AmeriCorps volunteers give kids burst of 'energy'

July 25, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The seven children in Kip Christopher's class found Officer Mistie White's police equipment fascinating.

"This is what you hit them with," White told the Energy Express students at Burke Street Elementary as they passed around her collapsible baton. She also handcuffed a couple of the children, all of them 6 or 7 years old.

They were delighted.

The three-year veteran of the Martinsburg Police Department then sat down on the floor with them and read "The Big Red Truck."

This past month, White has come in each Thursday to talk and read with the children. Another officer comes in on Fridays and a firefighter spends part of a morning with them.


Energy Express, a six-week summer learning program for school-age children living in low-income and rural communities, began in Berkeley County last summer.

About 120 children set to enter first through fourth grades participate in the program at the Burke Street, Berkeley Heights and Gerrardstown elementary schools.

"This is the first year they've all been AmeriCorps members," Burke Street Site Coordinator Barbara Ware said Thursday of the five mentors who work with the children each day.

AmeriCorps is the federal volunteer program established by President Clinton in 1993. There are 425 AmeriCorps volunteers working at 60 Energy Express sites across the state.

"Energy Express is such a good program for getting kids off the streets. This gives them something to help their education," said Christopher. The 21-year-old human services major from Virginia Tech is from Martinsburg, as are most of the volunteers.

Each receives money for living expenses and help with college tuition in exchange for working with the children from low-income families. Their community service work has included landscaping at Burke Street and repainting the Head Start building.

In another room, Extension Agent Mary Beth Bennett reads from "Vegetable Friends" while the children play with veggie puppets. They then plant radishes, lettuce and carrots in Styrofoam cups to take home.

"They do an activity based on that reading and writing activity to demonstrate you can do something fun with it," explained Betsy Kish, an education major at Shepherd College. She's in her first year with the federal AmeriCorps program, but served as a mentor last summer.

Reading, writing and nutrition are major components of the program, which begins with a family-style breakfast at 9 a.m., followed by classroom work, games and lunch. Ware said businesses and the community have been very supportive, either by visiting the schools or giving children tours.

Energy Express will have an open house Monday, Aug. 4, at the Burke Street school from 10 to 11:30 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. rally the same day at the Martinsburg Mall.

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