VALPARAISO | AmeriCorps has had members from all walks of life and a range of ages.
But this year, Porter County is benefiting from the efforts of a unique pair. Michelle and Bob Hynes are a father-daughter duo stationed at Valparaiso's two middle schools.
Bob Hynes discovered AmeriCorps in his search for a meaningful way to help students improve their math skills. Retired from his job in management at a steel company, Hynes has an engineering degree from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and a desire to make a difference.
"I was doing substitute teaching, but I realized I could contribute more if I could work one on one with students," he said. "Tutoring seemed more effective, so I was happy to discover that AmeriCorps had openings for me to do that."
Hynes now reports every school day to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, where he has a full schedule of tutoring sessions with individual seventh- and eighth-graders.
"We've been working on slopes recently," Hynes said. "When the light bulb moment comes — when they begin to understand — that's when I know that what I'm doing is valuable."
Michelle Hynes was glad her father found AmeriCorps. A recent graduate of Indiana University with a bachelor's in both biology and religious studies, she hopes to become a doctor. Hynes wanted an opportunity to do something worthwhile while she waits for the outcome of her medical school applications.
"I thought maybe I'd volunteer abroad, maybe in Haiti, but I found a way to help right here," Hynes said. "Dad found AmeriCorps and told me there were slots for tutors. I knew that was right up my alley."
Michelle Hynes now spends her time with sixth-graders at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, where she tutors youngsters who need assistance during the school day as well as with other teachers and counselors at after-school study sessions.
Hynes said her efforts are "much more rewarding than a fast-food job" and she can see the real results of her work on a daily basis.
"We've been teaching the students how to add and subtract negative numbers, which is a difficult concept at first," she said. "The counselors and I felt great when all of the kids we recently tutored aced their tests."
"Sometimes you feel like you can't do enough because you really start to care about each and every student," Bob Hynes said. "But it's a great feeling when you realize how many you do help."
Michelle said not every day is a success, but every day is enjoyable.
AmeriCorps is a federal program that helps connect people with opportunities to perform community service.