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Volunteer service runs in the family for new Belleville AmeriCorps director

New AmeriCorps director at SWIC

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Community service is a family tradition for Kimberly Vrooman. Her late father served in the U.S. Army. He was a colonel. Her mother was a civil servant with Family Advocacy and Community Service for the Army.

“I come from a very service-oriented family,” she said.

Vrooman, 45, of Freeburg, recently became the new program director at the Belleville AmeriCorps. She was looking for a new adventure and a chance to “expand her professional horizons,” Vrooman said.

She was previously focused on a nonprofit organization she founded called Tapestry of Community Offerings (TOCO Shop and Pantry), which is located on Main Street in Belleville. TOCO helps families in need whether they are homeless or experienced a catastrophic event like a house fire.

Prior to Vrooman’s departure from TOCO, the nonprofit had served 9,000 families, using donated goods that might otherwise have found their way into a trash can.

“We have, to date, kept about a 1 million pounds out of a landfill,” she said during an interview at her AmeriCorps’ office located at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville.

She said she knows TOCO will continue to “do great things.” She also plans to continue volunteering there.

Vrooman said she feels her new position with AmeriCorps is exactly where she needs to be.

“I had this dad who was about military service,” she said. “And the whole idea behind AmeriCorps stems from William James’ essay ‘The Moral Equivalent of War’ and I used to always ask my dad: ‘Why do we have to have war?’ And he used to always say, ‘You have to have war to keep the peace.’ And I get that, but I thought about what if there were peaceful activities to keep the peace; what if we put as much energy as we do in the efforts of war and put those same efforts into the efforts of peace.”

There’s something really fulfilling to me about the mission of AmeriCorps and what AmeriCorps does on a daily basis to serve the community and serve students.

Kimberly Vrooman, new program director at AmeriCorps at Southwestern Illinois College

Vrooman said she’s a colonel in the U.S. AmeriCorps. She is looking forward to going to Washington D.C. for the first time, she said, as a AmeriCorps representative.

“There’s something really fulfilling to me about the mission of AmeriCorps and what AmeriCorps does on a daily basis to serve the community and serve students,” Vrooman said.

She is excited about learning how to manage a $400,000 federal grant and working to maximize the $400,000 in contributions from AmeriCorps’ local partners.

“We want do more,” she said.

She is also looking forward to spreading awareness about AmeriCorps.

What is AmeriCorps?

AmeriCorps is a service-oriented program where volunteers serve their community and help area students while earning a monthly stipend and money to put toward a college degree for themselves or a family member.

AmeriCorps members can be full-, part- or quarter-time, according to Vrooman.

Full-time members commit to doing 1,700 community-service hours a year. They earn a monthly stipend of about $1,200. If they complete their first full-year term, Vrooman said they get a $6,000 educational award.

Some universities will match the educational award from AmeriCorps, according to Vrooman.

Full-time members also qualify for free healthcare, and babysitting for their children, she said.

Members are required to tutor students at Belleville District 118 and Harmony Emge District 175.

“Our goal with tutoring is to bridge the literacy gap,” Vrooman explained. “There is a need in the Belleville schools ... there is a correlation between poverty and literacy. There are students who fall between the cracks without extra support.

“AmeriCorps can provide a quality tutoring-mentor relationship for these students frankly at a fraction of the cost it would cost the district,” she said. “Our emphasis is this is not a job, you are a paid volunteer.”

Members also must participate in two volunteer service projects each month, such as helping at a clothing pantry at a local church, working at the Kids Club at SWIC or at the TOCO Shop.

Our goal with tutoring is to bridge the literacy gap. There is a need in the Belleville schools...there is a correlation between poverty and literacy. There are students who fall between the cracks without extra support.

Kimberly Vrooman, new program director at AmeriCorps at Southwestern Illinois College

“It’s designed to help people either young people looking to find their niche in service or other careers or it’s meant to help people who have already retired who can then use these awesome skills they have to help reach these kids that need it most,” Vrooman said.

Belleville AmeriCorps is actively recruiting members 17 years of age or older.

“If you are 55 or older, you can give your educational awards to either a child or grandchild,” she said.

To learn more about AmeriCorps or to apply, visit swic.edu/americorps or call Vrooman at 618-235-2700, ext. 5711.

AmeriCorps is looking for camp counselors for three different summer camps in Belleville: Harmony Neighborhood Community Association, Franklin Neighborhood Community Association, and 17th Street Neighborhood Community Association. The deadline to apply is May 1.

Passion for teaching

Vrooman continues to teach as an adjunct English instructor at SWIC. She teaches English 102.

“I love the students,” Vrooman said. “I enjoy giving my students the power of engaging them in learning how to think critically.”

She encourages students to pursue service opportunities while learning.

“I’ve always been a fan of service learning in the classroom,” she said. “It feels really right to do a service-learning focused classroom.”

She encourages her students and her own children to volunteer.

Vrooman’s 5-year-old daughter Emma volunteered at the Gingerbread Cookie Walk in Belleville, and once her son John Paul – J.P. for short – donated a year’s allowance to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“They are always very much wearing their service hats too, thanks to mom and dad,” Vrooman said.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Meet Kimberly Vrooman

  • Position: New program director at AmeriCorps at Southwestern Illinois College
  • Age: 45
  • Resides in: Log cabin in Freeburg
  • Family: Husband Tony, who works at Camp Ondessonk, and two children John Paul, 11, and Emma, 5
  • Education: Associate’s degree from Southwestern Illinois College (formerly Belleville Area College), bachelor’s degree from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and a master’s degree in theory of communication and composition from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
  • Other community service: member of the SWIC Herstory Committee and secretary for the board of directors of the SIUE Meridian Society
  • Other project: She hosts a weekly open mic on Tuesdays at Howards in Soulard for musicians like herself. (She plays guitar.) “It’s an all-ages event so kids can come,” she said.

Belleville AmeriCorps celebrates National AmeriCorps Week

This year it will be held from March 4 – 11. The goal is to increase overall awareness. Belleville AmeriCorps, is partnering with the City of Belleville, Belleville District 118, Harmony Emge District 175, and SWIC, among others to host events throughout the week.

  • Saturday, March 4: Give a Hand Mission Clothing Closet and Community Meal at Trinity United Church of Christ in Belleville and Daddy Daughter Dance in Belleville
  • Sunday, March 5: Clean up at Mount Hope Cemetery
  • Monday, March 6: Spirit of AmeriCorps: Wear AmeriCorps colors (red, white, blue, black, and gray) to show support
  • Tuesday, March 7: Be a Super Hero: Dress up like a superhero and do your best to save someone’s day
  • Wednesday, March 8: PJs and CPR: Wear PJs all day and join Belleville AmeriCorps for a CPR class
  • Thursday, March 9: Sports Hero: Dress up like a sports star and inject team spirit into your day
  • Friday, March 10: Senior Friday! Educate a Senior on the advantages of tutoring with AmeriCorps
  • Saturday, March 11: Belleville St. Patrick’s Day Parade
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