6-25-13 Energy Express marks 20 years of helping kids

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Energy Express has begun a new chapter in its ongoing story.

The program marked its 20th anniversary by honoring its founder, Ruthellen Phillips, and swearing in more than 500 AmeriCorps volunteers at the Erickson Alumni Center on June 17.

Debbie McDonald, state 4-H leader for WVU Extension Service, said Phillips may have been inspired by “The Little Engine That Could” when she first launched the statewide summer reading and nutrition program, which targets children entering the first through sixth grades in rural and low-income communities.

“Tonight is all about, `Yes, we could, and we did,”’ McDonald said.

Steve Bonanno, interim director of WVU Extension Service, said the WVU Foundation’s Energy Express fund has been named in Phillips’ honor and presented her with a collection of poetry compiled by Caroline Kennedy.

Phillips’ grandchildren offered thanks on her behalf, reading a prepared statement that sparked smiles and tears.

West Virginia’s first lady, Joanne Jaeger Tomblin, cited Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” as she stressed the importance of education and making a difference to Energy Express’ college-student volunteers.

“You can read a lot of things in books, but you have to experience the real world,” Tomblin said. “…You have the rare opportunity to inspire, to change a child’s life.”

That’s why Ty Hansen, 20, of Parkersburg, returned for a second year as an Energy Express mentor. She’s also learned valuable leadership and teamwork skills.

“That such a strong organization chose me to be a part of something this big means the world to me,” Hansen said. “Maybe I can make a difference in someone’s life.”

WVU sophomore Lori Stump hopes to do the same.

“A lot of children don’t have the things others are fortunate enough to have,” said Stump, who’s studying elementary education. “Energy Express gives them a boost.”

WVU President Jim Clements said the room was filled with people who will change the future in whatever profession they choose.

“You can do it,” Clements said. “And you can help others do it. That’s what you’re getting ready to do. … You will make a difference.”

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