Casey Rhine looks forward to his Wednesday lunch appointments. But instead of meeting up in a trendy restaurant with co-workers or business clients, the Legal Advocate at TCN Behavioral Health meets a special friend outside the Bellefontaine Intermediate School cafeteria. Casey is a mentor in United Way of Logan County’s new Lunch Buddy program.
“We talk about anything on his mind,” Rhine says. “It seemed apparent that he just needed a channel to talk. We discussed sports, video games, animals, siblings. Everything! I was able to identify with a lot of things he likes, and I believe that helped, but I was relieved to just be a listener for him. I didn’t need to be special, or have a fancy job.”
Casey has been paired with Dustin, a third-grader at BIS, since October. The duo is one of 98 matches made in the pilot program’s recently completed first year. Volunteers committed to visit school on a designated day once a month, developing a special one-on-one friendship with a student over the course of the year through lunch chats, encouragement, and games. Lunch Buddies was modeled after a long-time program in Troy City Schools and another conducted by Big Brothers Big Sisters in Union County.
“I enjoyed watching the friendships between the lunch buddies develop over the school year, and thoroughly enjoyed watching the adult volunteers light up just as much as the students when they would see one another on their Lunch Buddy day,” said Krista Adelsberger, Principal at Bellefontaine Intermediate School. “Our students have grown in their confidence. Some students have grown in their ability to trust. But all students light up when their mentor comes to spend time with them!”
Studies show that mentoring programs are proven to improve the mental health and self-esteem of participating children. That it happens in the confines and safety of the school setting provides manageable expectations and boundaries for volunteer mentors, who find fulfillment in sharing time and experiences with their Lunch Buddy. Though United Way acknowledges it too early to measure long-term success, early returns are positive. 89 percent of the adults plan to serve again next school year. And 97 percent of the students surveyed are looking forward to continuing their new friendships in the fall.
“I had the pleasure of being paired up with the sweetest little girl,” said Kristy Clement, Staff Education at Mary Rutan Hospital who was paired with Claire, a third-grader. “Being a ‘Boy Mom’ of three grown boys, this was so much fun. We talked about all kinds of things, all things glittery: nails, lip gloss, hair, our pets, and playing at the park. I looked forward to each month, and I could tell she did too. We became great friends in the short time we have known each other. Positive relationships and encouragement are so important.”
“I loved getting to know my buddy this past year,” said Megan Webb, who works at Prevention Awareness Support Services and was paired with fourth-grader, Hazel. “I feel that through this program I was able to help in a small way but make a big difference in these kiddos’ lives. I’ve seen an amazing change in my Lunch Buddy as the year went on. She went from super shy to confidently having a conversation. It was amazing to see and this opportunity has been wonderful to have in my life as well. I can’t wait for next year!
United Way is working to expand Lunch Buddies to Benjamin Logan, Indian Lake, Riverside, and West Liberty-Salem Schools this fall and needs more adult role models who have time to be a monthly mentor. More help is specifically being sought for Riverside and WL-S. Volunteers are background checked and go through an orientation before being paired with a student. If you are interested, please contact Melody Couchman at (937) 592-2886.
“You’d be surprised by how much 30 minutes a month will impact you and your Lunch Buddy, said Kaitylnn Mockus, a barista at Richwood Coffee. “I learned so much about my Lunch Buddy and always looked forward to our monthly lunch. I know she did too. I can’t wait for next year!”
United Way is the philanthropic hub of Logan County. Since 1955, generations of local residents and businesses make their charitable impact through United Way. When you give to United Way, you become a part of a long-standing solution that works to positively influence the health, education, and financial stability of every person in Logan County. More than just a fundraiser, United Way collaborates with businesses, non-profits, government, and civic organizations to address the growing needs of our community. No gift is too large or too small, as your contributions of time and treasure unite with those of others to make a difference here at home. For more information, please visit www.uwlogan.org.
Submitted by Dave Bezusko