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The Real World 

Heart of Oregon Corps gives students a taste of hands-on work

Tim Fissori, educational coordinator and crew leader at Heart of Oregon Corps, teaches what he knows.

After 14 years teaching at Marshall High School and 19 years working as a building contractor, integrating construction concepts into math, science, social studies and language arts lessons has become Fissori's specialty. By mixing his skill sets, he has the ability to make learning come alive for non-traditional students.

"He's unique in that not only is he a certified educator, but he teaches alternative classes," said Amy Mentuck, development director for Heart of Oregon Corps, an organization that helps unconventional youth complete their education.

Fissori began teaching GED instruction courses five years ago for Heart of Oregon Corps. He is now involved in the Youth Build program, in which he helps to certify students in construction skills. One day per week Fissori's students work at a job site where they apply classroom lessons to on-the-job experiences.

"With Youth Build I have the opportunity to live in both worlds," said Fissori. "I have a unique perspective. I can make learning apply to the real world."

Heart of Oregon Corps provides the opportunity for students to spend half of their time in the classroom, where they can earn a diploma or other certification, and half of their time on a work site where they get real-world work experience. They can even earn stipends and scholarships in the process.

"We have a work, earn, learn model," explained Executive Director Laura Handy. "A big part of our mission to our young people is you need that first job, but you have to continue your education to get ahead in today's economy."

The work that Heart of Oregon Corps is doing for Central Oregon's youth and the community has proved to be a win-win situation. The organization connects young people with jobs—from noxious weed eradication to home weatherization—and the community benefits from the students' hands-on projects.

Heart of Oregon has six branches that focus on inspiring and empowering young people. In the past five years, through a time of economic strain, Heart of Oregon has paid out $4.5 million in stipends and wages to core members and staff. And, in partnership with AmeriCorps, the Bend nonprofit has doled out more than $600,000 in educational scholarships.

The population Fissori serves through Heart of Oregon Corps is often young adults who face significant obstacles en route to achieving their educational goals. Some include multiple years of absence from school, court records, learning disabilities and homelessness.

"At first Tim just did GED classes and we found he was incredibly successful with our hardest-to-serve, most disconnected young people," said Handy. "He had a 65 percent attainment rate for students earning their GED in his first six months. If you distill that down to the young people who graduated from the program, it's almost 100 percent."

Despite some of the day-to-day challenges confronting his students, Fisorri finds the work rewarding because of how the students progress.

"The reason I like teaching them so much is because there are so many gaps in their education. So it's really rewarding when you start filling those gaps," said Fissori.

According to Fissori, Heart of Oregon provides for hundreds of kids a year.

"I try to make them see that things can be better. That they can advance and some things work for them that don't work for other kids."

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