Berea Buddies is one of the longest running community service programs at the Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS). The program pairs Berea College students with children from the community who attend kindergarten through sixth grade, to provide the children with positive role models.
“Children who have caring adults in their lives are more likely to be successful in school and in life,” says Heather Schill, ’99, associate director of CELTS, “and the Berea Buddies program is designed to give local children the opportunity to have additional caring adults outside of their family members and school staff, who can acquaint them with a bigger world and a broader set of possibilities in their lives.”[/text_output][text_output]
Each week, beginning with a dinner at Dining Services, the Big Buddies and their Little Buddies spend two hours together. During these hours, the pairs play sports, such as table tennis or basketball at the Seabury Center, read books together at Hutchins Library, or engage in art projects at CELTS. Afterwards, all of the Buddies gather at CELTS to attend presentations and take part in discussions focused on character development. According to Schill, each year the program establishes a theme for the Buddies to focus on in their discussions. The past year’s theme was “Real Life Heroes.” Program Manager Molly Rhodes, ’16 says that the theme was aimed at introducing the children to familiar and unfamiliar heroes, who can inspire the children. Therefore, each week the kids learned about a different historical or contemporary real life hero from Florence Nightingale and Cesar Chavez to the local Fire Department and their own families. “We want the children to have a well-rounded perspective about the world,” says Rhodes.
The program has numerous benefits for both the student volunteers and the participating children. According to Schill, the program gives student volunteers an opportunity to give back. “A lot of the students have had someone who has been a mentor in their life, and this is an opportunity for them to become a mentor to someone as well,” she says. Moreover, the program lets them connect to a life and a community wider than their everyday lives. “They might be concerned with their academics and labor for most of their time, but in that moment they will be focusing on spending time with a child, knowing that the child depends on them as a role model,” says Schill. According to Rhodes, the program also helps students to adapt themselves to being responsible for the well-being and learning of others: “Being with the children makes you aware and mindful of your behavior and the image you show the children.”[/text_output][text_output]
The Big Buddies see these advantages as well. Morgan Ketchersid, ’17, says, “Berea Buddies has opened my eyes to the effects our behaviors and interactions may have on younger people.” Rebecca Jeong, ’15, claims the program helped her be a better listener and a good mentor, while Caleb Coffey, ’17, credits Berea Buddies for being a source of energy and motivation for him. “I get to play a lot of games that I haven’t played since I was around my Little Buddy’s age.”[/text_output][text_output]
Schill believes the effect of the program on the children can be tremendous. “The goal for the children is to let them have a positive role model in their lives,” she says, adding that bringing a child to a college campus will plant a seed in them that college is a place where they will feel comfortable. The program also offers the children an opportunity to connect with someone outside their family. “Their families have known everything about them, but here they meet people who do not know anything about them other than what they tell them themselves. This teaches them how to communicate and present themselves effectively,” says Rhodes.
“I believe that everyone should try to become involved in some form of service,” says Ketchersid, “and Berea Buddies allows me to influence the kids that create our future.” According to Schill, “Volunteers are at the heart of our work in CELTS, and Berea Buddies is a great example of how volunteers can make a difference in the life of a child.”