News

AmeriCorps representative has roots in local community

By Teresa Herriman, The Courier-Herald

The new AmeriCorps representative is a familiar face to Prairie Ridge residents. She is Mary Sorg, longtime community volunteer and activist.

In September, Sorg became an AmeriCorps Alliance for Children, Youth & Families service member, placed with the Prairie Ridge community. To bring Sorg on board, the Prairie Ridge Community Coalition matched funds as a part of its effort to help the youth of the area. She was trained in partnership with Big Brothers-Big Sisters of King and Pierce County to work with its program in recruiting, training and placing adult mentors to work with at-risk youth. Since completing her month-long training, she has been housed at the Prairie Ridge Maintenance Company, recruiting mentors to volunteer one hour a week during the academic school year to serve as a positive role model for a student.

Sorg has been a fixture in the Prairie Ridge community since she and her husband, Lou, moved to the area many years ago. She was the activities director at Prairie Ridge for six years and will continue in her role as a 4-H leader and facilitator for the 4-H Challenge Course. She said when the one-year commitment with AmeriCorps appeared, she saw it as an "opportunity to get more organizational backing for the community, so I took it." Both she and her husband have been recognized by Pierce County for their considerable volunteer efforts.

Before serving as an AmeriCorps member, Sorg was unaware it is the stateside version of the PeaceCorps. According to its Web site (www.americorps.org), "AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that engage more than 50,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment."

To promote the program, Sorg is attending many community meetings to match "Bigs" with the "Littles." Members of the Big Brother/Big Sister organization call mentors "Bigs" and students "Littles." "I've been going to everything to find the Bigs," she said.

Finding the "Littles" also presents a challenge. The children in Prairie Ridge are divided into three separate school districts. Sorg said that she is working with all three districts to help bring cohesiveness to the program. She points out that Orting has a mentor program, but she is there to serve the Prairie Ridge youth who attend Orting schools.

She also works with the districts to match truant youth and recently celebrated her first successful match. "These kids are my priority," she said. "I'm really excited." Witnessing the two bond and seeing the hope in the youth's eyes "was so worth it to me," she declared.

To become a mentor, volunteers must complete an extensive application, provide three recommendations and submit to a background check. Sorg carefully interviews those selected from the applications. The rigorous process is important so that the "Littles" can be safe and have fun. "I take it very seriously," Sorg said. "It takes time to be very particular and precise; to create a good and successful match."

Sorg is clear about her mission. "I am here to serve the youth of Prairie Ridge," she said. Prairie Ridge includes 1,284 homes in the unincorporated area of Pierce County.

Anyone interested in participating in the program, should call Sorg at 360-897-8378.

Teresa Herriman can be reached at therriman@courierherald.com

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