Submitted by: Brandy Brabham
WVU-Roane County Extension
Agent - 304-927-0975

Each summer, hundreds of volunteers provide life-changing experiences for West Virginia youths. Through the WVU Extension Service Energy Express summer reading program, AmeriCorps members, volunteers and others are helping to enhance reading and comprehension skills for students throughout the state.

Energy Express is an award-winning, a six-week reading and nutrition program offered in rural and low-income West Virginia communities. The program helps children entering first through sixth grade overcome the ’summer slide’ that occurs when youths fall behind academically between school years, while also providing nutritious meals for the students.

"Energy Express really motivates kids to want to learn and lets them develop their own independence," said Craig Westfall, 2019 site coordinator, Energy Express.

In 2019, more than 3,000 children across 38 West Virginia counties participated in the program, with 68 percent of those children maintaining or increasing their reading achievement levels. In addition, the Energy Express program served more than 103,300 meals and distributed nearly 30,000 take-home books related to the weekly theme. Many Energy Express locations also serve as community feeding sites, where 17,156 meals were served to other community youths.

"Our volunteers are the very heart of our Energy Express program. Without them, we would not be able to reach these students," said Andrea Price, WVU Extension Service 4-H Energy Express program director.

"As we work to enhance overall outcomes and reach more children, we need the wonderful skills and passion that our AmeriCorps members, 4-H members, college students and community volunteers provide."

For volunteers like AmeriCorps member Nadia Johnson, seeing first-hand the effect their time and commitment can have on young people is one of the greatest rewards.

"Growing up, I wanted to have fun during the summer time and go back to school to learn new things and do new things a different way. For me to be able to do that for these kids, it just brings a joy in my heart because I can experience this with the kids."

Applicants interested in serving through AmeriCorps as mentors or community coordinators must be 18 years of age by June 11 to apply. Position descriptions and applications may be found on the   Energy Express   website. The selection process begins March 1, with applications being accepted until all positions are filled.

Energy Express is a program under the leadership of WVU Extension Service’s 4-H Youth Development program. The AmeriCorps program is funded, in part, by grants from private foundations and corporations and Volunteer West Virginia, the state’s commission for national and community service.

In 2016, West Virginia’s Promise—The Alliance for Youth recognized Energy Express as the Red Wagon Award recipient for its commitment to helping West Virginia youths learn and grow through summer initiatives. Based on the success of Energy Express participants and the unique aspects of the program, the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University named the Energy Express program one of the nation’s best summer learning programs in 2009.

For questions about the program or the application process, contact the WVU Extension Service Energy Express office at 304-293-3855.