Americorps volunteers inspire, make a difference at Tolt Middle School

Tolt teacher, Donna Harvold, second from left, played an integral part in bringing Americorps volunteers from left, Andy Nellenback, Joey Fixler and Sarah Alpher to the school to mentor students. -  Courtesy photo
Tolt teacher, Donna Harvold, second from left, played an integral part in bringing Americorps volunteers from left, Andy Nellenback, Joey Fixler and Sarah Alpher to the school to mentor students.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Since mid-November, volunteers from Americorps have been working in the lower Valley on various environmental sustainability projects, including the planting of trees in the Snoqualmie Valley. These energetic young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 24, have shared their time and talents helping at Camp Korey and mentoring students at Tolt Middle School, too. During their time at Tolt, volunteers are helping students with math, language arts, PE class, and they work with English Language Learners and special needs students.

The Americorps program began in 1993 with a mission to not only make a difference for those in need, but also to make a difference in the lives of those who volunteer. The program offers the chance for participants to apply their skills and ideals toward helping others and meeting critical needs all over the country. More than 540,000 Americans have volunteered through the program.

Americorps offers over 75,000 opportunities for volunteers to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. Their work focuses on efforts such as helping to make communities safer, mentoring and giving children a second chance, improving health services, building affordable housing, teaching computer skills, cleaning parks and streams, and helping communities respond to disasters. Volunteers can also receive help paying for college or graduate school.

Americorps volunteer, Andy Nellenbach worked for The Discovery Channel after graduating from community college. He said, "Although the money was great, the work was not reflective of my core values and morals... I realized that I wanted and needed to be a part of something in life that was bigger than myself."

Through his work with Americorps, Nellenbach is able to "give back" and be a part of meaningful work. During his time in Carnation, he has especially enjoyed his time spent with the students at Tolt. Andy remembers his own experience in middle school as an awkward and difficult time/age, and he is genuinely enjoying the opportunity to teach, mentor and just "be" with this special age group of teens.

Most of the volunteers from this particular Americorps group have signed on for a minimum 10-month commitment. They receive approximately $225 each week for all of their food needs. Upon hearing of this many teachers at Tolt began bringing in treats and snacks for the young volunteers. Teacher Jeannine Luce helped to organize a dinner for all of the volunteers, sponsored by the Tolt Congregational Church.

The dinner was provided by Pastor Stephen Hadden, Bob and Shirley Patterson, Luce, and Carrie Cain. Some of the volunteers had been attending Sunday morning services at the church, and the pastor saw an opportunity to serve them by providing a substantial meal they could appreciate and enjoy.

The volunteers are living in the yurts at Tolt-MacDonald Park in Carnation, and helped plant more than 7,500 native trees and shrubs in King County Parks restoration efforts.

Tolt teacher, Donna Harvold played an integral part in bringing these volunteers to Carnation. She partnered with Tina Miller and Laurie Clinton from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks to organize the appointment of Americorps in Carnation.

"What a wonderful opportunity for the students and staff of Tolt Middle School!" Harvold said. "We have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each of the AmeriCorps volunteers. They have become part of the makeup of our school in five short weeks. We will miss them greatly when their time is up, and hope to continue this inspiring partnership with King County in the future.”

Learn more about Americorps at

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