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AmeriCorps receives money to continue work in Northland

Minnesota Rep. Liz Olson speaks Friday at the Duluth Area Family YMCA. Olson served in True North AmeriCorps. Mike Krebs /

State Rep. Liz Olson's year as an AmeriCorps member is a part of her journey to public office.

"It was a lot of the leadership skills and friendships and the deep commitment that I had for my community that I really experienced through the AmeriCorps programs," Olson said during a news conference Friday to announce new federal funding for the True North AmeriCorps program that serves Northeastern Minnesota.

AmeriCorps is vital for the students who benefit from its mentoring and tutoring services and for the people who serve with the program, she said. Olson served with City Year for a year in a Chicago high school, and then completed a year of service with the True North AmeriCorps in Duluth.

She still sees some of the students that she worked with as an AmeriCorps member in Duluth.

"I've seen a lot of the youth that I interacted with at that time out in the community becoming healthy adults that contribute to our society, and it's pretty exciting to see," Olson said.

True North AmeriCorps will continue to operate in Northeastern Minnesota after the Duluth Area Family YMCA announced that it has received a three-year grant totaling $415,000 for the program, in addition to a $457,000 in donations and in-kind contributions, said Duluth YMCA board member Briana Johnson. The Duluth YMCA founded the True North AmeriCorps program in 2003 to address the achievement gap in Northeastern Minnesota. Since 2003, more than 800 AmeriCorps members have worked with about 12,000 students through tutoring, mentoring and after-school programming, Johnson said.

"Through our YMCA programs, kids are cultivating the values, skills and relationships that lead to positive behaviors, better health and educational achievement. These are things we can all be proud of as we work together to build a better community and a brighter future," Johnson said.

Officials involved with the program had thought a lot about what would happen if True North AmeriCorps didn't receive funding to continue, said Tracie Clanaugh, the Duluth YMCA's community services director.

"We know that members in this program are providing critical tutoring and mentoring to kids who are struggling. That relationship that they've built with those kiddos, that tutoring that they provide wouldn't be there," Clanaugh told the News Tribune.

Clanaugh noted that the funding also will allow the continuation of a pilot program in partnership with Youth Outdoors Duluth that is working to bridge the gap between youth who can and can't afford to participate in outdoor activities.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said Friday that she's excited and proud about the funding for the community. The city of Duluth contributed $150,000 to the program. It's important to nourish children in ways that keep them active and ensure that they have access to programs so that they can thrive, learn, grow and be supported, she said.

"I have seen firsthand the way that this program of True North impacts kids in our public schools. My sons attend our public schools and I have witnessed volunteers and mentors, AmeriCorps program Reading Corps, all of those programs making schools healthy, safe places to be," Larson said. "I watch kids go home after school or in the middle of the summer looking for fun, safe places to be and I've watched our youth programs and youth-serving agencies be transformed by this funding and the caring adults in their lives."

Duluth schools Superintendent Bill Gronseth said True North AmeriCorps, the city of Duluth and the Duluth school district coming together around students' needs is what needs to be happening.

"Through our multi-tiered system of support, we've been able to use the help of True North AmeriCorps to provide specific interventions for students exactly when they need them ... and we're proud to say that we are making progress. But there's still work to be done and that's why it's so important to continue these partnerships and that we're so happy to see this funding," Gronseth said.