More than 40 years of dedication to helping students - especially minorities - achieve success in education and life received recognition this week. Seaford native John Hollis, a positive force throughout Sussex County, received the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce Superstars in Education top award for 2018 in ceremonies held at Wilmington University.
The John H. Taylor Jr. Education Leadership Award recognizes someone within the community who has provided sustained leadership in advancing Delaware education and who, by doing so, has also made the community a better place in which to live and work.
A coach, mentor, community service volunteer and steady advocate for outdoor activity and its many benefits, Hollis is known most for his 42 years of ongoing efforts on behalf of the Minority Educational Regional Incentive Training (MERIT) program, which he founded. Richard Heffron, executive director of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, described the founding of MERIT.
When the DuPont company’s Seaford nylon manufacturing facility was a major force in Seaford - one of the largest of its kind in the world - engineers and scientists there saw a major problem in their community, he said. “They saw a school population with 22 percent minority students. Of those, only 1 percent went on to higher education, and few pursued math and science, disciplines integral to DuPont’s businesses.
“In John Hollis, coach and mentor in the schools, they found the right man to help change that situation,” said Heffron. MERIT was born.
Now that program assists students throughout Sussex County during the school year and includes a summer program at Cape Henlopen High School.
Hollis’s work started with a science club and then evolved into a total youth development program with an emphasis on math and science. The programs through the years brought science and engineering to life for the students involved in MERIT. In the 42 years since, 370 Sussex minority students have gone through the program. Of those, 97 percent completed college degrees. Fourteen have attended Ivy League schools, and 30 have earned doctorate degrees.
Hollis worked with Coach Bill Collick at Cape Henlopen High School to set up the summer MERIT program three years ago. “If you took a close look at the kids who have been through the MERIT program, you'd be amazed at what they've accomplished,” said Collick. “It’s phenomenal.”
He noted that his niece, Stephanie Collick, was involved in the MERIT program and now teaches second grade at Rehoboth Elementary School.
Ben Carson, a close personal friend of Hollis, and secretary of Housing and Development for President Trump’s administration, also weighed in with a congratulatory video message. "It’s the care for the community that Mr. John Hollis has demonstrated through his work at MERIT that makes our nation truly great. Thank you for your commitment and for investing in future generations. And John, I just want to tell you that I have witnessed personally the effect that you’ve had on generations of young people, and I want to add my personal congratulations.”
In his usual humble fashion, Hollis recognized the teamwork of educators, businesspeople, legislators and other organizations throughout the state that enabled him to keep the MERIT program and so many other initiatives moving forward. “Many teams get credit for this award,” said Hollis. “All of them - in Sussex County and throughout the state - have a deep interest in helping kids become learners, and then students and then contributors. All of that is making our community stronger.”
The John H. Taylor Jr. Award is named in honor of a longtime Delaware eductor who served many years as editorial page editor for the News Journal and steadily promoted the importance of education in the state.