Literacy AmeriCorps 2009-10

My year in AmeriCorps in Palm Beach County

The end is near

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With about two months of service in AmeriCorps left, I realized that it’s been awhile since I’ve given the blog some “personal insight.” Looking back, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around the experiences I’ve had and the ways in which they’ve changed me – I feel like I just got here! Maybe after it’s all over, it will be easier to grasp in retrospect.

As the end of the school year lingers, homework help is becoming less and less necessary. The same group of regular kids still seek me out for occasional help with a worksheet or report, but their primary purpose for visiting the library is to use the computers, spend time with friends, browse books, practice reading or simply seek refuge from the sometimes overbearing issues in their lives — regarding earthquakes, language barriers, split families, financial woes, and less-than-desirable living situations.

I’ve kept myself busy for the past couple weeks by preparing for the library’s summer reading club programs. “Make a Splash: Read” and “Make Waves with Reading” are the themes for the youth summer reading club programs in association with the Collaborative Library Summer Program (http://www.clspreads.org) I’ve been encouraging all of the kids I work with regularly to sign up, hoping that we can continue to build on the good educational habits we’ve developed this school year. In preparation, I’ve mainly been compiling lists of book suggestions for grades K-12. I thought it would be nice for the kids to have some guidance on what to chose and to give them a better idea of what’s available at the library.

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As with the start of the homework help program at the beginning of the year, the summer reading help will be a very “learn as we go” sort of thing – although I’ve offered to help with kids with reading to meet their book goals and to improve literacy skills, I’m not sure yet if that will be through appointments, “come and go as you please” situations, or through other reading activities.

I’m also excited for the reader’s theater program to be held at the library this summer. Both teen and youth patrons who are interested will perform skits based on popular children’s or teens books. Although I had some experience with drama and theater in high school, I will definitely have to dust the cobwebs off of my acting skills and do my best to help the kids have a fun experience.

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I received the ultimate approval on my Florida life last weekend when my mom came from Pennsylvania for a visit. Last time she’d seen me in Florida, I was sleeping on the couch in my friend’s apartment with all of my belongings piled in a corner. I didn’t know my site placement yet either and I had no idea where I was going to live. Needless to say, she was thrilled to see me in a safe, spacious, well-kept apartment and loved the library, too. She was able to meet my roommate, my boyfriend, Adam, a couple of my close friends and most of the library staff that I work with daily — and she even met some of the kids!

Although her stay was short, we had a great time visiting, trying out new restaurants, shopping and, of course, relaxing on the beach.

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On a different note – another necessity as the end of my service approaches has been (cue ominous music…) job hunting!

I’ve set my sights on finding a job in a Palm Beach County library after AmeriCorps comes to an end. I totally re-vamped my resume, created a portfolio highlighting my past experiences, networked with key resources throughout the county and scoured relevant job postings. Although position openings are eerily scarce, I was able to snag one interview with a unique arts library on the Island of Palm Beach. The position is for a library processing assistant and would be a great experiential complement to graduate school. The interview was very promising as I got along well with the staff and loved the facility – but in today’s job world, there are no guarantees. Regardless of the outcome, I look forward to what my post-AmeriCorps life has in store for me and plan to make the most of these last couple of months as they quickly slip away…

Written by lindseynuzzo

May 27, 2010 at 4:25 pm

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AmeriCorps Week

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As a national AmeriCorps member, the week of May 8-15th is all about me — It’s AmeriCorps Week! In honor of AmeriCorps, the other members and I aren’t just sitting around, we are doing what we do best — serving.

My AmeriCorps program — Literacy AmeriCorps of Palm Beach County, is holding a countywide food drive to collect canned and dry food for a local soup kitchen. Our goal is to collect more than 1,000 cans to donate to a local soup kitchen — The Caridad Center of Boynton Beach (www.caridad.org)

Two other Literacy AmeriCorps members and I set up a donation location at our apartment complex, Via Lugano. We placed a box with a sign at the door of our gym with hopes that our neighbors will be willing to donate.

Other members of our program are partaking in similar collection initiatives at their living and work areas in order to help reach our goal.

                                    

Written by lindseynuzzo

May 10, 2010 at 7:04 am

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A personal glimpse

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At the annual Love of Literacy Luncheon held last Friday, March 26, I had the chance to share the story of one of my students with the more than 600 attendees of the event. Held at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, the luncheon invited Literacy supporters of Palm Beach County to gather and honor the accomplishments of the Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition – including the AmeriCorps program. During the event, three other AmeriCorps members and I were able to briefly highlight one of our students who’d been particularly successful.

I enjoyed sharing stories about my students with others, so I decided to include some here. The first story is what I shared at the luncheon.

Sam

Sam, who is in 2nd grade, had a very low reading level when he first came to me. We were reading level 1 easy- reader books together and he was having trouble with simple words. I quickly noticed that he had an interest in certain subjects — sharks, dinosaurs, other animals, etc. — so we started to read more related to those subjects and his reading level suddenly jumped. His mother recently told me that his reading level in school has improved from a level 1 to a level 3 as well, and that he enjoys reading with me more than his teacher.

About a month ago I found a picture book with his name in the title – “Sam and the Tigers” – or something like that. It’s written at about a 3rd grade reading level – and I think he’s had it checked out of the library ever since.We’ve read it together twice and he reads proficiently.

I don’t think he was a struggling reader from the start; I just think he had no idea that reading could actually be fun and enjoyable. Through reading with me, he gains confidence and appreciates that I take notice of his interests, which encourages him to read up to his potential.

Zyanna and Jayna

I work with two sisters, Jayna and Zyanna, who are in 3rd and 5th grade. As a child, Jayna suffered from medical problems and still has to frequently attend doctors appointments for her condition. She is very smart in all subject areas, but gets easily frustrated when she has a lot of make-up work to do. By coming to me for help, she has developed a steady routine of doing her homework every day regardless of whether she missed school that day or not and consistently gets her work done.

Zyanna is very strong in reading, but she has always struggled with math and been very frustrated with it, thus not completing her homework and failing her math tests. When she started coming to me for homework help, I realized her frustration and empathized with her by telling her about my own struggles with math as a student and how I was always a strong reader as well. Once she realized that it was okay to be stronger in one subject than the other, she started to work harder in math, do her math homework every day, and now she is passing the class for the first time all school year.

Paul and Angela

Aside from my learners who struggle with school, I also work with two youngsters, Paul and Angela, who are both in the gifted program at their school and excel in all subjects. Their mother is very involved in their education and communicates with me regularly – which is good – but sometimes an overbearing parents can be stressful for a student.

Angela is in kindergarten and practices reading with me. She reads better than some of my 2nd graders and seems to enjoy reading with me.

Paul is in 2nd grade and is extremely bright; he comes to me for writing practice. He does well with his grammar and spelling, but sometimes needs a little nudge to include detail into his writing.

Although these two aren’t struggling with school, I think they find it refreshing to work with someone who doesn’t put a lot of pressure on them. A few times, they’ve come to my room in tears after doing homework with their mom. About 30 minutes later, they are laughing and smiling after working with me – and the homework is still done.

Fortunately, I think their mother notices the contrast also.—she recently asked me how I was chosen to work with the library and if I will continue to have the program next year.

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In two days, I’ll be headed to Key Largo for a three-day retreat with the AmeriCorps group! While there, we have a snorkeling trip planned…along with lots of relaxing. I’m really looking forward to a tropical break from my hectic work schedule!

Palm&TreeWeb

Written by lindseynuzzo

March 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm

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February wrap-up

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Sorry It’s been so long since I’ve last written – I spent most of February so busy doing awesome things worth writing about that I haven’t had enough time to write about them – I’m not sure if that’s good or bad – but its definitely been fun and eventful!

Because this entry is kind of long, I broke it up into topics. Feel free to skip around, skim read or only look at pictures!

Help for Haiti (January 30)

Like many other people following the earthquake in Haiti, I desperately wanted to help, but didn’t know how. Luckily, through AmeriCorps, we have great connections with volunteer organizations across the county and were able to find a constructive, tangible way to give aid.

As a Saturday service project, a group of us gathered in a warehouse at the Port of Palm Beach to sort donations and create care packages to be sent to Haitians who lost all of their belongings in the disaster. Together, we created boxes of food, hygiene items, baby supplies and medical supplies to be sent to the “tent cities” to the families that need them most.

I mostly created food boxes comprising dry rice, beans, canned food, pasta, cereal, granola bars, potato chips and any other food item that I thought would be helpful to have in a makeshift living situation. I also included toiletry items in each box such as shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, lotion and toothpaste. Its humbling to think that these are items that we take for granted every day, yet people in Haiti are desperate for them right now.

It really made the event special when a man who had recently been to Haiti spoke to us. I believe he was a doctor and had been there to provide medical services immediately following the earthquake. He was familiar with providing relief in emergency situations and had helped prior to the major hurricane that struck in 2004. At that time, he’d handed out care packages similar to the ones that we were presently creating. He explained the process to us – that each family receives a ticket that they can turn in for a care package.

He assured us that the work we were doing was important, helpful and necessary because he would be delivering the care packages himself to areas where he knew the need was dire. He also described the horrendous living conditions in great detail and told us about some of the unthinkable medical procedures he’d had to complete.

As a group, the other AmeriCorps members and I were glad that we could help out in a way that was meaningful and hoped that our small part makes a big difference in the lives of the struggling people of Haiti.

Super bowl cruise to the Bahamas (February 5-7)

Even though Super bowl XLIV was played in nearby Miami, I spent the weekend on amid the waters of the Atlantic on a 3-day getaway cruise.  I sailed on the Norwegian Sky with my boyfriend, Adam, and his parents for the weekend and had a blast.

Our first stop was Nassau, Bahamas. We were only there for one day, so I wasn’t able to see much more than the touristy gift shops and restaurants, but it was still fun. Plus, seeing the sparkling aqua- blue water made it all worth it.

The next day was suppose to be spent on a private cay owned by the ship, but because of gusty winds and less-than-desirable temperatures, we weren’t able to board the smaller boats needed to carry everyone to the island.

Instead, we spent the day on the ship – which was fine with me. The ship was practically a floating city, so there was always plenty to do. On the deck alone there were two pools, a handful of hot tubs, bars, ping pong tables, a basketball court, golf nets, hundreds of deck chairs and a stage featuring a reggae band that played, practically, around the clock.

Inside, there were more bars and lounges, shops, art galleries, restaurants, a fitness center, an auditorium a casino– and more that I can’t think of at the moment. My favorite place to hang out was a classy lounge area at the front of the ship. It featured swanky decor and an array of windows that allowed an open view of the front of the ship and the vast ocean beyond. During the day, Adam and I enjoyed some live jazz music there and at night we watched some karaoke (watched, not participated.)

A major highlight of the trip was the food. Adam’s parents kindly treated me to tasty, filling dinners at very nice restaurants. The first night we ate at a steakhouse where I enjoyed a delicious filet mignon. The second night we ate at a French restaurant where I got to try lots of interesting new foods like escargot, duck and lamb. The lamb I enjoyed – but the escargot and the duck – I can live without. The third night we ate ate an Italian place where I had my favorite pasta – fettuccine alfredo.

Although the cruise was only 3 days, I had a blast. It was great to experience something different, try new things and, literally, get away, for a few days. I would definitely go again sometime and hope that I have the chance.

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New Found Glory (February 9)

I got to see another one of my favorite bands in concert a few weeks ago. Pop-punk band New Found Glory came to The Revolution in Ft. Lauderdale as part of their 10 year anniversary tour. To honor 10 years of staying together as a band without killing each other, the guys play their self-titled first album from start to finish, then concluded with a hefty encore featuring their well-known songs “My Friend’s Over You” “All Downhill from Here” “Understatement” and a few others.

They are an awesome band and their show rocked, but personally, their first album is not my favorite. I would have preferred to see a show where they played a variety of songs from all their albums including my favorite “Catalyst” and “Sticks and Stones.” Still, I’m so glad I had the chance to see them live and would definitely see them again.

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Valentine’s Day (February 14)

As is typical for the holiday, I spent a good portion of this Valentine’s Day with the boy – but I certainly didn’t leave out my girls.

Fourteen other AmeriCorps girls and I met at a new Mexican Restaurant in Boynton Beach called Margaritas on Valentine’s afternoon for Sunday brunch and drinks. After all the hard work we put in at our sites and service projects, it was definitely nice to relax, have some good food, enjoy each other’s company, laugh, have some drinks and unwind from the usual stress in our lives.

Afterward I met up with Adam and we went out to dinner at an Italian Restaurant, Carrabba’s. We sat outside on the patio –which definitely in February in PA — I had my favorite meal – fettuccine alfredo, which is all I could have asked for on Valentine’s Day.

vday

Clase de Espanol (February 16)

Because I feel like I’ve sufficiently conquered the English language, I’ve decided I need to learn some more– starting with Spanish

Despite taking three years (tres anos) of Spanish class in high school and college, I never really retained enough of what I learned to know how to speak the language fluently— the classes were taught primarily from the textbook and I was more concerned with focusing on other, more relevant, classes at the time.

I also never really had an immediate need to learn Spanish. There are hardly any Spanish speakers in Bradford where I grew up nor in New Wilmington where I went to college. Now that I am living in South Florida and working with about half a dozen Hispanic kids a day, I am surrounded by the language and have a dire need to know it better.

Although the kids I work with speak English fluently, their parents typically do not. It is frustrating when a mother brings her child to me for help regularly, and I can tell she wants to discuss her child’s progress, but she cannot because of the language barrier. In turn, I think it is definitely the responsibility of the Spanish speaker to learn the language of the country in which live. At the same time, being bilingual is a very valuable skill for anyone to posses, especially someone like me who has a natural appreciation for words, anyway.

Sorting Hair (February 19)

When you join AmeriCorps – – you never know what you’ll be roped into doing.

A few weeks ago, the group and I volunteered at a Locks of Love donation center, sifting through unattached ponytails and filing them according to length. Locks of Love is an organization that works with salons to collect significant amounts of chopped hair. With the donated hair, they make free wigs for children who suffer from diseases that cause hair loss.

As volunteers, we took the hair from individual plastic bags (which closely resembled small, dead mammals in plastic bags) and sorted them by length. Only donations of 6 inches are more were accepted to “keep” bins.  As girls, we gawked over hair locks we wished we’d had and cringed at tangled messes we were glad we didn’t have to deal with.

Aside from sorting, we also learned a lot about the attention and detail that goes into making a Locks of Love wig. The hairpieces are hand-sewn, a process that takes about 4 months and custom-fitted to the child’s head. Once in place, the child can run, jump, play and swim as normal — and even cut and wash their hair as if it were their own.

Although the project was a little kooky, it was worth it to volunteer for a good cause.

Monster Jam (February 20)

I attended a monster truck show a couple of weeks ago in Miami. Decked out in our John Deer “redneck” gear, Adam, his friends and I trucked down to Dolphins Stadium to watch the behemoth automobiles ‘git down ‘n dirty and put on a show. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…

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Literati

The Winter 2009-10 version of the Literati is now finished and online! Again, yours truly had a big part in putting it all together and wrote two articles!

Here’s the link: http://www.literacypbc.org/files/Literati_winterFINAL.pdf

Graduate School

When I finished my undergraduate degree at Westminster, I breathed probably the biggest relief sigh of my life for finally finishing my education – no more books, studying, classes, tests, papers, research, etc. – ever again. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed school and am grateful for my education, but it can be stressful, time-consuming and just plain difficult. A lot of my friends planned to pursue graduate school right away, but I told myself “This is the end of the road for me; I am done with school for good.”

But now I might go back.

Earlier this month I attended a presentation about Library and Information Studies graduate programs at Florida State University and University of South Florida. The programs can both be completed entirely online and typically take about 1-2 years to finish.  They focus on information organization, research, and, of course, books. There is also an interesting media and technology component to the program since, as of late, libraries service as media centers as well.

The program in conjunction with my current AmeriCorps experience, and any additional experience I might gain through possibly working for a library in the future would give me a promising, stable career path plan and allow me to work in an environment that I’ve grown to love surrounded by knowledge, resources, technology and, of course, books!

I am currently deciding whether I would like to enroll this fall or find a job at a library for a year, then apply for the following year (the latter would likely allow me to qualify for tuition reimbursement.) To be accepted I need to take my GRE, apply, write a personal statement, have transcripts sent and have written references.

Although I’m still contemplating this option, I’m really excited about the opportunity and hope that the cards fall into place for me to go – and now when someone asks me what I’m doing after school I don’t have to say “I have no idea!”

Back to school for me!

Written by lindseynuzzo

March 16, 2010 at 3:13 pm

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Sharing Dreams Across Cultures

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The many cultures of Palm Beach County converged on Monday, January 18 in honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Literacy AmeriCorps sponsored “Sharing Dreams Across Cultures” event.

 

More than 180 children and adults attended the event held at Highland Elementary School in Lake Worth, FL. There, they enjoyed an array of cultural activates organized and conducted by more than 50 volunteers and 25 Literacy AmeriCorps members. Specifically, the event provided literacy resources for adults, information about Martin Luther King Jr., “dream” related activities for children, free food, free books, music and games.

The centerpiece of the event was a “wall of dreams” compiled by students of Literacy AmeriCorps members. The students were asked to declare their primary dream on a decorated piece of paper and to include their country of birth to demonstrate that, despite cultural differences, many people have similar dreams.

As a Literacy AmeriCorps member, I assisted with the children’s activities. Amid a hot, sunny, breezy Florida day, children enjoyed making their own dream catchers and Nobel Peace prizes, plus face-painting and dance contests. They also played pick-up games of football and basketball with AmeriCorps members and volunteers.

The event required a great deal of planning and organizing from AmeriCorps members. According to the planning committee, it was a resounding success. More than 500 books were given to children and adults interested in improving their literacy skills and volunteers declared interest to help with future AmeriCorps service projects.

Personally, I had a great time helping others learn about literacy and equality and enjoy the activities throughout the day. I was thrilled to see the families of four students that I work with at the library attend the event and participate in the activities.  

 

Written by lindseynuzzo

January 25, 2010 at 8:46 am

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Hope remains for young Haitians in Florida

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After seeing my kids yesterday, they seemed to have a pretty solid mental grip on the earthquake tragedy in Haiti and were dealing with it well (phew!)

 I tried not to discuss the topic unless it was brought up by them. I thought it would be best to stay focused on homework — give them a chance to take their mind off of the disaster that has been, undoubtedly, consuming their lives for the past few days.

Still, most brought it up right away – “Did you hear about the hurricane…I mean…earthquake in Haiti, Miss Lindsey?” “My grandpa lives there, but we can’t talk to him.” “I heard people will have to sleep in the street tonight.”

Most students said they had grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins there that they were unable to communicate with despite many attempts by their parents. Apparently it is nearly impossible to get through to the ‘1-888’ number provided to find out information.  Most lived either in or near the capital of Port-au-Prince — two students have grandparents in Nouailles (I think) and one student has a grandfather, I believe, in Lamartiniere that her parents are trying to reach.

Luckily, it seemed that most students had only met their Haitian relatives once or twice, thus didn’t share a deep enough connection with them to be majorly upset – which is good, but sad, in a way too – because it serves as a grim reminder that – earthquake or not – these children may never have a close relationship with most of their relatives in turn for needing to seek a better life in the United States.

Still, there was an obvious lack of focus. The students were easily distracted and unusually somber. Very few were able to complete their homework. One 3rd grade student, who is usually very good about working independently, stared at two blank pieces of paper for about ½ hour, writing only 3 sentences for her open-ended writing assignment. I didn’t make her finish.

When the topic arose, I told my students that I was sorry about what happened, and that their families were involved, but I was glad that at least they were here in Florida and safe. I told them that when (keyword – when) they found their family members to let me know if they needed anything and I would get my AmeriCorps friends and library co-workers to help them with food, clothing or supplies.

Most spoke excitedly about donation programs already in place at their schools and seemed willing to pitch-in themselves.  

I’m going to spend part of the day looking into what the library and AmeriCorps can do, while still preparing for the AmeriCorps Martin Luther King “Sharing Across Cultures” event.

Just FYI –The event will be held on January 18 at Highland Elementary School in Lake Worth, FL from 12pm – 3pm. I know most people have their minds on other issues right now, and that MLK Day is a day off from work for most – but now more than ever is a great time to celebrate cultural diversity, especially in South Florida. There will be information on literacy, teaching and learning English and ESOL for adults, fun activities for kids, and free food and music for everyone. The other AmeriCorps members and I have put a lot of work into planning the event and hope to see a lot of people there despite recent events.

Written by lindseynuzzo

January 14, 2010 at 7:32 am

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I hate irony

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I’m sad to say that my blog topic for this week just became eerily newsworthy.

Ironically, I have been researching and planning to write about the country of Haiti in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Literacy AmeriCorps’ “Cultural Sharing” event to be held on January 18.

I was going to write about how shocked I was to learn that Haiti was mountainous (Mountains? Really?) And that it is located about 70 miles south of Cuba and connected to the Dominican Republic.

I was going to discuss the intriguing history of the country – how it was one of the first islands discovered by Christopher Columbus, but then ruled by the French; how the African slaves successfully revolted against the French, kicking their butts out of the country; and how they’ve never had a stable government, only a handful of greedy rulers who hold more than half of the country’s wealth.  

I was going to write about the unique cultural aspects – that they primarily speak Creole, a blend of African and French; that they practice a religion called Voodoo (not the creepy witch kind); and that they love soccer.

I was going to write about how hard-working and dedicated my Haitian students are – how they are strong willed, but patient; energetic and fun-loving, how their families came to the United States merely seeking a stable life, and how hard they work on their school work every day.

But school work, mountains, and history lessons seem unimportant right now due to recent tragedy.

As of the last CNN.com update, an estimated 100,000 people had died in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince yesterday around 5:00 pm.

I haven’t seen my students yet today – they are still in school, but I know that most, if not all of them have family still in Haiti. Chances are they can’t reach their aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and grandparents etc. to find out if they’re okay.

It’ s gut-wrenching to see something like this happen to a country that I’ve only recently come to learn is already one of the most impoverished in the world. It really hit home to realize that many of the students I work with were born in such a devastated place.

Now, my heart aches even more for these kids and their families as they prepare to deal with possibly finding out that their relatives are dead and that their country of birth is in complete disrepair.  

Through AmeriCorps and the library I’m planning to gather some kind of donations, hopefully to be sent directly to the kids’ families. I’m not sure yet exactly what I’ll be able to do, but as soon as I know, any help would be appreciated.

In the meantime, pray like crazy.

Written by lindseynuzzo

January 13, 2010 at 9:04 am

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