobilize efforts to help make a difference in the lives of the nearly 5.2 million babies in the U.S. aged three or younger who live in poor or low-income families. Diaper Needs Awareness Week is celebrated through September 25-October 1. 

Today, the National Diaper Bank Network serves more than 1.2 million children and their families. Collectively, we work with more than 22,000 local agencies.

In conjunction with our Make a Difference Day project; NCCU America Reads program has joined forces with Science African American Majors Evolving (SAAME) by hosting a diaper wrapping drive on campus.  SAAME is an all-female STEM major organization that promotes equality among minority, women, and their male counterparts. The drive will be held on October 23, 2017 at 7:00 pm in Chidley Classroom. This event is open to the public. We are collecting Diapers, Wipes, and Feminine products (open items are accepted).  

Do You Understand Where I’m Coming From?

October 2, 2017

Robert Manzo serves as a full time member for the youth GED program at the Durham Literacy Center. The program prepares young people ages 16 – 24 to take the GED test and earn their diploma, so that they’re prepared to go onto college or a better career/job.


Do You Understand Where I’m Coming From?


When you think about where people come from, there are a few questions you ask. Where did they grow up? What kind of family do they have? What’s their native culture like? These are the kinds of questions you would naturally ask someone you’re meeting for the first time. And they’re the questions that students, tutors, and I ask one another at the Durham Literacy Center, in the youth GED prep program, where people from all different places, families, and cultural backgrounds come together for a common reason: to educate.

Students here are educating themselves, helped by an incomparable group of volunteer tutors who, in turn, get to learn about a unique group of ambitious young people, their origins and aspirations, where they’re from and where they’re headed, the not-so-distant destinations of colleges, new workplaces, and richer (in mind, not money—but maybe that too) personal lives. Besides the academics, learning also happens when individuals talk or share adjacent space. In the GED prep program, called the Youth Education Program (YEP) in our official books, this other type of learning happens all the time, and it’s no less exciting or ultimately useful than relative clauses, second-degree polynomials, or representative democracy, to name just a few subjects students learn in the official GED curriculum.

Just as students in YEP have many different reasons for being here, so each one has unique life goals. They’re good to talk about because goals help students keep perspective. One student wants to be a nurse and dedicates herself to study amid the many family obligations and faraway appointments she has. Another young woman is passionate about history, set on finding out details of her family’s ancestry and telling the stories of people barely mentioned, if at all, in school history books. A young man from northwestern Africa wishes to attend a competitive university famed for its science programs, to become an expert in his field. An entrepreneurial student plans to be owner and instructor of a martial arts academy. The GED is a stepping stone on the way to other things.

YEP is positive not only because its academic curriculum prepares young people to earn their high school equivalency diploma. It is positive because the people involved in it, the students and tutors, see their mental map of the world expand over time to include new territories never considered before. There are places and situations from which people come that aren’t—and can’t—be deciphered based on what is outwardly visible, on an accent, a hairstyle, a shape or color.

Why AmeriCorps?

September 12, 2017

Amber Beal serves at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County as the Recruitment and Awareness Coordinator, maintaining lasting relationships between volunteers and the organization and community.



As soon as you tell someone that you’re a member of AmeriCorps, the immediate response is “What is AmeriCorps?” The answer to that question is that we are a National Service Organization which engages Americans of all ages to actively contribute to their community. But digging a little deeper comes the next question, “Why do you serve?” or “Why AmeriCorps?” These questions are easier and yet harder to answer.

AmeriCorps members all have the desire to impact lives, places and experiences with others in the community in which they serve. Members are in all 50 states, in different programs that support areas of education, disaster relief, environmental stewardship, hunger, poverty and more.

You can call us idealists and in many ways we are. We are the ones serving our country domestically in the best ways we know how.  We are the high school graduates, college graduates, millennials and those who want to be a part of a network of good. We don’t receive an abundance of recognition but we make lasting networking relationships and friends during our service.

We aren’t always tasked with the easy, the clean or the mundane task. We complete service projects from a wide array of needs by our site supervisors and program directors.  But at the end of the day our camaraderie, fulfillment and overarching goals keep us grounded in our work so that we can grow professionally and personally.

Not everyone is able to serve their country in the traditional sense. That’s why AmeriCorps plays a vital role in revitalizing America. So the next time you encounter an AmeriCorps member or team, please, stop and talk to them about the work they are doing and how you can spread the word or become involved.

Just like the AmeriCorps pledge says: “I am an AmeriCorps member and I will get things done!”

Cue Graduation…

July 27, 2017
Nicola is an AmeriCorps member serving with Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate. Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate is the flagship mentoring program of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Our program relies on the relationship between mentor-advocates and students as the foundation for providing a variety of individualized students. BRMA students benefit from mentoring, advocacy, tutoring, enrichment opportunities, leadership development, and college scholarships. Mentor-advocates help determine a student’s strengths and interests, and the program provides support that will help develop those to their full potential.

North Carolina LiteracyCorps assembled a cohort of tenacious, resilient individuals whose determination to expand literacy initiatives throughout North Carolina led to an inexhaustible amount of success during the 2016-2017 service year. This success was not only highlighted but celebrated during the members’ graduation on July 15th.


Though the day was filled with family, friends, and cake, it was fueled by an underlying sense of accomplishment from members who have navigated a year filled with triumph and turbulence. As further illuminated in stirring speeches given by NCLC class presidents, the challenges members faced this year were daunting in their magnitude, but trivial next to the personal and professional victories of each individual. Driven by a spirit to serve and sustained by the growth of those they led, our members achieved a great deal of success this year.

I cannot be more grateful for the opportunities NCLC has afforded me, not only to grow professionally but personally as well. I will leave my year of service with clarity in my professional pursuits, and enrobed in a sense of peace.

Cue ‘Graduation’ by Vitamin C.

Dedicated to My NCLC Cohort:

July 17, 2017

For my final blog

Entry, I thought I would do

Something different.


No poetry fox,

But a budding haikuist,

Here’s my gift to you.


NCLC and

NCCC and SCALE are  

Acronyms we like.


Living Allowance,

Not salary or stipend.

Education ‘ward.


Webinars for days.

So much to learn from leaders

Quarterly trainings.


Committed to youth,

Teaching and learning from them,

Lit’racy matters.


Invested in lit,

We are breaking barriers

We’re AmeriCorps.

-Allie Brown

Thursday, June 8th, 2017: Graduation day.

June 9, 2017

Aya is a full-time AmeriCorps member serving with Communities in Schools of Durham at Eno Valley Elementary. Communities in Schools (CIS) aims to reduce high school drop out rates by targeting students with attendance, behavior, or academic struggles and use mentoring and one-on-one relationships between students and CIS staff to support students in getting back on the track to success.

Aya Zouhri


As I watch my students who I’ve only known for a year but love as if its been much longer, I can’t help but feel a sense of both pride and anticipation for them. I am proud of the young ladies and gentlemen these 5th graders have become. While we’ve certainly experienced our share of difficulties and struggles this year, I have also witnessed moments of incredible character, growth, and perseverance that I know will serve these students well not only in middle school, but for the rest of their lives.

These children live in a world vastly different from the one I experienced as an elementary school student. They carry within them a sense of boldness and strength I think is necessary for challenging the status quo. These kids are leaving a place of safety and security, many of them attending Eno Valley since pre-school and kindergarten. They will enter new doors in the fall, with new teachers, new classmates, and will be molding themselves into new, better, stronger, bolder versions of their elementary school selves. They will take with them the spirit of compassion, of excitement, and of love, and use those to reach heights they didn’t even know existed. Just as I have watched these children master material, improve dramatically in behavior, and find value in service, I know they will make the best of what is in store for them.


CIS Students Receiving their Awards                              CIS Staff at Eno Valley

A Snapshot Into The Tower Garden Project

May 31, 2017

In my previous blog post, I talked about the anticipation of the school year and the importance of books.  In this blog post, I traded the books in for some out-of-the-classroom learning about something we would rather talk about more often—food, aka food access and availability. -Shagufta Hakeem

It was a sunny day in April when my eyes came across “Ivory Tower.”  Chris, a Youth Development Professional (YDP) at the Boys and Girls Club of Wake Forest was hard at work with gloves too small for his hands.  Eventually, I mustered the courage to ask: “What does the tower do?”

It was an obvious question, but Chris took the time to explain the purpose behind The Ivory Tower.

Figure 1: The Tower Garden

Me: How does the tower work?  What is its actual name?

Chris: The tower is known as The Tower Garden.  It is sponsored by Juice + and is an aeroponic system in which plants grow in an air or mist system.  There is no traditional ground/soil involved.  Aeroponics is an evolved system of hydroponics gardening.  I have included a link for you just in case you want to have more technical details.

Me: Cool.  Can you tell me a little about how it works?  What is the purpose of The Tower Garden and its ties to health literacy?

Chris: Sure.  The Tower Garden is an alternative to traditional gardening.  Instead of planting seeds and watering the plants the traditional way, with The Tower Garden you get to use water and air to grow plants.  It is a sustainable option to traditional gardening methods. 

Me: What have you planted?

Chris: Most of the plants are either cucumbers, lettuce or tomatoes.  By the way you are welcome to have some, I keep asking folks to try some lettuce–but everyone looks at the Tower and then walks away.

Me: How does the Tower Garden tie into health literacy?

Chris: We run many programs and we run a specific set of programs under Healthy Lifestyles.  I am trying get club members to understand the importance of growing their own food and eating healthy.  Fast food may be mouth-watering and delicious, but eating healthy means making the right choices about putting the right food in our bodies.

Me: Thank you for all the information Chris. 

Chris: Can you take a couple of photos? 

Me: Sure, as long as The Tower Garden isn’t camera shy.


Figure 2: An Up close look of The Tower Garden

The Tower Garden takes time and effort as an alternative to traditional forms of gardening.  Specifically, I wanted to focus on the subject of food security (having access to nutritious food) in the United States.  According to a report in 2015 by Feeding America, “42.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 29.1 million adults and 13.1 million children.”

Food insecurity in the United States will continue to be an issue as different factors impact the availability of crops and food in society.  While it is important to learn about healthy lifestyles and food choices, it is equally important to learn about access to food and ways to make food accessible for all.  If you are interested in learning more about The Tower Garden, you can find more information here.  I would also like to thank Chris for all his hard work and him sharing his time and information about The Tower Garden.



Reflecting on the Service Year with America Reads

May 26, 2017

The last two years with America Reads has been an incredible period of growth. I came into the program with no formal teaching/tutoring experience, and to be honest, although I love children, I didn’t know how to handle the various aspects of caring for them. I was excited for the new opportunity, and thrilled about the chance to focus on early education issues. But, I was terrified of the potential for outbursts that could inhibit our tutoring session, and more than that I was afraid of whether or not the kids would even like me. However, the last two years have taught me endless valuable lessons.

Crystal reading with one of her tutees


First, I’ve learned that the service we’re doing with the kids is not only important because it offers the kids a chance to improve their literacy skills. The program, offers something more valuable than that. It affirms to each of the kids involved that they are deserving of one-on-one personalized attention and mentorship. It shows them that there are people who are invested in their future and in their success. But it takes practice to prove that to the kids. Over time, I’ve learned that it requires a certain level of compassion; one that says I understand you’re having a bad day so let’s do an unexpected, fun, but still educational activity. And, it’s a type of compassion that says we’re going to decide on the rules together so we understand that we expect the best from each other. It’s about saying we’re going to work together, care about each other and get things done, even if it’s hard, and especially if it’s challenging.



I appreciate America Reads for exactly that reason. It’s an opportunity to foster creativity and work together with a young person for a similar goal. It’s granted me some of the most rewarding moments, and I’d be lying if I said I’ve never teared up thinking about the kids I serve. With that being said, I’m going to miss America Reads terribly next year, but I’m excited that more people get to experience this program.


Peace out for now!


May 23, 2017

Brianna is serving as a minimum time member at SCALE with the America Reads Program. America Reads is a social justice and literacy initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which prepares college students to work as literacy tutors for children in K through fifth grades.

There is something so incredibly awe-inspiring about books. Not only can they teach you something new about people, places, and things, but they can also transport you across space and time to a whole new world! A world crafted by words and pages that take you on an incredible journey where you become the main character. With books, you can be anything, go anywhere, and do whatever it is that your heart desires, effectively allowing you to escape your own reality and dive head first into a new one.

Growing up, I always loved books. I loved to go on secret adventures and be the fearless heroine that got to fight villains and fly on dragons. I would lock myself in my room for hours upon hours, beg my parents to buy me the newest book series, and even spend my lunch periods reading, making a sizable dent in my school’s library selections. Books were my first friend and have remained my best friend throughout the years. I found myself by getting lost in books and believe that I am all the better for it.

Enter the Martin Luther King Day Book Harvest donation drive. This collection drive was meant to collect books to give to kids who were without them. To be able to indirectly introduce children to the joy and awe that reading so often evokes in individuals was enough for me to not only jump at a chance at volunteering, but it also put a permanent smile on my face for the whole day! Thankfully, the book drive was successful and we helped raise over 5,000 books! To think that some children were introduced to their first book thanks to this amazing collaborative effort, their first encounter with being able to experience a whole new world crafted by the beautiful mind of the author is equal parts humbling and exciting to me. Even to think that I somehow played a role in possibly helping at least one kid find their first friend or maybe even their best friend in books still warms my heart to this very day!

After leaving this event, I felt as if my purpose was renewed. As I went back to my weekly tutoring sessions with America Reads, I knew that I had to do a better job of convincing my kids that there were far more to books than mere page numbers and allotted time. I felt that it was my personal mission to share one of my greatest joys with my tutees in hopes that one of them would be the least bit interested in what I had to say. After carefully planned questions and prodding, I found that my kids really did enjoy reading, but only if they got to pick the book. Thrilled at this admission, I allowed them to bring in their own books to read and feel that this triggered the turning point in our sessions.

I found that one of my tutees really loved both the Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series and wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t say that we’ve had at least a dozen arguments regarding which house was better and why Ares was so much better than Poseidon. I saw a joy light up in my first grader’s eyes when we would talk about his favorite part of the chapter, and soon, he was begging for three more minutes of reading time so that he could find out what happened next. This was such a stark contrast to him refusing to read in our first sessions and I was ecstatic!

My second grader was a bit different. He liked to read well enough, but when asked to discuss what he read, he would lament and say “nothing” or “boring” and try to change the subject. However, this all changed when he discovered the Warriors series and flew through the books. Though they were at least two reading levels above his grade level, he seemed to effortlessly fly through them, excitement and patience taking over his features when he had to constantly re-explain the premise because I was unfamiliar with the series. But he didn’t let that stop him from telling me all about it, who he liked, didn’t like, and what he thought would happen next. I saw a whole new side to a kid that I didn’t think enjoyed our tutoring sessions much, and I have the power of books to thank for it.

I can honestly say that looking back on my time as an America Reads tutor, the journey has been incredible! Though there were some tough times scattered throughout the semesters, I can definitely say that had it not been for the power that books hold over anyone willing enough to explore the adventure nestled strategically within their pages, I don’t think that I would have been able to bond with my students in the way that I did. Who knew that my nerdy obsession with books as a kid would continue as a hobby as an adult, and spark a passion within me to share my love of reading with those that have yet to find theirs? That day of the book drive I made a vow to myself that I would spread the wonders of books to every child that would listen. I was successful with my students, and now I’m ready to turn my sights on the children of the world!