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Gibbs grad discovers volunteering's rewards

Published July 2, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - At first, the allure of a college scholarship is what drew Natasha Robinson to AmeriCorps, an organization that connects youth volunteers with community service projects.

But after spending 10 months helping Hurricane Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast, the program delivered many more rewards.

"I realized that I was in a better environment than the one I grew up in," said Robinson, 25, who was reared in the Childs Park area. "I realized that there was something better."

Robinson recently completed the organization's National Civilian Community Corps, which is based in Charleston, S.C. The 10-month program gave Robinson and 275 others the opportunity to perform 331,464 hours of community service in exchange for a one-year college scholarship.

She helped build houses in the Jackson, Miss., area; tutored school children in New Orleans ; and passed out food, water and supplies to Katrina victims.

She found the experience so rewarding she joined for a second year.

Jacky DeVos, Robinson's team leader, said she loves the dynamic personality and laughter that the spirited Robinson brings to her team.

"She is very flexible and she is just a good person to have around," DeVos said.

DeVos' team has traveled throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida's Big Bend to aid hurricane victims.

DeVos, who has known Robinson since August, said it's a pleasure to work with a young woman so enthused by helping the community - especially when it involves children.

She said she thinks the best part about the project is that the family for whom they built the house now has a place to stay.

The former Gibbs High School student got into service early, helping out her mother around their home. After graduation she took a job with the housekeeping staff at All Children's Hospital and did community service helping youth in her spare time.

AmeriCorps trains volunteers ages 18-24 to do community service and offers a scholarship after completion of a year. Robinson will get another scholarship for her second year of service.

Teammate and friend Thomas Togisala said that he admires Robinson immensely for the strides she has made in her personal life as well as with her service.

"Since she came here, Robinson has done a complete turnaround because she used to be shy and out of her comfort zone and now she's one of the most outspoken people on the base," he said.

Togisala said he's now used to seeing Robinson shine.

One particular project stands out in his mind. The team was sent to Mandeville, La., for six weeks to help prepare first- through sixth-graders for standardized testing. Each volunteer was assigned a classroom and spent a great deal of time with his or her students. Togisala said the school was buzzing about Robinson -- from the teachers to the students, everyone was in awe of Robinson's performance. "She really made a connection with the kids. It was like she related to them."

After her graduation Tuesday, Robinson said she will spend her second year of service working in Washington, D.C.

"After I finish in D.C., I'm going to enroll in college."

[Last modified July 1, 2006, 11:54:53]

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