Delmarva Treasure: John Hollis
If John Hollis of Seaford, Del. had an official mantra, it would be, “Touch greatness wherever you are.”
Since 1974, Hollis has been finding that greatness in young people of Sussex County and steering them towards success through the MERIT program.
MERIT stands for Minority Educational Regional Incentive Training. MERIT has been providing academic enrichment and college preparatory opportunities for minority students from the Greater-Seaford area and across Sussex County. Hollis spearheaded the program when engineers from Seaford DuPont were looking for a way to foster academic success of minorities in the area. Since then, 370 MERIT students have gone on to obtain college degrees.
Dr. Ben Carson’s three sons ended up participating in MERIT’s summer program, earning their Maryland community service hours each summer.
“Ben became fascinated with the concept of MERIT where we help kids prepare for the SAT, we get them involved in specific, formulated goal setting, we bring in motivational aspects, but we also deal with science,” Hollis says.
Hollis credits the program’s success to its emphasis on improving life skills such as communication, organizational, and critical thinking. Students in the program also receive peer and alumni support.
Hollis also mentions that many of the volunteers for MERIT are engineers such as Scott Davidson.
“Mr. Davidson and the team of Delmarva engineers put on this engineering science competition and it’s just, they’ve done everything from build catapults to parachutes to hydroelectric cars,” Hollis says. ” They’ve flown drones, they’ve programmed robotic vehicles, so what the kids tell us after they graduate from MERIT and go one to college, is that these experiences, sort of above and beyond what they get in school, are very, very helpful.”
After being with the program for over 40 years, Hollis says they have taken alumni feedback and used to evolve the program over the years. Early on, Hollis says he realized parental involvement was key to success.
“You know parents are the first and foremost teachers of young people and we talk about the 6 1/2 hours of the school day a lot, but there’s really 23 other hours that impact a child’s life,” Hollis says.
Hollis has received many awards over the years for all of his generous work and passion for the MERIT program and everyone involved.