Sussex County icon John Hollis was a teacher in the Seaford School District in 1976, when he founded the Minority Engineering Regional Incentive Training Program, or M.E.R.I.T. Since then his work mentoring children has earned him dozens of prestigious honors, including Connecting Generations’ Robert A. Kasey Lifetime Achievement Award and the MLK Community Recognition Award, both of which he received last month.
Q What inspired you to pursue your initial 30-year career in public education?
A My dad was president of the Seaford Board of Education and the conversations he and my mother had about education theory inspired my life-long fascination with the learning process. My father also was extraordinarily committed to the community and I tried to make life choices that emulated the role he played.
Q How did you first become involved in mentoring?
A I was influenced by two people. First, Bobby Dowd, who was my high school football coach and later my principal when I started my first teaching job at Seaford Middle School in 1968-1969. He had this never-quit attitude and a unique ability to create a team concept that was further amplified by another mentor of mine, Dr. Ben Carson, who today is the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. When I investigated how he was able to get out of the ghetto of Detroit, it was very impactful and became the basis of my own mentoring efforts.
Q What would you say is the key to being a great mentor of young people?
A The three E’s: encouragement, empathy and enthusiasm. You have got to help a child build on. You have to take yourself out of the equation and envision what it’s like to be your mentee. And you also have to have enthusiasm and be able to energize their human capability. We’re all given the opportunity to be mentors in some way. The question is will we seize that opportunity with the three E’s.
Q What does it mean to you that you’ve been recognized with so many honors and awards over the years?
A It’s very humbling. What you realize is that you never accomplish anything by yourself and it makes you wish you could split up all those awards with the all the people who have helped you along the way. If I could do that I would start with my wife, Linda, who has been by my side through it all.
More About Hollis
FAMILY Wife, Linda; Daughter, Jenny; Son, Jack; five grandchildren
EDUCATION Master’s degree with a concentration in counseling from Salisbury State University
WORK HISTORY Former teacher, coach, counselor and personnel director with the Seaford School District; Former director of personnel for Delaware Technical & Community College’s Owens Campus; former senior vice president of the Delaware Community Foundation and Boys and Girls Clubs; currently Sussex manager of community and government affairs for Nemours Health and Prevention Services