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BP gift gives Cocky’s Reading Express its own set of wheels

By Peggy Binette, peggy@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-5400

Cocky has its own set of wheels, thanks to a gift from BP.

Officials from the University of South Carolina and BP joined with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Cocky Tuesday (Feb. 21) to unveil a new 22-passenger Allstar Ford bus for USC’s Cocky’s Reading Express literacy program.

Boasting a larger-than-life graphic of Cocky and the program’s logo, the program’s first bus rolled onto Greene Street before a crowd of cheering students, alumni and literacy leaders.

“BP is pleased to be a corporate supporter of Cocky’s Reading Express,” said Crystal Ashby, executive vice president of BP America. “We are proud to share with children the joy of reading, which supports the goal to raise literacy levels in the state.”

The announcement event also included remarks by USC President Harris Pastides, Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies; Sig Huitt, chairman of the Carolina’s Promise campaign for the college; Benjamin and Kim Jeffcoat, executive director of the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy, an outreach of the college’s School of Library and Information Science, which helps coordinate the program.

The bus is the result of a BP gift that builds on previous support from BP for the program. Previous donations were used for purchasing children’s books, literacy materials and operational expenses. BP’s giving history to USC extends 31 years and includes support for programs in business, engineering and arts and sciences.

Until February, volunteers were dependent on state minivans for transportation, a situation that created logistical issues from space to scheduling, Jeffcoat said.

“Thanks to the generosity of BP, Cocky’s Reading Express will be able to involve more USC students and offer them better training and deliver more programs and books to children all over South Carolina,” Jeffcoat said. “The Cocky’s Reading Express bus will enhance the program’s success and enable more students, even entire sports teams or University 101 classes, to volunteer,” Jeffcoat said.

And they’ll get to ride in style and comfort. The bus is outfitted with DVD players and screens, which Jeffcoat said she will use to screen training videos and conduct question and answer sessions with student en route to sites.

“We offer a spectrum of programs that range from ones for elementary schools, public libraries and special populations such as the School for the Deaf and Blind to ones that address specific topics such as financial or nutritional literacy,” Jeffcoat said. “It is very important that our volunteers are trained accordingly. The video equipment on the bus will greatly enhance our literacy training.”

The bus’s generous storage will accommodate the program’s audio/visual equipment and more books for Cocky to give to children. Wifi and electrical outlets will help students stay connected and keep up with their course work while on the road.

Christina Galardi, a senior public relations major and S.C. Honors College student from Lexington, said she fell in the love with the program after volunteering one time.

“It has been a great experience for me to travel to different schools throughout the state and see the enthusiasm of young students and to compare the school environments in which they are learning,” Galardi said. “We hear about the Corridor of Shame (rural schools along I-95), but seeing it has made me an even bigger advocate for education. Cocky’s Reading Express has been one of many factors that played in my decision to apply for Teach for America.”

Cocky’s Reading Express was launched by USC’s student government association in 2005 under the leadership of Tommy Preston, then student body treasurer, and became an immediate hit with students, teachers and parents.

“After our first trip, the requests for visits came in rapidly,” said Preston who became student body president in 2006. “At one point, I can remember having more than 100 invitations from schools, libraries and literacy events. Initially, we envisioned a week of trips across the state during winter break. The program exploded beyond that.”

Preston, now a lawyer with Nexsen Pruet in Columbia, said he is thrilled to see his idea for a student literacy project blossom into a nationally renowned program.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the support that Cocky’s Reading Express has received from organizations and individuals around the state,” he said. “I truly believe that people are seeing the impact that our program is having on the state, and they want to do their part to foster its growth. Receiving national support from groups like the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and BP has exceeded my wildest expectations. Cocky’s Reading Express is now a national program, and universities across the country want to do what we’re doing.”

As of today, volunteers and Cocky had made nearly 240 visits to Palmetto State schools and delivered 39,412 books.

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Posted: 02/20/12 @ 6:30 PM | Updated: 03/12/12 @ 5:46 PM | Permalink