It’s just after 5 p.m. and AmeriCorps member Omar Spence is in his element.
The gym at PS 65 is packed with kids seated cross-legged in a large circle. The decibel level has started rising, so Omar takes center stage. He cups his hands around the edges of his mouth. “Eyes on me,” he booms. Suddenly, right on cue, the students stop their chatter and focus on him, responding in kind: “Eyes on you.”
“We’ve had some great performers this week learning about health and fitness,” Omar tells the kids. “And it’s Friday, so it’s time for Positive Performers.” A cheer goes up and so it begins. For the next 15 minutes, the after-school team at PS 65, made up of CHLDC staff and AmeriCorps members, will choose two students from each grade whose behavior and participation has been so exemplary as to be worthy of recognition. Each youngster will get a certificate, a treat from Omar, a prize they fish out of a box, and the cheers of their classmates.
“We do this every Friday and the kids really like it,” says Omar, 24, who has been part of CHLDC’s AmeriCorps program for a year. “We started it to reinforce those good values we want them to learn. We have this one boy, who had real trouble controlling his behavior, get selected [as a Positive Performer] and he had tears in his eyes. It meant a lot to him — that he was able to control his behavior and get recognized for it. That’s what we’re trying to do — to build up those good habits and values and have them mean something positive for the kids.”
As it turns out, Positive Performer Fridays is one of Omar’s pride and joys. He was a driving force in launching it in November, and he’s been coordinating it from week to week ever since.
Omar is one of 32 members of the CHLDC AmeriCorps team, which works with children across the various after-school programs on everything from health and fitness activities to literacy skills development and homework help. And he’s one of only two AmeriCorps members in the cohort who serves full-time, on pace to devote some 1,700 hours of service as part of his AmeriCorps experience.
“They do it all,” says CHLDC AmeriCorps Program Director Sandy Ramrattan, who began at CHLDC as a 17-year-old AmeriCorps member nine years ago. “We have very dedicated AmeriCorps members, totally committed to helping the community.”
And Omar is nothing if not committed.
“I do it because I love working with youth,” he says. “And I do this because I believe in Cypress Hills [Local Development Corporation]. This is a program and an organization that cares about the community, and I’m passionate about working within communities and building them up. I’m a believer that if you can find work that you look forward to doing every day, you’ll take pride in it that much more. To me, I’ve found that work right here in Cypress Hills and PS 65.”