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2008 Eli Segal Award Finalists
After receiving over 40 nominations for the 2008 Eli Segal Award, AmeriCorps Alums determined its five finalists for 2008.  The commitment shown by all five finalists is a testament to their dedication to a lifetime of service.  The finalists represent a broad array of service ranging from domestic service to international service.  The winner of the 2008 Eli Segal Award, Rhonda Ulmer, will officialy be presented with the Eli Segal Award at the 2008 National Conference On Volunteering and Service in Atlanta, GA, June 1-3.  AmeriCorps Alums is proud to announce the 2008 Eli Segal Award winner & finalists:
 
Rhonda Ulmer (2008 Eli Segal Award Winner)
Rhonda Ulmer
Nominated for: The Van Bokkelen Family Network

Over five years ago, Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn, Maryland was placed on the Maryland State Department of Education's takeover list for its low test scores. Realizing that parent involvement was a key factor in making the necessary changes to keep the school from being taken over by the state, Rhonda Ulmer, an AmeriCorps alum and PTA President of Van Bokkelen Elementary was accepted in the Maryland Parent Leadership Institute (MD-PLI).
 

The MD-PLI provided Rhonda with parent leadership training and a grant to create the Van Bokkelen Family Network. Equipped with new skills and empowered to implement change, Rhonda set out to improve student achievement and help families as a whole. By addressing the parents' needs first, Rhonda was able to foster a real sense of partnership between the school and the parents.Parents were asked for their input on school decisions in completing the three-way partnership between parents, teachers and the communityto ensure the best interests of the children are met.

As a result of the dedication of Van Bokkelen's PTA and school staff, within the span of five years, the school has gone from being on the state's school takeover list to making adequate yearly progress for three years in a row. This innovative approach to school-community partnerships was honored in 2007 by receiving the PTA's highest national award—the Phoebe Apperson Hearst-National PTA Excellence in Education Partnership Award. Rhonda's application of the best practices of volunteer management to promote parental involvement is now recognized as a national model for schools and PTAs across the country.
 
 
Nominated for: Zion Project (www.zionproject.org)

A graduate in 2002 of James Madison University, Sarita spent her first year out of college volunteering for Americorps where she was a victim advocate and counselor at a Rape Crisis Center. This was largely due to a woman named Gloria who Sarita met in South Africa who she says, “changed the course of her life.”

After directing a program for teenage mothers outside DC for two years, Sarita decided to return to Africa, but this time to Uganda because of the stories she had heard about girls being kidnapped and raped by a rebel army.

Sarita lived in Uganda for 6 months during 2006 where she spent most of her time listening to the community and especially to the stories of girl child soldiers and child mothers who are isolated even within crowded IDP camps. Sarita saw their courage, and experienced the beauty of a people who fight every day to survive.

However, Sarita also saw injustice. Most of all, the fact that there are young girls not going to school, but caring for their own infants as a result of their abduction and rape. She sat down and spoke with these girls and found that while some are taken to reception centers upon escaping their captors, most do not receive counseling or care after being returned to the camps. Their neighbors often call them and their children “killers.”

After seeing a need for holistic care and after staring into the eyes of young girls who asked the question: “What will you do to help me?” Sarita came back to the United States to start a non-profit called Zion Project which is dedicated to giving the dreams of girl child soldiers back to them. She is committed to partnering with these girls and their communities to empower them and to advocating for peace here in the US. Last year Sarita was featured in JMU's Madison Magazine as someone who is “Being the Change,” and was honored with the Outstanding Young Virginian Award through the VA Jaycees. In January of 2007, Sarita set up the photo empowerment project as part of her creative vision to see more art therapy programs in the Northern Uganda and to give these young girls a voice. She is moving back to Uganda this June where she will continue to set up holistic programs on the ground for girl child soldiers and is very excited about returning to what she now feels is her second home.
 

Nominated for: Hands On Bay Area TeamWorks (www.handsonbayarea.org)

In fall 2003, Erika entered her first term as a VISTA in Chaska, MN where she developed a class for first-time homebuyers. Fueled by the ideals of AmeriCorps, she became passionate about service and entered a second term in 2005 as the TeamWorks Program Coordinator for Hands On Bay Area (HOBA) in San Francisco.

TeamWorks (TW) is a service-learning program through which a “team” of volunteers completes a series of volunteer opportunities, educational events and discussions. By training new leaders and encouraging cutting-edge programming, Erika has dramatically deepened and expanded HOBA's TeamWorks program. Under Erika's leadership, HOBA's TeamWorks programs have engaged more than 350 volunteers in over 200 community service projects and service-learning events around many of the Bay Area's most pressing issues.

Today, Erika's role at Hands On Bay Area is to create opportunities for people to volunteer, learn and lead in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. She created more than 200 volunteer events over the past year, engaging more than 1200 volunteers in service projects in the East Bay. As the Bay Area AmeriCorps Alums Chapter Leader since 2007, Erika has created more opportunities for local service than ever before and recruited additional chapter leadership.
 

April Thompson

Nominated for: Economic Development Project supporting Afro-Brazilian Women's Cooperatives in Salvador, Brazil implemented in conjunction with US-based nonprofit Levantamos (www.levantomos.org)

Former freelance journalist and AmeriCorps alum April Thompson (http://www.aprilwrites.com/) has been a long-time advocate for fair trade, writing about it and related issues for such publications as The Sun, GreenBiz.com and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She worked for three years in Guinea, West Africa in various capacities for the UN World Food Programme, Winrock International and the Mano River Women's Peace Network. She has also worked as a consultant on fair trade issues for TechnoServe International in Tanzania, and volunteered as a media specialist for Modern Architects for Rural India in Andhra Pradesh, India. She recently completed a dual master's in Business Administration and International Development at American University, where she was involved in the Fair Trade Student Alliance. April's latest project, Mama Samba, will provide technical assistance and market access to various artisanal groups in conjunction with local social justice and fair trade organizations in Brazil. April is also currently a part-time development associate at the Global AIDS Alliance in Washington, DC. April can be reached at prillytee@gmail.com
 
 

Nominated for: ServeNext.org (www.servenext.org)

Like the NRA for gun ownership rights or the ONE Campaign for the eradication of AIDS and poverty in Africa, ServeNext.org is a grassroots political advocacy organization dedicated to the expansion of National Service. This past fall, Matt Wilhelm led ServeNext's NH Primary campaign, which resulted in 9 Presidential candidates from both parties signing a pledge to expand AmeriCorps by 100,000 members, over 60 questions asked at town hall meetings and house parties on the future of National Service, and an interview with U.S. Senator John McCain aboard his trademark Straight Talk Express.
During his two years as an AmeriCorps member with City Year, Matt helped incubate Concert Corps, an initiative designed to bridge the worlds of service and live music. As recipient of a Clinton National Service Innovation Award in 2006, Concert Corps was invited by non-profit partner Reverb to travel on Guster's inaugural Campus Consciousness Tour. Concert Corps members led band members and their fans in workshops, service projects, and recruited for local AmeriCorps programs at each stop.
Inspired by recent bus tours of rockstars and Presidential hopefuls, Matt is currently traveling from coast-to-coast on the National Service Express Tour -- ServeNext's 30-city, 60-day Greyhound bus adventure to build grassroots support for National Service expansion. Modeled after their success in the Granite State, ServeNext will launch campaigns this fall in key congressional districts across the country with the goal of helping to make National Service a national priority in 2009.
 
 
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