BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Officer Sherri Harris has been a member of the Baton Rouge Force for eleven years, but that's not why she's here at Dufrocq Elementary.
She's been a VIPS Reading Friend for a year and a half. Her friend is in Pre-K and was told only last time that Sherri was with her, that she was an officer.
"Hello Liliana!" Harris said.
This is Liliana's first time to see Harris in her uniform. Liliana emerges from the stacks of instructional toys and cubicles for reading and study for pint-size readers.
"C'mon. How ya doin?" Harris smiles.
"Fine," Liliana quietly grins.
"Good," said Harris.
The two step outside of Liliana Cockeran's room and the Pre-K buddy grabs her big buddy's hand, still scanning the blue uniform with its shiny buttons and badge, and an arm patch with the police ensignia on it. They immediately head to a quiet place.
"Let's find a cool place in the shade," Harris says to her.
They stop in the shade offered by a great big power station for the school.
Officer Harris pulls things out of her tote bag.
"I brought your favorite workbook," she says.
And Liliana has brought a little green paperback book to read.
Harris's finger points to the exercise on the workbook page, and reads, "Ears begins with the Letter E. Trace the letter E to finish the word."
As Liliana takes a giant crayon to connect the dashes that very obviously outline an 'E', Harris coos, "Good job, just like that!"
Liliana is concentrating and you realize with the two of them both so focused on getting this right, that there's something about having a one-on-one cheering section. It can make you feel like a rock star.
"Alright! Good Job! High 5!" Harris cheers as the two smack hands in the air in celebration.
"The thought that there are children starting school and already being two levels behind in reading, " Harris explains, "I jumped on the opportunity! They immediately paired me up with a reading buddy and the rest was history."
Harris found her Reading Friend and volunteer passion through Volunteers in Public Schools, called "VIPS" for short. Harris says anyone can help a child struggling with school through a Reading Friend or Math Friend partnership facilitated by VIPS.
Harris says she didn't want Liliana to know right away about her job.
"I didn't want her to be distracted by the fact of my being in law enforcement," Harris explained that she does this volunteer job, not to promote good relations with law enforcement, but for her own satisfaction.
Remembering the look on her face when the child saw her "friend" wearing a police uniform, Harris says "When I told her about (my job), she was very excited. And she told me her grandmother is also a police officer. And it worked out wonderful."
Harris loves watching Liliana learn to read and write and to be proud of that accomplishment. Harris says it's so rewarding, that she created within the police department, a volunteer program called 'Serve and Smile'. She encourages her co-workers to spend some time as a reading or math friend.
The sponsors of the Power of 9 award are Louisiana Honda Dealers, Capital Area United Way's Volunteer Center, and WAFB. Contact the United Way with nominees for the Power of 9.