UNCP group goes steps up for summer reading at local school


North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue laid down a challenge during a recent visit to Lumberton’s W.H. Knuckles Elementary School, and Tamikka Gilmore and her friends picked it up.


First row from left: Jessica Hayes, Belinda James, and Wanda Renfrow; Back row from left: Dr. Judi Haberkorn and Tamikka Gilmore. Tomecca Campbell is not pictured.

“She initiated a challenge for the students to read four books this summer,” said Gilmore, a Laurinburg, N.C., native and candidate for a Master of Social Work degree at UNC Pembroke. “We said we can do this.”

Gilmore listened to Perdue with members of the newly formed Robeson Council on the Affairs of Black People.

“W.H. Knuckles Elementary School was working on a three-week summer health program on diabetes at the school, and they agreed to link a reading program to it,” Gilmore said.

Lumberton attorney Tiffany Powers, who is a member of RCABP’s executive board with Gilmore, agreed to fund the project along with RCABP and the local Communities in Schools program.

“We spoke with the principal, and she said the school had just lost funding for a summer reading program,” Gilmore said. “Everything just fell into place; it was a perfect fit.”

W.H. Knuckles had lost funding to support the 21st Century after-school program. 

“It was then that I realized whatever the cost, these kids need us,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore, a graduate research assistant at UNCP, used her contacts with her sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, and the university to recruit volunteers, including: Tomecca Campbell, a graduate of UNCP’s MSW program; Belinda James, a MSW candidate; Wanda Wenfrow, a MSW candidate; Jessica Hayes, a kindergarten teacher and UNCP graduate; and Dr. Judi Haberkorn, a UNCP social work professor and RCABP board member.

“The program was very effective, with 10 to 15 children Monday through Thursday,” Dr. Haberkorn said. “This was a very successful venture, and it is evidence that when a few people are willing to share their time and their skills, everyone benefits.

“Tamikka did an exceptional job securing funding and gathering volunteers among her friends at UNCP and from her sorority,” Haberkorn said.

W.H. Knuckles pre-kindergarten teacher Candice Wright worked with the program and said it was effective and a big hit with the children.

“It was a wonderful program, and they did a super job,” Wright said. “The kids loved them.”

Wright said many of the children at W.H. Knuckles don’t have access to books or summer enrichment programs.

“They improved their reading and literacy skills this summer,” she said. “It keeps their minds active in the summer.”

Gilmore said the children worked very hard.

“It was a lot like school,” she said. “We read and then worked on vocabulary skills and reading comprehension. We had fun, too.”

Haberkorn, Gilmore and Wright said the ultimate test of the program’s success is building on that success.

“We certainly hope they are able to continue this program in the fall,” Wright said.

Perdue did not forget them. She sent letters of congratulations to each child, which they received at graduation ceremonies along with the four books that they had read.

Gilmore thanked the governor and her friends.

“The whole thing was about making connections and investing in people,” she said.