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By: Shayla Thiel Stern

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From Foster Care to AmeriCorps, a Recent High School Grad Says ‘I’m Where I Need to Be’

Ray

After graduating from high school and completing a study-abroad experience in Brazil, Ray Richmond wasn’t sure of her next steps, but when she learned about Minnesota Reading Corps, she found the opportunity she was looking for in her hometown of Northfield – serving as a reading tutor.

She said a mentor from high school approached her when she returned from Brazil, wondering if she had a job. She said she had figured she would “go back to dishwashing,” but when she applied for an AmeriCorps position in Minnesota Reading Corps, everything started falling into place for her.

“I decided to serve in Reading Corps because I love reading, and I also wanted to be able to help kids. Some kids might not be encouraged to read at home. Reading Corps encourages children to read more and incorporates it into their lives,” Ray said.

Ray said one of the most compelling facts she learned at Reading & Math Institute, the training session for AmeriCorps members joining Reading Corps and Math Corps, was that “after third grade, you stop learning how to read and you start reading to learn.”

“That really stuck with me and it makes me want to become even more involved,” she said. “Every kid should be able to read with ease.”

Experience in Foster Care: ‘Not Everyone is as Lucky as I Was’

Ray, who is now 20 and attending community college through a program offered by Northfield Promise’s TORCH, lives with her foster family – a family she was placed with when she was 15.  

“I was lucky enough to be put into a home where I could call those people my family, and I didn’t have to switch around homes like a lot of kids do. I was extremely lucky for that,” she said. “I know deep down that is not the case for everyone – not everyone is as lucky as I am.”

She is studying to become a social worker so that she can help foster children find good homes, counsel them about financial literacy, take them on college visits and make sure they are being cared for in a system that can be turbulent.

AmeriCorps service as a Reading Corps tutor also offers an opportunity to give back to others while she earns an education award and living stipend, Ray said.

Becoming Confident in Herself

“I always thought I would do something to give back to the community, though I never thought it could be something like AmeriCorps. I always thought of that as a huge thing that I didn’t think I was qualified to do,” she said. “I didn’t even have much experience in volunteering or giving to the community before.”

Ray admitted that at first, she was worried about her age and lack of experience going into a service experience that she “knew was a big deal.”

“I wasn’t confident in myself, and I was like, ‘How in the world did I get chosen for this as a kid who just got out of high school?’ But what I like about AmeriCorps was they didn’t mind that I didn’t have work experience,” she said. “They were looking for – ‘Are you here to help? Are you here to learn how to help the people that need help?’ They encouraged me.”

Serving at Bridgetwater Elementary School and interacting with students and teachers is a uniquely wonderful experience, she said.

“It’s really awesome being in a school environment and being behind the scenes – seeing teachers making copies and preparing and all of that. I love the kids, and I feel so fortunate to be able to work with kids and teachers in a school,” said Ray. “Reading Corps is so great for giving me this experience.”

She said she hopes to earn her Associate’s degree while she is serving and then transfer to Augsburg College in Minneapolis to complete her degree in social work. Ray said she feels like AmeriCorps service after high school has been a great decision.

“Serving here now with kids now and going to school at the same time, I feel like this is where I need to be,” Ray said. “I enjoy reading with the kids, I’ve learned a lot and I also feel better about myself.”

Learn more about serving as a tutor in Reading Corps.

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