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By: Shayla Thiel Stern

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‘It’s a Great Time to Be Giving Back:’ An AmeriCorps LEAP Member Reflects on Service

Callie Judnick has always been drawn to serving others.

“I was raised in a family that believed in supporting and helping people in need,” she said.

After graduating from Concordia College in Moorehead in 2018, Callie knew she wanted to participate in national service. She said she believes that AmeriCorps, or a year of service, is “something that every person should experience.” In addition to a family that encouraged helping people, her college experience reinforced what she already believed through its educational emphasis on Becoming Responsibly Engaged in the World, or BREW.

Callie Reading
Callie reads to preschool students at Hawthorne Education Center.

“It’s this feeling that giving back to the community is a very important thing,” she said. “When you’re an infant, you receive support from your parents, and when you’re in school, you receive support from your teachers – and some teachers are able to make connections for you, get you involved and push you toward things that will truly benefit you.”

She added, “Your whole life growing up you take from people who support you, so in adulthood, you’re fresh out of college and it’s a great time to be giving back to different kinds of communities and people in need.”

Why She Chose the AmeriCorps Leap Initiative

With a psychology degree and an interest in serving children, Callie searched for a position that involved service in those areas of interest, and she found a great fit in the AmeriCorps LEAP Initiative with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). LEAP is an acronym for Learning Early Achieves Potential, and its AmeriCorps members serve in preschool classrooms and nonprofit organizations focused on the social and emotional development of young children in a 20-county region of Minnesota.  

Callie’s first year of service was at the Hawthorne Education Center in Rochester. Hawthorne is a community education facility where adult learners take courses for college, certifications or GED in the upper two levels with a preschool available for their children on the first level. As an AmeriCorps LEAP member, Callie served both the 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers and engaged with parents.

callie and students
Callie poses with some of her students and their work.

“It was unique in that I would see the parents of my students two or three times a day. They would come in and have parent-child together time – which usually was to read for 15 minutes with their kids before going to their classes – and the kids would eat with their parents at lunchtime,” she explained. “They would also return to do one activity later in the day so they could see where their kids were in the developmental process and the sort of things that they were learning. I’d never heard of anything like that, and it was very cool to be a part of it.”

A Second Year of AmeriCorps Service

For her second year of service, Callie has moved to a different preschool program in Stewartville. She said she is excited to apply what she learned last year to new classrooms, including training in S.M.A.R.T., a multi-sensory approach to learning based on brain research that develops physiological and neurological readiness skills for classroom success. Plus, she’s excited to offer new activities suggested by AmeriCorps peers.

 “One of the cool things I got to be a part of last year – there was a retired pediatrician and an education major in our group,” Callie said. “Each would come to our monthly meetings with these great ideas for kids and new activities, and that’s the kind of thing I’m excited for this school year.”

Preparing to Lead

callie at event
Callie volunteered at an event on Martin Luther King Day of Service in 2019

Currently, Callie is studying to take the GRE and preparing to apply to Ph.D. programs in psychology, with the ultimate goal of becoming a licensed psychologist with a focus on children. She said she’s been grateful to have the opportunity to “press pause on career stuff and do something meaningful” in her service in AmeriCorps LEAP.

“Educating and preparing kids is just so important,” she said. “We need to give young people every advantage that is possible so that when they grow up they’re prepared to be leaders in the world — just as I feel that I’m ready to be a leader in this world right now.”

— Shayla Thiel Stern

Learn more about about how to serve in the AmeriCorps LEAP Initiative and other AmeriCorps programs.

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