“Energy Express has been a summer staple in Wyoming County since 1996,” according to Susan England-Lord, West Virginia University Extension agent who oversees the county program.
Energy Express is a six-week program that provides nutritious family-style meals along with reading activities that allow student participants to maintain their skills through the summer. Each week, the participants are given a free book to take home.
“I am most proud of the fact that this researched-based program has given young people the opportunity to sustain, and in some cases increase, their reading skills during the summer months.
“The data shows that those attending maintain or increase their reading skills during the summer,” England-Lord explained. “Therefore, the program has to be making a difference.
“Anecdotally, educators throughout Wyoming County have many times told me the difference that they have seen in those youth attending.”
While the program is offered in rural communities with a high percentage of low-income families, Energy Express is open to all children — no matter income levels — entering first through sixth grades. Children attend for many reasons, including the social aspects as well as for the entertaining learning activities, according to officials.
“Energy Express has made a difference for all the kids involved, even the college students who work as mentors,” noted Frank Blackwell, Wyoming County Schools superintendent. “I believe it has helped everybody involved.
“Our students seem to really enjoy it,” he emphasized. “It would be nice to have it in every school, but there is only so much money to go around.”
College students, through AmeriCorps, work as mentors to the children participating, offering learning activities through reading, art, writing and drama, according to officials.
Additionally, the mentors eat nutritious, family-style meals with the children, make family visits and complete a community service project.
“Young people continually want to attend the Energy Express,” England-Lord said. “Even after the youth age out, they serve as volunteers as one-on-one readers, and provide assistance to the mentors at the sites.
“Several mentors were once Energy Express attendees,” she said.
“Thousands of lives have been touched by this program,” she emphasized. “Young people have received assistance with college, and had the opportunity to serve their communities. Thousands of meals have been served, with thousands of books placed in the homes of participants.”
Due to the research-based methods used in the program, Energy Express has changed little over the years, according to England-Lord.
“Support for the program has increased and, without our collaborators, we could have never enjoyed the success we currently do.
“We started with one site in 1996, and have maintained three sites almost every year since that date,” she noted.
This year, nearly 100 students are being served at Berlin McKinney Elementary School in Oceana, Mullens Elementary School, and Road Branch Elementary and Middle in Cyclone.
Major funding is provided by West Virginia University Extension Service, Volunteer West Virginia, West Virginia Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program and West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.
Local partners include Wyoming County Schools, Title I, Wyoming County Commission, Wyoming County 4-H Leaders Association, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College along with Cliffs Natural Resources, in addition to numerous individuals and businesses, according to officials.
To volunteer, make donations, or enroll a child, contact one of the sites: Berlin McKinney at 304-682-6481 or by e-mail email@example.com, site coordinator is Terri Woods; Mullens Elementary at 304-294-5252 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, site coordinator is H.D. Worley; Road Branch Elementary and Middle at 304-682-5916 or e-mail email@example.com, site coordinator is Matthew Acord.