AmeriCorps LEAP celebration

As students everywhere gear up to go back to school, so are 20 AmeriCorps LEAP members. These members work one-on-one in pre-school classrooms with children who are at-risk of falling behind in the skills necessary for success in Kindergarten. Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) has been a sponsor of the AmeriCorps LEAP (Learning Early Achieves Potential) program for the past 20 years. And we are proud of to have been a leader in Minnesota in dedicating this program to early childhood education.

Our work is based in part on the significance of brain development from birth to five years. Studies prove that it is critically important that children are taught skills to manage behaviors so they can focus on learning in Kindergarten. These emotional regulation skills are exactly what Kindergarten teachers say is vital for children entering Kindergarten, so that they are prepared for the structure that is needed to learn in the classroom.

AmeriCorps LEAP members also promote and model out-loud, routine reading in the home with parents and caregivers. Through a partnership with ABDO Publishing, SMIF receives a donation of preschool books, and LEAP members are able to give children they serve a series of books to build home libraries. Reading at home allows children to bond with adults and increase word awareness, which is also necessary for Kindergarten success. Experts agree that a child needs at least 40,000 word exposures to be on equal footing with the average child entering Kindergarten. There is no doubt that LEAP outcomes over the past four years are boosting skills and delivering classroom benefit for hundreds children across our southern Minnesota region. Minnesota Department of Education surveys have shown notable increases in Kindergarten readiness-and our AmeriCorps LEAP efforts, in combination with other initiatives by schools and communities, are contributing to this progress.

As part of the 20th Anniversary Celebration of AmeriCorps, next month AmeriCorps members and alumni from across the country will join together for a celebration. Part of the day will focus on recreating the first pledge ceremony from September 12, 1994.The nationwide swearing-in event will culminate a year-long celebration highlighting the commitment of AmeriCorps members and alumni and the extraordinary impact AmeriCorps has made for 20 years. Minnesota’s anniversary event will take place at the Mall of America Rotunda, on Friday, September 12, and includes a programhighlighting AmeriCorps work in Minnesota, the broadcast of the National Pledge, lunch, and a service project.

Even more exciting for me is that my son, Marcus will be the emcee for the event. Having voted to create the AmeriCorps program twenty years ago when I served in Congress, I was proud when Marcus enrolled to swerve in the program. I know that his year of AmeriCorps LEAP service had a significant impact on him, and he will do a great job as emcee for Minnesota’s Celebration.

Please join us at the MOA on September 12 if you can!

If you are interested in serving as an AmeriCorps LEAP member or want to learn more about the program, I encourage you to contact Barbara Gunderson at As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at or 507-455-3215.

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