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Spotlight on AmeriCorps: Ariel Assists Academic Excellence at Mustard Seed

March 16, 2012

Ariel and volunteers pose for a photo before a literacy celebration event in 2011.

When Ariel Tolefree-Williams received her degree in Public Policy in 2011, she knew she wanted to put it to good use. Specifically, she wanted to become involved in non-profit management so she could work with disadvantaged youth. “I have always worked with children in some capacity or another,” says Ariel, “and I realized it was something that I cared about and wanted to work more on.” With little experience in the non-profit world, though, she had no idea how she would go about entering the field.

That’s when some friends told her about AmeriCorps. As it turned out, AmeriCorps was a perfect fit for what she was looking to do with her life. “The theme for AmeriCorps that year was mentoring, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she recalls. “I had already heard a little bit about AmeriCorps and I had friends who had been members, so I was really excited about the whole idea.”

Today, through a grant from AmeriCorps, Ariel serves as Recruitment Manager for Mustard Seed Tutorial Center. Located in Redlands, CA, Mustard Seed is a low-cost tutoring center that strives to help children who are behind academically improve to grade level. Here, Ariel is getting the exact chance to learn about non-profit work from the inside that she originally envisioned. “My favorite part of being an AmeriCorps member is being a part of the working environment that I am. It’s a great learning experience for me, both because I want to eventually work at a non-profit and because it’s just a fun environment to work in.”

After their tutoring sessions, students are free to play a wide variety of educational games that Mustard Seed has in their stock.

Not that the work is easy. As Recruitment Manager, Ariel’s duties are certainly plentiful. “I go out to recruitment events and career fairs to attract volunteers, interview all of the tutors who come in, assist in the mandatory trainings that the tutors have to participate in before they start tutoring, and assist them with putting together lesson plans for their first tutoring sessions,” says Williams, when asked to describe her duties. “Occasionally I even participate in some of the tutoring myself,” she adds. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to make a difference in the lives of kids.”

Having experienced firsthand the benefits of being an AmeriCorps member, Ariel encourages others to dedicate a year of their time to AmeriCorps as well. She does offer one piece of advice, however. “Resourcefulness is key in AmeriCorps,” she says. “Sometimes it can be frustrating because a situation emerges where you may not know how to get a job done. You just need to have faith that it will get done and think outside the box,” says Ariel. “Resourcefulness is definitely key.”

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