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WVU Extension Service’s Energy Express summer reading and nutrition program reaches nearly 3,000 children in rural and low-income communities in West Virginia. (WVU Extension Service Photo)

WVU Extension’s award-winning summer reading program receives $1.2 million award

West Virginia Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin recently announced that West Virginia University Extension Service’s Energy Express program has been awarded more than $1.2 million to support literacy programs for West Virginia youths beginning in summer 2022. The award will continue through 2024 ($1.2 million each year for three years).

Energy Express received the AmeriCorps state award from the Corporation for National and Community Service through Volunteer West Virginia. Each summer, the Energy Express summer reading and nutrition program is led and executed by hundreds of AmeriCorps members, as well as community volunteers, who provide life-changing experiences for nearly 3,000 youths living in rural and low-income communities throughout West Virginia. WVU county Extension agents, along with the state Energy Express team, partner with school systems and others to bring this program to West Virginia communities.

During the free, six-week program participants engage in art, STEM, literacy, games and other activities that help them hone their reading and comprehension skills. Through partnerships with local, state and community organizations, the program also provides nutritious meals for the students—meals that they may not otherwise receive.

“The awarding of this AmeriCorps grant is very exciting news for Energy Express following some very challenging times. This award will allow us to continue the traditions of our program that make it so exciting for our children, but also gives us the opportunity to focus on innovation and creativity in building our program for the future,” Mark Swiger, director of WVU Extension Service Energy Express, said. “Energy Express has a 27-year history of blending learning with nutrition through a program focused on national service. We’re proud of the work being done through the efforts of our county WVU Extension agents, site supervisors, mentors and local partnerships, and are grateful for their undying commitment to the children of West Virginia. This is an exciting time for Energy Express.”

In 2020, the pandemic eliminated the opportunity for in-person programming and remote platforms were incorporated, bringing value-added benefits to the program. More than 2,400 children across 38 West Virginia counties participated in the program last year, with 65% of those children maintaining or increasing their reading achievement levels. In addition, the Energy Express program distributed more than 30,200 take-home books related to the weekly theme, and WVU Extension Service and West Virginia Public Broadcasting partnered to bring Energy Express programming to West Virginia youths and their families in a novel, yet engaging, format – all from the safety and comfort of their home.

“We want to thank Senators Capito and Manchin for their unwavering support of the continuation of the AmeriCorps program. Without it, we would have not been able to compete for AmeriCorps funding for Energy Express,” WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said. “We know that having strong reading skills provides a foundation for future success. Energy Express provides West Virginia children with a fun learning environment where they can use creativity and imagination to overcome the ‘summer slide’ that often occurs when youths fall behind academically between school years. This award is wonderful news for WVU, the Energy Express program and the young people it serves.”

The 2021 summer program runs from June 21 to July 30 and will be offered at nearly 50 sites throughout West Virginia. Children entering first through fourth grade (as of fall 2021) are eligible to participate in the program.

Energy Express is an award-winning program under the leadership of WVU Extension Service’s Office of the Dean and Director. WVU Extension Service Dean Jorge H. Atiles noted that state, community and local support, coupled with the excellent programming, were critical for this award.

“We are grateful to have the support of WVU, community leaders and others who believe in our Energy Express program, and we were fortunate to secure this AmeriCorps grant again after a period of struggling to fund this program,” Atiles said. “Our team worked hard to present a very competitive and compelling proposal that resulted in this funding. We are excited about the future of Energy Express.”

The program is funded, in part, by grants and donations from individuals and private foundations and corporations through the West Virginia University Foundation and Volunteer West Virginia, the lead agency for volunteerism and National Service in West Virginia.

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