Edmond volunteers who tutor inner-city children and those children themselves will be recognized and applauded as champions March 25, when Whiz Kids hosts its ninth annual Champions of Hope fundraiser and tutor appreciation banquet, scheduled 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Cox Convention Center.
Nine Edmond churches and dozens of volunteers travel south to Oklahoma City weekly to mentor children in partner inner-city churches.
The program has deep roots in Edmond, as Masie and Larry Bross founded the program as well as its parent organization, City Care. The Rev. John Gruel was instrumental in its beginnings, and Ken and Gae Rees are longtime volunteers, donors and tutors.
Also, four Edmond residents serve on the board of directors for Whiz Kids parent organization, City Care. The Chairman of the Board is Steve Payne, and the vice chair is Pattye Moore. Edmond-area residents Andy Burnett and Ralph Mason also serve on the board.
With the recent report that one in four Oklahoma City third-graders are reading below proficiency level, the urgency is even greater for literacy in Oklahoma City schools.
“If I don’t know a word, now I can learn it and read it,” said student Julian Flores, who is tutored by Darrell Mason of partner Life Church. “It was really hard to read. I came here a little shy, and then I felt better,” said the youngest of eight children.
Mason said he got involved because he has been blessed all of his life and felt like, in some way, he needed to give something back.
“I remember going to the library when I was Julian’s age and discovering a book that really intrigued me. This led me to love reading. So, as an adult, I realize how important that is for kids to have a good basis in reading to be successful.”
Whiz Kids was founded in 1996 in response to the high dropout rates in the lowest socioeconomic levels in Oklahoma City. It is a faith-based tutoring program that focuses on helping first- through sixth-grade students reading below their grade level, partnering with inner-city elementary schools.
It currently has 30 inner-city locations, at churches or schools. Sixty-seven churches are partners, and six schools are on waiting lists to participate.
Whiz Kids and Whiz Kids tutors meet in area churches once a week for two hours. The tutors and students work on phonics and reading comprehension.
One of the children the program has helped in the past year is third-grader Mauricio Reyes. When Reyes started with Whiz Kids, he was reading at a first-grade level. Now he is reading at his grade level and doing much better in school.
“My favorite thing about Whiz Kids is when we first come here, we aren’t very good at school. Then, after a while you start to get better,” Reyes said.
His tutor, Tina Hackett of Edmond, feels like she is really making a difference by volunteering with Whiz Kids.
When asked about how Reyes’ reading had improved, she said not only has his reading improved, but also his confidence overall has as well. Hackett is from partner church Life Church in Edmond.
“I feel smarter. I didn’t know that much in school. My work was confusing, but now I get it and wouldn’t be able to without Tina’s help,” Reyes said.
Kirk Humphreys and Mike Turpen will be the honorary chairs for the Champions of Hope banquet, which is the annual volunteer appreciation and fund-raising banquet.
TO FIND MORE information about Whiz Kids go to www.whizkidsok.org. City Care’s Whiz Kids is a 501(c)3 organization.