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!

Mi Historia

May 16, 2017

Niki is serving as a full-time AmeriCorps member at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County. The Literacy Council offers one-on-one and small group literacy instruction in three core programs: Adult Education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and the Augustine Project ®.

In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, the Literacy Council of Buncombe County held an opening reception on Monday, April 24th for a special exhibit they have on loan from the Center for Diversity Education at UNCA.  The exhibit, entitled “Mi Historia: Latinos Today in Western North Carolina”, is a stunning collection of personal testimony and imagery that explores why individuals left their home countries and what life has been like in the United States.


Volunteer tutors and their students were invited to attend the event together, guided by a series of reflection activities to facilitate a deeper understanding of issues facing the Latinx population. The exhibit highlights major contributions Latinos have made to the state economy, navigating conflicts in identity, overcoming language barriers, and sharing import aspects of culture (such as religion, food, holidays, and art).


For those who were unable to attend the opening reception, the Literacy Council will keep the exhibit on display through the end of May. All community members are welcome to visit the space and several organizations have already taken advantage of the opportunity, including a group of students from Warren Wilson.


Rewarding Experiences with Communities in Schools of Durham

May 11, 2017

Brittney serves as a half-time AmeriCorps member with Communities In Schools of Durham as a literacy tutor for the 21st Century After School Program. The program works with at-risk youth to decrease dropout rates by promoting effective academic support to the students.


Serving in this position has been such a rewarding experience. It feels great to walk through the halls where students stop me to say hi or wait for me to ask if they’re having a good day–even if they are students that I do not even work with. Another rewarding aspect of my position is being able to witness the academic growth of my students and seeing the results of their hard work. One of the most important things for me is to let my students know that I will always be someone who believes in them and that it is possible for them to do anything that they put their minds to.

Serving in this position has also opened up some new aspirations for me along the way. I’ve never wanted to teach in a classroom, however now I enjoy being able to serve as a tutor and work alongside students to help them achieve their goal: academic success. During the school day I have a small load of students that I work with two times a week for 30 minutes. In the after school program, I work with a group of mostly 5th graders and a few 4th graders. We do academic coaching followed by educational activities. No day is the same when I come to work because each day I have a new goal in mind that involves finding some way to impact my students’ lives.


Reading Makes Your Brain Grow

May 8, 2017

Emily serves as a reading tutor with America Reads. 

My service year as an AmeriCorps member has been an awesome experience. I had the opportunity to be an America Reads tutor at a local elementary school where I worked with three students individually. We mainly focused on literacy, which involved reading many, many books over the course of the year.


I worked with the same three students throughout the school year, so I was able to see them improve in areas such as reading comprehension and vocabulary, or overall literacy. I loved my time here and though my tutees always worked hard, they did challenge me to present lessons in a unique and creative way. They really loved when lessons were entertaining and fun, so I was always trying out new literacy games and interactive lessons with them. Most of the time they would modify the game to make it more fun for themselves. Even though I was technically the tutor, my tutees were constantly making me think about things in a new way, and hence we were all learning from each other.


I did my best to help them understand the importance of literacy and they too helped me understand. I for one will always remember that “reading is important because it makes your brain grow”.

Literacy Instruction through Sewing Skills

April 24, 2017

Erik serves as a full-time LiteracyCorps member at Reading Connections in Greensboro, NC. His responsibilities include ESOL and ABE volunteer tutor support, ESOL and ABE student instruction, new student intake, program development support, and instruction for the agency’s new IEL/CE grant-funded initiative to provide literacy instruction and job skills training for refugees and immigrants. Reading Connections is one of the largest adult literacy agencies in NC, and the outcomes far exceed federal benchmarks. R.C. provides programs for some of Guilford County’s neediest adults, e.g., the unemployed, disabled, ex-offenders reentering society, refugees and immigrants.

Erik Hill
Erik Hill

My service year has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I was offered a considerable amount of discretion when it came to choosing my responsibilities at Reading Connections, and I had a hard time saying “no” to much of anything. The most exciting endeavor has been the IEL/CE initiative to provide refugees and immigrants literacy instruction contextualized to the sewing industry. The program was developed in close coordination with industry leaders to ensure that instruction is aligned with–and contextualized to–the language, literacy, and workplace skills necessary for students to be desirable job candidates in a unique workplace.

I am one of two principal instructors, and after two initial instructional cycles (three and six weeks, respectively) several students, including a number of Congolese, Sudanese and Syrian refugees, found gainful employment as Industrial Sewers for various local employers after graduating from the program. As I am very often the first contact for many of our newly-resettled and –immigrated students, I take great pride in making them feel welcome and warmly-received. In this way, I am often a de facto brand ambassador for the agency, and I’d like to think that I am—at the same time—a de jure ambassador for our country and our shared values as a proud member of AmeriCorps.