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4/23/2010 - Jackson, Miss.

The students Kasey Keith works with through America Reads – Mississippi (ARM) didn’t anticipate spending their week working outside picking up litter and putting down mulch at a nearby park.

But they didn’t complain, said Keith, 24, a second-year ARM member at Mendenhall Elementary School in Mendenhall, Miss.

“I was really wondering how they were going to do but when it was all finished, they didn’t want to go inside,” she said. “When we do these service projects, the students I work with realize they’re making an impact on their communities and they have fun doing it.”

ARM, which currently includes about 334 members, celebrated Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) this week with major service projects across the state. Today, volunteers worked at project sites mostly in Copiah and Simpson counties. On Saturday, members will concentrate on Hinds County at three sites: Bolton-Edwards Elementary School, Stewpot Community Services and the Christian Mission Learning Center. Other smaller projects such as community health fairs were organized throughout the week at ARM’s 80-some school sites across Mississippi.

In all, ARM will mobilize more than 5,000 young people throughout the state to participate in the 21st annual event organized nationally by Youth Service America (YSA) and sponsored by State Farm Companies Foundation. YSA is a national resource center focused on increasing the quality and quantity of volunteer opportunities for young people, ages 5-25.

“I think it’s important that we show our mentees at our schools that volunteering can be fun,” said Lashannon Slay, 35, a first-year ARM member at Rod Paige Middle School in Monticello, Miss. “Getting our young people involved in positive service projects keeps them away from all of the negative things that can draw them in.”

Volunteers at the Copiah County sites landscaped Chautauqua Park, painted restrooms at the Crystal Springs Baseball Field and set up a clothes closet at the Copiah Living Center, among other projects. Simpson County volunteers teamed up with the city of Magee to clean up a park in the area so that it can reopen for area residents.

On Saturday, volunteers in Hinds County will be cleaning, painting and building a reading nook at the Christian Mission Learning Center, and doing landscaping work at Bolton-Edwards Elementary School and Stewpot Community Services.

“Our members are already all about service, so this annual event is something they really love participating in,” said Nikitna Barnes, State Special Projects Director.

ARM is dedicated to improving the reading skills of students, encouraging public awareness and support of literacy, and helping to increase the number of certified teachers in Mississippi. Schools select the members they want to serve in the classrooms at that site. Members serve at least eight hours Monday through Friday, and some weekends, to implement service projects, and earn an educational award at the end of their service year, which can be applied to tuition or student loans.

ARM is made possible through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and operates regionally through a partnership with five of Mississippi’s public universities. Oversight at the state level is a joint effort through the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service and the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL). The IHL Board of Trustees, which governs public universities, has committed to helping ensure students are ready for college and teachers receive first-rate training at universities across the state.

For more information visit http://www.americareadsms.org/.


*Photo: Kasey Keith.jpg: Kasey Keith, 24, a second-year ARM member at Mendenhall Elementary School, put down mulch at a park in Magee today in celebration of Global Youth Service Day.

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