6-17-13 Energy Express summer learning program celebrates 20 years

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—For 20 years, Energy Express has served the needs of children from West Virginia’s rural and low-income communities. Focusing on nutrition and summer reading, the West Virginia University Extension Service and AmeriCorps program takes place at 72 sites in 40 counties from June 15 to August 3.

Energy Express targets children entering first through sixth grades who are most at risk for the “summer slide” in reading levels and nutritional well-being. More than 3,200 children throughout the state will maintain or gain reading skills through Energy Express this summer.

The program is a collaborative effort of the WVU Extension Service, AmeriCorps, West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, and the West Virginia Department of Education – Office of Child Nutrition. Many local school boards, businesses and individuals provide both volunteer hours and funding to the program.

Students show an average of two to four months of academic growth after participating in the program, according to Alicia Cassels, WVU Extension specialist for literacy and academic success,

“When you see these kids intellectually engaged over the summer, you develop an understanding of how important it is for them,” Cassels said. “They are developing reading skills instead of falling victim to the ‘summer slide.’”

In 2012, more than 126,000 meals were served to children participating in the program. The program also provides children with an opportunity to start or grow their home library, distributing nearly 21,000 books.

Community involvement is crucial to the program, which relies on more than 3,200 family and community members who served 57,417 hours of volunteer time in 2012.

“Energy Express serves the vital role of ensuring children get two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, when they otherwise might not during the summer months,” said Steve Bonanno, WVU Extension Service interim director. “Combined with the proven track-record of academic growth, it allows Extension to provide a tremendous outreach program that has a major positive impact on the children in the state.”

The award-winning program has a long history in the state. Twenty years ago, Ruthellen Phillips, former WVU Extension specialist, founded the Energy Express program and established a partnership between WVU Extension Service and AmeriCorps. Today, it’s the largest AmeriCorps program in the state with nearly 600 members serving Energy Express.

“It’s a real tribute to Dr. Phillips’ vision and model that Energy Express has been so successful,” Cassels said. “Its solid foundation and documentation of success have created a great legacy of helping tens of thousands of kids across the state.”

For more information about becoming a volunteer, mentor or community coordinator with Energy Express, visit the website at www.energyexpress.ext.wvu.edu, or call 304-293-3855. Contact your local WVU Extension office to learn more about other youth development programs in your community.

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