U students provide one-on-one

by Kelly Pearson

With an array of options at the University, some students choose to make friends and influence lives by volunteering rather than joining a club or sport.
Project Motivation, a University YMCA-sponsored program, is one that 120 University students have chosen. Those volunteers mentor and spend time with a Little Buddy from the Minneapolis area.
Little Buddies, third- to fifth- grade students, are referred to the program by school counselors and area case workers. There are 11 schools involved in the program this year.
A staff of 22 volunteers — all former Big Buddies — interview Big Buddy applicants, visit Little Buddy families and coordinate activities between them.
Program director Mark Haase said the goal of Project Motivation is to provide kids from the Minneapolis schools with positive adult role models.
University senior Dean Sahrs, a volunteer staff member, agrees it is important for children to have positive role models in their lives because “what they see around them is what they are going to pattern (themselves) after.”
Big Buddy requirements include weekly seminars and time with their Little Buddies.
Group activities are organized for the pairs, including sledding, retreats and camp days. Big Buddies spend time once a week, outside of group, with their Little Buddies.
Some of the activities Sahrs did with his Little Buddy included water sliding, video games, playing at a park, visiting museums and just hanging out.
“We do anything that a kid would like to do,” he added.
Sahrs said the program has been incredibly fun.
He first chose to participate in last year’s Big Buddy program because volunteering with kids would be rewarding. Big Buddies not only gain a new Little Buddy, but they also learn about diversity, child abuse issues, and gain other important training, he explained.
Big Buddy “provides opportunity for leadership development and experiential learning in the community for college students,” Haase said.
One positive effect of this program, Haase said, is that “a kid has a young adult who cares enough to spend time with them and be a role model.”
Benefits most Big Buddies get from the experience, he said, are the chance to make a difference in someone’s life and the chance to see life from another prospective.
“The more you put into (the program) the more you get out of it,” said Sahrs, adding volunteers have the opportunity to meet other University students and touch someone’s life.
The University YMCA offers several service opportunities through programs like Project Motivation, Hand in Hand, Y-Scholars, Focus on Youth, Fresh Force and tutoring programs.