A step beyond tutoring: On the mission of Study Buddies to be salt and light

AU students play with children at the Study Buddies Program

Study Buddies is one of seven campus ministries at Anderson University, focusing primarily on tutoring and mentoring elementary school students. Study Buddies partners with South Meridian Church of God (South) and their Open Door tutoring program. Open Door is available to all children of the community in kindergarten through fifth grade. The program aims to connect and build relationships with kids who do not yet have a church they can call home, while simultaneously meeting very real needs with a free hot meal and help with homework. While at Open Door, kids are able to enjoy Bible time, gym time, and other fun activities with their mentors.

“We get requests constantly for tutoring within our community,” said Director of Spiritual Formation, Becca Palmer. “There is a great number of children in this area that need more support due to many different factors: some kids come from single-parent homes, some parents are constantly having to work in order to provide for their families, and some kids just don’t have any kind of strong foundation. I recently came across a statistic that stated every student needs five significant adults in their life to continue progressing in their educational journey. Through Study Buddies, AU students have the opportunity to be that safe space and one of those five significant people. I think that’s part of what makes this such a rewarding campus ministry.”

South is located in the neighborhood of Avondale, which has one of the highest crime rates in the city of Anderson. After much deliberation of whether or not to move locations, it was important to the church leaders and congregation that the church remain in the community they serve.

“We’re in a community where there are a lot of social needs,” said South’s Director of Children’s Ministries, Kathi Sellers. “We want to help transform lives and let our neighbors know that we love and care about them. One of the ways we do that is through a variety of community outreach opportunities and one of the programs I am directly involved with is Open Door.”

Sellers has been involved with the Open Door program off and on for a few years as a volunteer tutor but this is her first year being on staff. After taking on the role of director of children’s ministries, Sellers has a few different goals for this year’s Open Door program: developing other skills like art, music, and dance, as well as prioritizing bible time and introducing the students to the gospel.

Every Wednesday evening, AU students travel to South where they work closely alongside Sellers and other volunteers from South’s congregation to spend a couple of hours mentoring the children of the Avondale community. Each session begins in fellowship with the mentors and students enjoying a meal together and spending time getting to know one another. Immediately after the meal, the mentors and students meet in the youth center where they spend an hour working on homework or reading skills. Once the tutoring session has ended, the students and mentors participate in activities together. With the number of kindergarten through elementary students attending these sessions sometimes reaching up to 35, this ministry is in high demand.

“What is most important is the experience these children have,” said Sellers. “The goal of this ministry is to do more than just help young students with their homework. With this ministry, we are dedicated to fostering relationships, growing in Christ, and being a support system to those kids who need it most and I’ve been very impressed with how dedicated the AU students who volunteer with us are.”

Not only does this ministry do great work in the educational and spiritual lives of the young children attending but it also provides a positive experience for the college mentors involved. “I feel very fortunate to be working with Study Buddies again,” said student leader and senior, Emily Mosely. “I first heard about Study Buddies my freshmen and I have stuck with this ministry because of the impact it’s had on me as well as members of the Anderson community.”

Mosely shared an example from last semester, when she was working in a shelter with children from backgrounds of domestic violence. They were “clearly hurting” and she describes herself as hurting for them. She spent time questioning God as to why He had placed these children in this situation but soon realized she had been given an opportunity through this program to be more than just their tutor. The children have experienced a lot of growth, not only academically but also in how they are able to open up and feel comfortable with the volunteers.

Senior Jeffrey Seitz adds, “Study Buddies has been a great experience for me. The kids that come for tutoring appreciate us being there and always show us lots of love. For me, it always helps going especially during a stressful week of classes because the kids are always full of energy and compassion. It’s a nice break.”

College can be challenging for students to navigate life on their own and it’s easy for students to get caught up in their own world. Although it is a time for personal growth, it can also be a great time to tap into and give back to the community. Students involved in campus ministries are able to step outside of their comfort zones and are defining what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in their community. Study Buddies is a group that has sought out a need in their community and is working hard to meet and exceed it.

“Our focus has always been on the community; we want to be the salt and light of Christ,” said Sellers. “As the director of the children’s ministry, my focus is to begin developing disciples. This is a vital age group; these kids are developing habits for their future. Through this program and with the help of AU students we hope to give these kids a good spiritual foundation, foster good decision-making skills, and awaken a passion for learning. We want to set them up for success in all areas of their future.”

Allison Armstrong is a junior majoring in visual communication. Armstrong is writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of Communication and Marketing, through the Advanced Feature and Magazine Writing class.

Anderson University is a private, liberal arts institution in Anderson, Indiana with a mission to educate students for lives of faith and service in the church and society. Anderson University is recognized among top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, Colleges of Distinction, and The Princeton Review. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, the university now offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music education, and theology.

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