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250 men get a voice at school in Watts

L.A. city officials are among those who read books to students for an hour at an annual event called Donuts With Dad. 'They were hanging on my every word,' one volunteer says.

November 18, 2009|By Nicole Santa Cruz
  • New LAPD Chief Charlie Beck reads a book to third-graders Valeria Magana, left, Joshua Lopez and Kendra Taylor at 99th Street Elementary School in Watts.
New LAPD Chief Charlie Beck reads a book to third-graders Valeria Magana,… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Sherri Williams, principal of 99th Street School in Watts, said that almost every time she would call the homes of her students, she found herself talking to mothers.

If a male answered the phone, the mother usually would take over as default spokeswoman for the family, if dad was there at all.


FOR THE RECORD:
Donuts With Dads: An article in Thursday's Section A about a Watts school reading program called Donuts With Dads implied that 99th Street School Principal Sherri Williams created the event. The event has been held at several schools across the United States. —

After Williams did some research, she found that 50% of students at her school did not have a father living in their homes. From that information, an event called Donuts With Dads was born.

More than 250 men, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, participated Wednesday in the second annual program, in which men volunteer to read to students for an hour.

"I wanted to create a forum where the fathers would feel comfortable," Williams said.

In one classroom, Ryan Fleming excitedly patted Officer Rudolph Baca on the arm to show off his new skills.

"I'm a snail! I'm a snail," the first-grader said, clutching the book "Hooray for Snail."

Although Baca read to the children for only an hour, the officer thought it had an impact.

"They were very receptive," he said. "They appreciated it too."

The volunteers were not the only ones reading: Henry Hartwell of Watts said students read to him in Spanish. It brought back memories to Hartwell, whose father and uncle were his role models.

"I think all families need a male figure in their life because it means a lot," he said.

Pablo Moran said his 5-year-old daughter, Deserae, needs him in her life.

"It's important for me to be involved," said Moran, a courier and part-time student. "In the long term, I think it's going to help my daughter."

Lavoree Handy, a security guard, said the event gave him the opportunity to meet his daughter's teacher for the first time and talk about her progress.

"I just had a good experience," said Handy, who took time off work to volunteer at the school.

DB Harris, 60, who was born and reared in Watts, read to four third-grade boys, who he said were hungry for guidance.

"They were hanging on my every word," he said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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