The Big Buddies service program at the University of Redlands provides positive role models for area children, and a chance for students to give back to the community.
Big Buddies is split between two sections–Little Buddies for children six to 10-years-old, and Middle Buddies for kids in sixth- to eighth- grades. They are paired up with University of Redlands students, who become mentors and earn volunteering credit. Most of the children end up in another mentoring organization, CHAMPS, once they enter high school.
According to Talia Poidmore ’14, co-director of Little Buddies, the program originally started for divorced families in Redlands, with seven kids participating. Now, it has grown to involve dozens of students, and the aim is to teach social skills, educate and support the children, and get them excited about higher education.
“This program has flourished,” she said. “These kids know and grow up around the campus, and the point is to get them accustomed to coming to campus and seeing what a college student does. It sets that goal for them.”
The children come to the University of Redlands on Monday nights for homework help and activities, and there is a different theme each month.
“We had one month where we talked about bullying, and taught them what it means to be bullied, and what goes into helping a friend who is being bullied,” Poidmore said. “We brought in groups from around campus to talk about that. Another popular theme is science. We bring in the Biology Club and Chemistry Club, and it’s a fun experience with kids. We took them to Gregory Hall, and they worked with professors who volunteered their time. They took cheek swabs and looked at them under the microscope, and were able to touch banana slugs. It was fun stuff they normally wouldn’t get to do in school at their age.”
Redlands students who want to participate in Big Buddies make a yearlong commitment. Applications are available in the fall in the Community Service Learning office, and students go through an intensive interview process and application review before they are accepted and trained.
“The training ranges from going through different scenarios – for example, two mentees are fighting and one of them hits, what do you do?” Poidmore said. “Or, you overhear one talking about drinking beer over the past weekend, what do you do? It’s about getting them to respond appropriately, and recognizing when it is time to notify one of the directors or the parents. We take this very seriously.”
Jessica Medvec ’13, coordinator of children’s programs in the Community Service Learning office, was also a member of Big Buddies, joining as a junior at Redlands.
“I never imagined how far it would take me,” she said. “It’s been a really important part of my own personal career development later in life. After my first year as a mentor, I was encouraged to apply to be a student director. I never saw myself as someone who would go after one of those leadership positions, and after I was selected it gave me so much confidence, and I was able to learn from the other students in the program.”
Having been part of Big Buddies helps Medvec in her new role as one of the organization’s advisors.
“When I applied for the position and found out I had been selected, I was shocked and through the roof with excitement,” she said. “While it’s nice to get a fresh look at things, I think having the experience I did really makes me feel closer to the students, and I would absolutely stick my neck out for any of these programs and anything they need.”
Medvec believes that it’s important for Redlands students to understand the power of Big Buddies.
“Freshmen and sophomores sometimes don’t have much of a concept of what goes on outside of campus,” she said. “Through Big Buddies, you really get that outside perspective of what it’s like for these kids. We expect a lot out of our mentors, and it’s almost like they get a professional experience; they receive training, are expected to be on time, and to follow through with policies. The expectations we do have are above and beyond many other groups.”
Being part of Big Buddies during her college years made an impact on Poidmore.
“It’s definitely changed me,” Poidmore said. “A lot of people who come to Redlands come from families that are very privileged, myself included, and we never imaged learning so much from these dynamics. You work with the kids and learn about their situations, and see how much they want to succeed.”
Posted: May 16, 2014
Written by: Catherine Garcia