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Gamechanger: 'Miss Lenora' Thompson

By KYW Newsradio community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (CBS) -- Lenora Thompson had no idea, when she intervened five years ago to stop a fight at an after-school program in South Philadelphia, that her life would change forever.

"Some say that black boys can't do," she says, "but I think the expectations are not high enough."

That day, the University of Pennsylvania-trained reading specialist asked the eleven-year-old boy involved in that fight to read.

"We started reading a book one-on-one together, and I was just shocked at how well he read," recalls Thompson.

And when they stopped reading, the boy wanted to read some more.  So "Miss Lenora," as she is affectionately called, issued a challenge:

"I told him, 'If you get me four other boys, we'll start a book club.' "

Three weeks later, the boy showed up with several friends, and the "Boys Book Club" was born.

Miss Lenora coached the boys once a month, at a McDonald's restaurant.  And when school ended that year, the coaching continued via mail, with the book club members mailing their book reports to Thompson.  For every book report, each of the boys would get a McDonald's gift card.

Then, Miss Lenora decided she wanted to do more for the boys and began exchanging book reports for adventures.

"They get lunch, they get breakfast, they go bowling, they have trips to Washington, they go to museums, we've been to visit four colleges," says Thompson.  "I'm involved with their family, I've gotten them summer jobs."

(Some members of the Boys Book Club at the Penn Museum. Photo provided)


Today, ten boys are part of the book club.  Most of them have grown into young men -- with better grades than when they started.

"For my boys, reading is the gateway to their future," says Thompson, who expects each of the young men to go to college.  "I absolutely love every one of them, and they know it.  And I keep saying to them, 'You can do it!' "

Tenth grader Stanley Williams, 17, was just eleven when he first joined the book club.  He says his grades were just fair -- mostly C's -- but now they are A's and B's.

"It made me feel like I can do it," says the softspoken Williams.  He calls Miss Lenora a "nice person" and says she got him a summer internship working in culinary arts.

"She wants the best for us and wants us to go to college," he says, noting that his dream job is to be a chef and his dream school is Cheyney University.

"Miss Lenora is that mom that cares about your school work, not just your wellbeing," says Anthony Allen, 14.  When asked whether his friends think the book club is "cool," he said:

"It's not really a matter of what's cool and what's not.  Before this, I was not doing all that good with my reading, but my grades are going up dramatically."

Allen says he started with F's and is now an A-and-B student with dreams of becoming an engineer.

As for what "Miss Lenora" wants for her boys, she says, "One day, my absolute dream for them is a trip to Zimbabwe."  She adds, "You've got to have dreams."

For more info about the Boys Book Club, CLICK HERE.


Hear the extended interview with Lenora Thompson in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 28:18)...


Follow Cherri Gregg on Twitter: @cherrigregg

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