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Hutton Honors College

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Alex Voris '14, a founding member of the Crazy Story Club, honored by city of Bloomington

Five or six students per each volunteer are huddled around a table, dangling legs swinging tirelessly. They're bundles of energy, yet they're still trying to concentrate on the Playbooks Readers' Theater booklets in front of them.

It's 5pm on a Monday at Fairview Elementary School in Bloomington, and they're all here for the after-school program Banneker at the View. Right now, they're participating in Literacy and Life Skills, a weekly session run by Hutton Honors College students in coordination with Banneker.

Alex Voris, a senior biology major who's busy applying to dental schools right now, is a founding member of the Crazy Story Club and he recently won a Bloomington BRAVO Award for his volunteer efforts with the program.

In the spring of his freshman year, his HHC adviser encouraged him to become involved with the Hutton Philanthropic Initiative. At the time, the HPI was very young and didn't have many ongoing projects, Voris explained, so he and other students were trying to formulate projects that would really benefit the community.

In the midst of brainstorming, Voris recalled a one-day literacy program run by the Hutton Honors Council Association at Fairview.

"While that's great, I thought, to really have an effect on these kids and potentially change the way they look at reading, the way they look at going to school, the way they look at life, we need to do it consistently, one day a week during the semester," Voris said.

He and his co-founders, Laura Hartman and Heather Moore, thought they could make an impact at Fairview, where many students are underprivileged. At one point, Voris said, nearly 100 percent of its students were on free or reduced lunches, a number that's now down to 85.

Thus, Crazy Story Club was born; HHC student volunteers go in once a week during the Banneker after-school program at Fairview. Each time, they read a story with a theme that relates to a follow-up craft or activity to get kids excited about reading.

Voris' favorite reading session with the kids had an environmental theme. In the story, human activities had created smog so thick that the sun couldn't penetrate it.

"This man - so that his son could see the sun - started to build a city into the sky," Voris said. For the activity, they put wet paper towels and seeds into plastic bags. The kids could take the bags home, tape them to windows for sunlight, and watch the seeds germinate and grow.

"I think they've found at Fairview a group of kids that they can really make an impact on," said Will Rose, program coordinator for Banneker. "They've really tried to meet the specific needs of those kids, which is literacy and reading."

The Banneker Community Center's afterschool program at Fairview has many kids enrolled, Rose said, "so we bring in as many things as we can to keep the kids busy and entertained."

Besides the numerous activities Banneker at the View runs on its own, from taking the kids biking on the B-Line Trail to running art and science activities, a number of outside organizations help out. The Maurer School of Law's legal literacy outreach program runs a kids' court, for instance, and Mother Hubbard's Cupboard runs garden programming.

"I've really come to rely on outside organizations. I think we've found a model that really fits," Rose said. "I try to really count on them so that they're not an afterthought to our program, they're really the centerpiece of our program."

As of fall 2013, The Crazy Story Club moved to the Crestmont Boys & Girls Club, while a divergent program, Literacy and Life Skills, is still run by HHC students at Fairview.

"I had just come back from a conference with the Playbooks Readers' Theater and really wanted to try it out, so together, we planned this curriculum for the kids as a literacy push for the elementary school program," Rose said of the program, which Voris refers to as "Crazy Story Club 2.0."

Last September, after being nominated by Rose, Voris was recognized with a BRAVO Award at the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Board Meeting. The award "recognizes the outstanding contributions of departmental volunteers," according to the city's website.

Voris, who was Crazy Story Club's chairperson in fall and spring of 2012, ran the club activities in a calm, well put-together way, Rose said.

During his time as chairperson, Voris said he sought to improve the curriculum, choosing Newbery Award-winning books for substance. He also strove to improve awareness of the program and to recruit more volunteers. At one point, Voris recalled, they had only four or five volunteers per 30-45 kids, but last year, they had a nearly one-to-one ratio some days.

Especially during the 2012-13 school year, Rose noted, the Crazy Story Club was "just very organized and consistent, and I think Alex was the reason it was so easy to work with."

Voris hopes the club will continue to expand to other local elementary schools and programs. As for himself, once he begins dental school, he may still have an opportunity to work with kids or do pro bono work later on.

"A lot of the dental schools have outreach programs where you work with children and individuals from diverse backgrounds," Voris said. "I'd be totally ready and excited to get involved with those programs."

Celia Grundman '14

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