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Student Rallies Volunteers to Help Kids Read

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s no coincidence that the bright-eyed, energetic director of AmeriCorps’ Tell Me a Story program is called Hollie Day. Like her name, the Occidental College student brings excitement and rewards to young people in the East Valley.

Day, 20, has committed countless hours to the community service project she says is close to her heart, even with a full slate of classes and the extra effort she puts out to maintain her high scholastic standing at the Eagle Rock college. The sociology major plans to attend law school in a year.

“I feel like I’m paying back all the teachers who helped me with my education,” said Day, who will be the first member of her family to earn a college degree. “I’ve had so many people who helped keep me on track. I want to return the favor.”

She has done that and more.

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As Occidental’s Tell Me a Story liaison since last fall, Day took on the task of recruiting volunteers from her college to assist AmeriCorps volunteers from nearby Glendale Community College in their efforts to raise the literacy level of kindergarten- through third-grade students in the neighboring schools.

Day recruited and trained the volunteers, arranged their transportation to the schools and still made time to apply for grants and organize fund-raising events for the popular reading program.

“Hollie consistently found ways to overcome the challenges of keeping this going and helped create a successful program,” said Courtney Spikes, Tell Me a Story’s program director at Glendale Community College. “Hollie is committed to improving the community, and her caring nature has helped us do just that.”

The year-old Tell Me a Story program seeks to help young students achieve grade-level reading and writing proficiency by providing in-school, one-on-one tutoring sessions twice a week in word-recognition, phonics and reading skills. An after-school program offers storytelling and drama projects to foster a love of reading in a creative atmosphere.

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The 30 Glendale Community College students who make up the Tell Me a Story program are among 25,000 members of AmeriCorps, the national service program that allows students to earn money for their education in exchange for a year of community service.

Day’s efforts made it possible for the AmeriCorps members to get the assistance they needed to make the program a success.

“Hollie took the ball with this program and ran with it,” said Melissa Mazin, Occidental’s coordinator for the Center for Volunteerism and Community Service. “She’s now established the program in a way I never thought could be done. It’s a tribute to her and her abilities.”

Day, a California native who lives in Eagle Rock, sought the leadership position after participating in an Occidental College-sponsored community service project last summer in which she helped to paint a mural at a local elementary school. The next day she signed on to coordinate volunteers for Tell Me a Story.

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With the program now successfully launched, Day--who will marry her high school sweetheart, Garrick Downs, in September--will hand over the day-to-day responsibilities of the program to three successors, whom she will supervise.

“I will always give to the community,” Day said. “The capacity to love is huger than most people think. I want mine to be as big as it can be.”

Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com.


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