40+ Grace College Students Volunteer Through Jefferson Lunch Buddy Program
On any given week, more than 40 Grace College students can be found walking across campus to meet with their “buddies” at Jefferson Elementary School. Grace students of all majors volunteer their time each week to invest in young lives during their lunch and recess time at school. These buddy relationships are the result of an organic effort for the college to “love thy neighbor.”
“I began helping with Jefferson Buddies because I wanted to serve in the community,” said Emma Lehman, the student director of Jefferson Lunch Buddies. “I know that God is doing amazing things through this program, and I can’t wait to see how He continues to use Grace students to reveal His glory,” said Lehman.
The idea for the program originally came a few years ago as a result of a conversation that Kearstin Criswell, director of student involvement at Grace, had with a Warsaw Schools administrator. Their discussion reminded Criswell of the value of having healthy, loving adults involved in every child’s life – not only for students who do not receive affection in their homes but also for those who do.
“After discussing this with the principal, I realized that the lunch or recess time slot would be a natural time for Grace students to commit to pouring into elementary students,” said Criswell. “I knew it was worth a shot.”
Last year, as a first-year Grace student, Lehman worked with Criswell to make this dream come alive. “Emma’s enthusiasm and passion created such great buy-in from our students,” said Criswell.
Lehman organized the volunteers, gave them instructions and even offered them handouts and activities that they could bring when meeting with their buddies.
“After my first day as a buddy, I realized how beneficial it could be for other elementary students to have buddies,” said Lehman. “I started talking to students around campus and getting them connected with the program, always sharing that the elementary students have just as much of an impact on us as we do on them.”
Nicole Stutzman, a second-year student at Grace studying psychology agrees. With hopes of becoming a children’s psychologist in the future, Stutzman saw the opportunity as a great way to get involved in the community and start working with children. She and her buddy have hit it off this year.
“It has been super fun getting to know my buddy,” said Stutzman. “It has been cool to see that as she gets to know me, she gets more and more excited to see me and talk to me. Simply showing these kids that you care and that you can consistently be here for them does so much.”
While the program may seem like an initiative that would come straight from the School of Education, Dr. Cheryl Bremer, dean of the School of Education at Grace, has been able to sit back and watch students of all majors drive this program forward.
“As an educator, I am always thrilled to see our college students investing in the younger generation,” said Bremer. “We know that relationships are key to academic success, and Lunch Buddies is a wonderful opportunity for Grace College students to serve in a way that makes a difference!”
Josh Wall, principal at Jefferson Elementary, has seen the difference made firsthand.
“The thing I love most about this program is seeing the relationships that the Grace College students build with our students in the lunchroom and on the playground,” said Wall. “Watching the joy on a child’s face when they make a basket and their buddy cheers them on creates energy and community at our school. Our students look up to these Grace students so much and can’t wait to see them again. Ultimately, this program has given hope, mentorship and support to our students who need a buddy.”
To learn more about Grace College student involvement opportunities, visit www.grace.edu/about/campus/