In the fall of 2001, Paula Morris was working on a committee at The Salvation Army (TSA) in Salisbury, MD to better improve their Learning Center. Students were required to attend the Learning Center to bring up their GPA in order to play sports. Once their GPA reached the required level they left; the committee wanted to come up with a program that encouraged them to continue to reach for success and thus Kids of Honor was born. Once the committee work was complete, Morris took on the challenge to encourage these and many other kids to achieve success.
Kids of Honor “catches” kids doing something right and recognizes a monthly winner for basic skills such as attendance, behavior, cooperation and preparation. At the end of the year, one monthly winner is selected to become the annual Kid of Honor and receives a check for $500. The catch? The money is invested on the child’s behalf and the winner may not receive the funds until he or she graduates from high school. Morris spent two years working to make this program work on her own, investing countless hours and funds towards the program. In 2003, Morris enlisted the help of a formal board, which she oversees as Chairman.
In 2001, 40% of people in Wicomico County did not have a high school diploma. In fact, about 35% of people living in Maryland do not have a high school diploma. The drop out rate in Wicomico County is just under 10% for African-Americans and averages around 3% for all other races. Kids of Honor is aimed at middle school-aged children and focuses on keeping them in school long enough to receive a high school diploma.
Not wanting to lose the Kids of Honor after they had been “caught,” Morris recently came up with the Engagement Program. Morris designed this program to bring the Kids of Honor together six times a year; three times for a community service project and three times for a fun activity. Morris wants to show the kids the importance of giving back to the community and teach them to become responsible citizens while showing them adults do care about them.
Kids of Honor was never meant to leave TSA, however when Morris saw the kids catching on and becoming better students and acting more positively, she could not sit back and leave it alone; she had to let it grow. Morris turned Kids of Honor into a 501c3 Nonprofit Organization that is currently serving 23 youth programs on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Kids of Honor is truly an innovative tool for youth programs. One of its Board members describes Kids of Honor, saying, “We are not another program, we are a way of making your program better.” Unlike stand-alone programs, Kids of Honor links and leverages community resources to enhance existing programs working with struggling kids.