NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) -- A local non-profit organization has teamed up with Norfolk police officers to take back the community.
Norfolk's Life Enrichment Center (LEC) has a unique program aimed at helping kids learn to read.“Literacy is everything for a child,” said LEC volunteer Jerry Hargett. “Learning how to read and getting those skills in is everything for the future."
In the summer of 2006, the LEC began a summer program tutoring children for one hour a week at one Norfolk school.
"60 minutes of time with that child is earth shaking," Hargett added.
Things have changed a bit since then. Four years ago, Norfolk Police got wind about this program which is now happening year-round. Officers found themselves in the classroom.
"Alright let's jump in your work book here," Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone said to the young boy he was working with.
For a year, each tutor spends one hour a week with one child.
"They are shy at first, but once they start running to you and are happy to see you the learning takes off," Boone added.
The LEC program is now in 20 schools throughout Hampton Roads. More than 250 kids, from kindergarten through second grade, have tutors.
"It’s indescribable,” said Officer Daniel Hudson. “Just the connection that you have with him going throughout the process of learning is neat."
The results speak for themselves. The LEC says 95 percent of students in the program are testing better.
“This is just not 60 minutes,”” Hudson added. “This is a friendship."
Norfolk Police say those 60 minutes are so important to not only help kids learn to read, but to break down barriers.
"For them they see us in a different light and for us to have an opportunity to develop a relationship with them while they are young," Boone said.
"We get to know them as people and they get to know us as individuals, as people, not just faceless uniforms,” added Assistant Chief Francis Emerson. “Those type of relationships and partnerships will grow with a child."
"We want children to always believe that a police officer is a positive, friendly individual in their lives so that they can come to us if they need help," said Corporal David Benjamin.
Police say they keep up with the students after the year is done, even delivering gifts for birthdays. It's an investment for the future.
What police are doing isn't required, but you'll find it's not just the students who are reaping the benefits.
"At the end of the day it is a win-win,” Boone added. “They leave here with a better perspective of police and we leave here with a sense of gratitude that we did something good."
Kevin Turpin, LEC's founder says next year the plan is to have more than 300 volunteers, and be in some Richmond schools.
Volunteers are not just police officers. They are anyone from the community who wants to donate an hour of work. For information on how you can become a volunteer, call 623-6001 or you can find more information on the LEC website.
The Norfolk Sheriff's Office also participates in the program. 25 deputies starting reading to children a year ago.
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