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Lon Hoffman named Colorado AmeriCorps Volunteer of the Year

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” — Muhammad Ali.

May 8-15, 2010 is AmeriCorps week. This is an opportunity to honor and recognize the more than 85,000 Americans who serve their communities each year as AmeriCorps members, and a time to encourage more Americans to serve their communities.

AmeriCorps was started in 1994, and since that time 637,000 individuals have chosen to serve their country or community as AmeriCorps members. AmeriCorps has been called “the domestic Peace Corps,” and members serve their nation and communities in many ways through many programs. Their motto is “getting things done for America.” AmeriCorps members recruit, train and supervise volunteers, they tutor and mentor youth, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, run after-school programs, help communities respond to disasters and build the capacity of non-profit groups, among many other activities. With the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, AmeriCorps is on track to grow to 250,000 annual members by 2017.

Many AmeriCorps members are serving our area through local non-profit organizations, such as the Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Partners (RSAPP,) Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC,) Southern Ute Community Action Programs (SUCAP,) and the Western Hardrock Watershed Team. They work as Community Prevention Organizers, as Conservation Crew Leaders, and as Coalition Coordinators. These individuals commit to a term of service — usually one year — to their community and organization. Most members receive a nominal living allowance, health insurance, significant training, valuable experience and upon successful completion, an education award which can be used to pay down student debt or invest in future tuition. AmeriCorps members are diverse: the RSAPP AmeriCorps program currently has seven members that represent every decade of age from the ’20s through the ’60s Their reasons for serving also vary, but all members are committed to giving back to their communities and working towards positive change.

Pagosa Springs has two part-time AmeriCorps members: Lon Hoffmann and Carol Otis. Both Lon and Carol work as community prevention organizers and help run the Pagosa Springs Youth Center as part of their commitment to the community youth.

Lon recently was awarded the AmeriCorps Volunteer of the Year for the state of Colorado. Lon was nominated by the Regional coordinator Cathy Cowles and Lon was notified last week of his award.

Lon Hoffmann began his term of service on Oct. 1, 2009, serving as a half-time Community Prevention Organizer in Archuleta County under the Regional Substance Abuse Prevention Program. He brought a lot of applicable experience to his position, including many years spent working with youth both in and out of the classroom. Even more important than his professional experience, Lon brought a positive attitude, enthusiasm for working with all types of youth, and a desire to make a difference in his community.

Lon has been a pioneer during this term. It is RSAPP’s first year as an AmeriCorps program, and his site partner, the Promoting Prevention Coalition of Archuleta County, was poised to open a brand new Youth Center. Lon dove into the project head first. During the first three months, he was part of a small team working hard to open a new youth center in Pagosa Springs. As a skilled handyman capable of working within a tight budget, Lon was instrumental in getting the facility up to code. He hung smoke alarms, repaired plumbing, and bravely ventured into closets that had not been visited for years. He worked on the front door, making sure it would lock and installing panic bars — so was literally responsible for getting the doors open. Lon worked on the building, but also got the word out on the street.

Through his work at the alternative school in Pagosa, Lon began spreading the word amongst local skaters and disaffected youth that they were going to have a place to hang. He sought — and continues to seek — youth input. Lon knows that without youth input and buy-in, the center would be a flop.

When the Pagosa Springs Youth Center (PSYC) opened its doors in January, Lon was there to welcome youth and make them feel at home. He usually covers two shifts per week as a Youth Center monitor, and can often be found playing basketball or pool with the kids in the PSYC. He has a wonderful rapport with the youth, and is very talented at finding “teachable moments” to coach a wide variety of kids on important life lessons. The PSYC has seen more that 950 visits from 182 different kids during its first three months in operation, which is way beyond expectations in this small town.

Lon has also been instrumental behind the scenes of the Youth Center, looking for gaps and figuring out how to best fill them. He has been creating operational systems for the PSYC, so that the facility and program can get up to speed and continue to run smoothly. He created sign-in sheets, and has compiled the data on youth center visits. He is currently working on putting together an operations manual for the facility, as well as building and updating the center’s website. He is planning to coach other adults on how to work effectively with youth, and recently presented this material at a regional RSAPP Member Training/Meeting.

Lon is a half-time member, and this fully demonstrates his commitment to his AmeriCorps position. He must work other jobs in order to support himself at this time, but always maintains the energy and flexibility to give 110 percent to his AmeriCorps commitment. If you see AmeriCorps members this week, please thank them for their work and ask about their programs. To learn more, visit www.americorps.gov.