VOL. 113 | NO. 140 | Friday, July 23, 1999
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Success through service
Floyd Harris believes the road to happiness
is paved with community activism
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
When Floyd Harris retired from the U.S. Defense Department in 1993, he didnt buy a condominium and move to Florida to relax.
Instead, Harris put his computer experience to work to help the people of DeSoto County, Miss.
After retiring, Harris went to the county seat and inquired about the areas in his community that had the greatest need for volunteers.
Literacy Council officials told him they were trying to set up a computer program to tutor high school dropouts and other adult students interested in learning to read.
Harris traveled throughout the five counties in Mississippi served by the Literacy Council and set up a computer network with a server located in Hernando, Miss.
Students learn by computer and then take tests that are graded by computer. This allows more students to learn because the volunteers who were doing the tutoring now can monitor the test scores and the students progress and determine when they are ready to take a high school equivalency test.
But, Harris didnt stop there.
He then initiated partnering between businesses and government to garner donations of outdated computers for the computer learning program.
"They were just what we needed for work stations for adult learning," he said.
The system has enabled hundreds of people to simultaneously receive computer tutoring and move on to better paying jobs with greater potential.
Through partnering between business and government, companies such as Alumax and Sherman Williams have established learning banks onsite, so employees can use their lunch hours or arrive at work early to study.
Since many people are still without home computers, Harris helped establish networking between companies and public libraries so workers can go there in the evening to complete studies they began at their job sites.
A delegate of Colin Powells Alliance for Youth Program, Harris has also been involved in starting a peer tutoring program, called Volunteens in which 11th and 12th graders are paired with younger students and meet at the library for learning sessions.
To promote the program, Harris and other volunteers set up booths at high school career days, which last year resulted in 50 pairs of students.
When the peer tutors are matched with their students, parents of both children are asked to attend to encourage reinforcement at home.
The students often bond with their tutors, and its not uncommon for them to stay in touch during the summer months and continue their tutoring sessions.
"Their grades have all come up," Harris said.
Most recently, Harris has been helping the Literacy Council implement a tutoring program teaching English as a second language.
This program pairs high school students learning Spanish with Latin-Americans who are learning English.
These sessions are held at area churches, and the classes usually are during the Sunday School hour and use missionary texts on the Bible book of Mark.
The advanced English tutoring may someday be conducted by computer, but people just beginning to learn English cant learn through computers yet.
Harris also advocates internships for high school students. He has initiated non-paid internships for youth with local veterinarians and a student who interned at the Olive Branch Tribune is about to start college and plans to major in journalism.
Learning, education and motivational support is so important to Harris because he said when he was about 30, he realized it was the good education coupled with community support and familial nurturing that helped him succeed.
His own children, who also have successful careers, received similar support from members of the community where they were raised.
At a recent family meeting, Harris said the topic of measuring success came up, and while they acknowledged the changes that measurement may take depending on age and accomplishment, he said ultimately success boils down to one element.
"In the end, our measurement of success is our care for others what we do for others.
"Each person must ask themselves What have I done for others? If youre coming up short, youre a taker and not a giver, and youre not really a participant until you give."
name: Floyd D. Harris
date of birth: Dec. 31, 1938
place of birth: Memphis
marital status: married
children: Doug Harris, 38, Laura Harris, 30
hobbies: woodworking, antique care restoration