Gulfport firefighters working to extinguish illiteracy

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -- Gulfport firefighters heard the call for help at Anniston Elementary and they readily responded. The school needed mentors to work with children who are struggling in class. So the men from fire station six and seven come to the school once a week to work one-on-one with their assigned students.

Second grader Deunta Johnson's mentor is Jimmy Ward.

"I've been with him since we started and he's come a long way. He loves to read," said Ward.

The students need that back-up support as they tackle those hard words.

"Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to. They need a male role model," said Gulfport firefighter Robert Waldrop. "Some of them, their dads may not be around."

Sometimes, the children just need a boost in confidence.

"The kids already look up to firefighters anyway and they're coming in and volunteering their time, and that just makes them look like a better role model for the children," said Megan Williston, Coordinator of the BOOST mentoring program.

When asked if he likes his mentor, Deunta smiled brightly and said "Yeah, because he's cool."

The firefighters definitely go above and beyond. It seems they get more from the experience than their students.

"Oh, I love it," said Gulfport firefighter A.J. Fitch. "It does make a difference."

"If you do it one time, you're hooked. Kind of like fishing," said Ward.

Gulfport police, retirees, and community leaders also serve as mentors in the BOOST program. Anniston Elementary still needs volunteers to spend about 30 minutes a week with the students. If you can help, call the school at (228) 896-6309.