http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071207/NEWS01/712070327/1002 Students' hard work pays off By DEMETRICA SMITH The 29 students in the D.R.E.A.M. tutoring program in Hattiesburg were issued a challenge: Earn 1,000 reading points and get pizza at the end-of-the-semester Christmas party Thursday. The group exceeded its goal with a whopping 3,000 points, which were determined by a book's grade level, length and the time it takes a student to read it. And one student - Akira Griffin, 11 - led the bunch with 800 points. Griffin said she loves to read, but can't remember exactly how many books she has read. She said her favorite book was one about an African-American grandfather who fought for voting rights. "I love to read," she said. "I read here at the center and at home. When I graduate from high school, I want to the attend Southern Miss to become a lawyer." Griffin and the other students had another reason to celebrate at Thursday's party. Community donations allowed each student in the program to receive a new supply of books - along with other surprises. The children opened gifts from under the Christmas tree, discovering an assortment of new books provided by First Book bookstore. But the best was yet to come. "Since Akira read the most books, she will get her gift first," said Michele Leland, D.R.E.A.M. project co-ordinator. "Here's your certificate and your new bicycle!" "Oooooh! A new bike!" several children yelled out. Leland said Wal-Mart of Petal donated 17 bicycles and Moore's Bike Shop in Petal made improvements to them. Two parents donated three bicycles, while Parkway Heights Baptist Church donated funds to purchase additional bikes, too. While all the younger children received bikes, the older children received new DVD players and scientific calculators. D.R.E.A.M. has been existence for more than 24 years, said the program's first employee and director Bettie Ross. Its focus is substance abuse prevention, but also provides free tutoring for all ages throughout the community. Tommy Edgerton, 21, a University of Southern Miss polymer science major, has been a volunteer tutor for more than two years. He said he began working with the group through his Luckyday scholarship. "I could have chosen to volunteer somewhere else, but I didn't," he said. "A bond has formed with the children and I just can't break it."