How do you turn a struggling reader into an aspiring leader? You plant seeds of hope and perseverance in them. Then, you nurture them and watch them grow.
Whiz Kids is a faith-based tutoring program that matches volunteers from 67 suburban Oklahoma City churches with at-risk students from inner-city schools.
Nelson Williams, a former Whiz Kid and 2009 graduate of Southeast High School, is proof that the seeds do grow. As an elementary school student in south Oklahoma City, Nelson was matched with Beverly and James Grove in the Whiz Kids program. Beverly and James encouraged Nelson to set goals and work hard to achieve success.
After high school, Nelson joined the military, where he enrolled in a two-year language study course. His peers and commanding officers selected him to deliver the graduation speech for his military unit, which he did, in Mandarin Chinese.
“I couldn’t give up,” said Nelson. “People had high expectations of me. I knew if I pushed myself hard enough, I could do it.”
Nelson added, “I can’t imagine life without Mr. James and Miss Beverly. Without Whiz Kids, I wouldn’t know how to read.”
James and Beverly planted seeds of determination and vision in Nelson. These caring adults helped cultivate these seeds in his life and watched Nelson grow into an impressive example of what can be accomplished with a little hope and a lot of hard work.
In addition to offering open ears and caring spirits, Whiz Kids tutors work with children to improve their reading skills. The urgency is even greater for literacy in Oklahoma City schools, with the recent report that one in four Oklahoma City third-graders is reading below proficiency level.
Volunteers who tutor inner-city children and those children themselves will be recognized and applauded as champions on Tuesday, when Whiz Kids hosts its ninth annual Champions of Hope fund-raiser and tutor appreciation banquet.
The event will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Cox Convention Center. Former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys and state regent and former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Turpen, co-hosts of KFOR-TV’s “Flashpoint,” are honorary chairmen of the event.
Every week during the academic year, 1,450 tutors work with more than 900 first- through sixth-grade students — Whiz Kids who are reading below grade level. The program currently partners with 29 elementary schools in the Crutcho, Crooked Oak and Oklahoma City districts.
More tutors are needed. For more information about becoming a tutor or to support WhizKidsOK, go to www.whizkidsok.org or call 602-2815.
Lee Ann DeArman is a Whiz Kids volunteer.