NEWS
For Immediate Release
Contact: Ray Wyman, Jr.
Voice/Fax: 714/997-3808
Email: rwyman@heavypen.com

A HOUSE BUILT FROM DREAMS

Free Tutoring Program Offers After-School Help for At-Risk Children


ORANGE, CALIF., September 1997 -- For many years, Barbara Abouchar dreamed of a place where children could go for help with their homework. Such a place would be a community of learning, a friendly and caring environment that could prevent academic discouragement from leading to personal failure and drop out.

A retired teacher, Abouchar remembered her many frustrating years of not having enough time or resources to reach the few children that, for what ever reason, just couldn't "keep up" with the rest of her class. One day she decided that her dream would become a reality.

In early 1992, she approached her fellow parishioners at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Orange, Calif. with the idea. After many discussions and debates over the issue, she finally won conditional use of the church house adjacent to the church in downtown Orange. By fall, and after spending more than $1,000 of her personal funds purchasing books and many other needed resources, she and a handful of volunteers opened the doors to Homework House for the first time.

Homework House quickly gained support from the local school district, community members and businesses. By the time students came back for school in Fall 1994, the old church house had reached its maximum capacity of students.

In February 1996, Abouchar's brother, Phil Lisman, a retired vice president of the H.F. Ahmanson & Co., opened the second Homework House at the Placentia Presbyterian Church. Equipped and funded in similar fashion with personal cash and hard work, the program presently meets the needs of dozens of students in grades one through eight.

Late last year, Marcia Marcinko joined Abouchar and Listman to establish a Homework House program for local high school students. This year, new sites will open in Atwood, Whittier, and an additional site in Orange to help with the overflow from the local school district. Last year, about 150 volunteers joined in to help more than 450 students, committing more than 5,000 volunteer hours to Abouchar's once lonely mission.

"This is only a beginning," explains Ray Wyman, Jr., associate director for Homework House. "We're close to meeting our goal to double our current capacity this year. Next year we start a five-year plan to raise more than $6 million and open 120 sites throughout Orange County and beyond. Our goal is to ensure that every school-age child has access to free tutoring and mentoring."

Recently, Abouchar's fellow church members voted to open up more rooms to accommodate the rapidly expanding program. Thanks to a generous donation of equipment from the Rockwell International office in Irvine, Calif. and Pacific Bell Telephone's Education First program, Homework House has opened a computer lab where students can have access to resources and tools like word processing, desktop publishing, and the Internet.

Yet, despite all the new activity surrounding her dream, Abouchar still feels some of the old frustration that got it all started. "Sometimes I feel like an ant on a very big hill," she comments. "We're always having trouble finding enough volunteer tutors because we try to maintain a ratio of three students to each tutor. This helps us get some great results, but it also severely limits how many children we can take in at one time. And there are so many children who need us."

Marcinko observes that there are clear signs from the community that there is an urgent need for more programs like Homework House. "You can see that from how fast our waiting list has grown. The kids we see here are not gang members or truancy problems. But all of them are having trouble with basic skills like reading and writing. This is a situation that could have a tremendous negative impact on the entire community if something isn't done on a very large scale, and quickly."

Lisman agrees and points out that there are indications of a looming crisis for the entire nation. "Every day I come here, I wonder what will happen to the kids we can't reach. The schools have so many priorities already; so it's not hard to imagine that they will fail to come up with any long-term solutions. What really concerns me is the knowledge that Placentia is a typical community in this country. That means there are literally thousands of children in Orange County that could use our help, and hundreds of thousands in the country." Lisman adds, "That's quite a waiting list."

Homework House is a non-profit organization that provides free tutoring for students in grades 1 through 12. The program is headquartered at 205 South Glassell Street in Orange, Calif. 92866. For schedules and sign-up information, call 714-633-1691. Press should contact Ray Wyman, Jr. via voice or FAX at 714-997-3808, or Email him at rwyman@heavypen.com. Information is also available from the World Wide Web at http://www.heavypen.com/homework

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