Formed 20 years ago in 1991, the Lawrence Assistance Reaching Youth program is one of the oldest volunteer opportunities on campus. This partnership, facilitated by the Volunteer and Community Service Center, pairs Lawrence students from all walks of life with local Edison Elementary students in an ongoing mentoring relationship.
This program was originally designed and suggested by an Edison counselor who saw that the students had many needs that Lawrence students could fill. Edison is a school of 336 students, 49 percent of whom are on reduced lunch.
LARY Coordinator Megan Childs explained, “A lot of Edison students do come from families with family issues or learning disabilities, low income houses or have trouble relating to their peers. For a lot of these children, they don’t have consistent support at home. They need someone to be a consistent older figure in their life and listen to them.”
Buddies, as Lawrence students are called, spend two hours a week doing just that with the students. Students are recommended by their teachers for the program based on need, and are matched based on interest and age and/or gender preference of the buddy.
“There’s no stigma,” Childs said. “The kids view the program very positively, and there’s a lot of excitement about it.”
Annually, 35 to 50 Edison students are recommended for the LARY program. Many students keep their same buddy for all the years they are a LARY buddy, which fosters stronger relationships.
Junior Caitlin Buhr has been a LARY buddy since her winter term freshman year and has kept her buddy, a third grade boy, since then.
“[My buddy] needed me because he probably doesn’t get enough attention at home,” Buhr said. “We work well together. He trusts me, and we have a lot of fun together.”
Sophomore LARY buddy Becky Dykes agrees that sometimes all a child needs is someone to listen.
“[My buddy] gained someone she could be totally honest with,” Dykes said.
Students have a lot of flexibility about what they do with their buddy. Students have played together at recess, gone to class together, gone to a park and many other activities. With permission slips, students can even take their buddy off campus to Lawrence. This helps promote the idea of higher education with students who “might not be exposed to higher education otherwise,” Childs said.
All these different activities help form a bond between buddy and student and show the child someone who is committed to them. Having someone be there to pay attention to them is sometimes all that a child needs.
“I didn’t realize how much of a difference I was making until I missed a week,” she said. “When I came back, my buddy was so excited. This really showed me that I was doing something.”
Like all community partnerships, this relationship is also rewarding for the volunteers.
“[Being a LARY buddy] lets out a part of you that’s playful and doesn’t worry so much,” Buhr said. “It takes away all of my stress.”
LARY has a monthly meeting for Lawrence students to communicate about frustrations and help each other work through issues with their buddies. In addition, the LARY coordinator organizes a party once a term for buddies to spend more time together with the other buddies.
LARY is still looking for buddies for this year — the deadline is the end of the term. Buhr recommends the program highly, but did caution that “you can’t mentor half-heartedly. If you’re going to be a LARY buddy, you have to be pretty devoted. “
For those who are willing to devote two hours a week to changing a child’s life, contact Megan Childs at email@example.com to find out more information or apply.