Connecting with the community: LARY buddies

By Anh Ta

For the last 20 years, the Lawrence Assistance Reaching Youth (LARY) buddy program has been one of Lawrentians’ favorite volunteering activities. Going beyond Lawrence, these volunteers reach far and beyond into the Appleton community to help, one little person at a time.

As LARY buddies, Lawrentians act as mentors and friends to grade school students from Edison Elementary School. Each volunteer is matched up to one buddy based on their preferences. The volunteers simply go hang out with their buddies during lunchtime and recess, or sit in during class time.

The elementary school students, or “little buddies,” are kids with a lot of potential ,but who may be hindered by their personal circumstances and need a little extra push. The volunteers, their “big buddies,” provide them with the extra support to keep them focused, motivated and positive.

That being said, the job of a big buddy goes beyond recess and fun. Much time is spent on the small and difficult tasks, such as helping the little buddies stay focused in math class or finish their readings. Sometimes, when the little buddies get frustrated with a difficult math question, the big buddies have to be there to encourage. Junior Cathryn Wood, a seasoned big buddy, admitted that it could be hard “to be a mentor and not a tutor, and to be a friend and not a parent.”

Last year, Lawrence saw a record-breaking number of more than 500 hours put in by a team of about 30 dedicated LARY buddies. This number shows true dedication. According to senior Megan Occhino, who was a LARY buddy coordinator last year, many volunteers go above and beyond the required once-a-week commitment and visit their buddies several times a week.

The key to this commitment seems to be the lasting bonds formed between the big and little buddies. As Occhino put it, “I have seen buddies build such wonderful bonds that have lasted into summer breaks and even beyond the big buddy’s time at Lawrence. There are honestly too many good memories.”

Many volunteers, seasoned or new, seem to share a similar enthusiasm about their little buddies. Wood, who has had the same little buddy since her freshman year, said, “It is nice because [her buddy and she] get to stick together, learn and grow together.”

Recounting her little buddy’s visit to Lawrence, Wood was proud. It was clear that her little buddy was not only amazed, but inspired. “I have never seen him so excited about something,” commented Wood. “It is very special to him as he doesn’t get to see something like this very often […] I showed him my dorm room. Someday this could be [him]. [He] would be going to college […] We are so close to Edison, yet he never came here.”

For sophomore Trang Le, “the best part is to watch someone grow and to realize that you contribute to it,” she commented after telling us about her little buddy’s sixth-grade graduation. As an international student from Vietnam, Le also enjoyed sharing her Vietnamese culture, food and traditions. “We would just talk and swap stories,” said Le.

Sharing with us their favorite memories with their little buddies, all the big buddies seem to agree that they have learned a lot from their little buddies. “It has opened my eyes to a lot of things I have never been aware of before,” said Wood. “It taught me to be more compassionate to everyone […] I learned a lot and look forward to learning more from him and becoming a better person because of it.”

LARY buddy volunteering is also a great way to get outside the Lawrence bubble, according to Occhino. “It […] reminds me that the world is so much bigger than Lawrence, and the tests and reading we do here,” said Occhino. “It is really humbling and rewarding.”

For these dedicated volunteers, LARY buddy is more than just a volunteering program. The positive impressions each and every volunteer leaves on their little buddies and the memories will last, beyond Lawrence and their time here in Appleton.