Helping kids dream big, AU students mentor local youth

Wed, 2009-03-18 08:30 -- univcomm
March 18, 2009

Many kids today are living in poverty or in circumstances beyond their control. The idea of growing up to be something or someone special eludes them.

But several college students are changing the way some kids see their future, and themselves.

College Mentor for Kids, a program founded in 1994 by two Indiana University students, works to change all that and help kids to dream big.

Twice a week in Hartung Hall on the campus of Anderson University, 40 college students and 40 elementary kids in the first through fourth grades merge together to experience college life and all it has to offer.

Both Robinson Elementary and Anderson Elementary students know that on Tuesdays and Wednesdays of every week during the school year, they get to ride a bus to campus and partner up with their “big buddy.”

After snacks and reading time, participants break into groups and do different activities on campus.

“We get to see people, like famous basketball players and nurses,” said Jalen Cooley, a second-grader at Robinson Elementary. “I want to be a lawyer.”

Another Robinson second-grader, Amy White, said, “I like meeting people and we got to go to the library ... I think I want to be a veterinarian someday.”

Derek Thurber, sophomore at Anderson University, said he likes working with the kids and finds it a good experience. “I work with Juan, a first-grader at Robinson Elementary. He seems to be improving in his behavior and enjoys the activities.”

Students on campus who are interested in mentoring children in this program must go through a three-step process. The president and vice president of the program will interview each candidate to find out what experience they have with kids, what their goals are and why they want to participate in the program.

Then the candidates give a short impromptu speech, answering questions such as how they would explain or answer the children’s questions. The students must also demonstrate how well they work with and communicate with children by being observed in a group.

“I got involved in College Mentor for Kids because I am an education major,” said Michelle Milius, sophomore at AU. “Michael, my first-grade buddy, has improved so much, and I've learned a lot of patience.”

Alexis Gentry, a freshman at AU, has two little buddies, a boy and a girl. “One of my buddies wants to come here when he grows up and asked if I will be here when he comes.”

mentor2She said they found it interesting that the college students have roommates in a dorm and do not live with their parents.

Michael Watts, a junior at AU and president of College Mentor for Kids Anderson Chapter, explained what makes this program unique:

“We have them do various things around the AU campus … activities such as going over to the wellness center and meeting with athletic trainers to see what you would do to become an athletic training major, or going to the library and seeing what librarians do, how to research and how to use the computers, and then we’ve been over to security to see what a police officer would do — basically to get them familiar with the college campus and what is a college education.”

Watts said when the children are new to the program, he asks them what they think college is and what people do there. Responses are pretty limited, but by the time the program ends each one has a better understanding and idea of how college could play an important role in their future.

“I would tell anyone wishing to aspire to great things or goals, to always believe in yourself. No matter the situations or circumstances for the present time, the future may hold something different. If you keep your head up and your eyes set on your goal, you can achieve anything,” said Watts.

He’s enjoyed watching his own little buddy grow and become a better student in school. “He even takes an interest in me and asks me about my own family. I like that I can impact and help even one student.”

—Kim Ousley is a reporter for the Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.