Eastern volunteers PLAY, teach kids in after-school programs

Kalyn Hayslett, Editor-in-Chief

Eastern students volunteer for the Young Athletes program teach hand-eye coordination at Mark Twain Elementary School. This program is a stepping stone for the Special Olympics.
Submitted Photo
Eastern students volunteer for the Young Athletes program teach hand-eye coordination at Mark Twain Elementary School. This program is a stepping stone for the Special Olympics.

Whether it’s through helping children finish their math homework, learn hip-hop dance moves or practice new sports, student volunteers can help local youth during the Positive Learning for Active Youth after-school program.

Beth Gillespie, interim director of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism, said the program needs about 80 volunteers who have a passion for mentoring youth to help them out.

“We are looking for somebody who has an open heart who is willing to commit to being available,” Gillespie said. “(We need someone) who is going to be dependable (and a) cheerful role model, because this is a tremendous opportunity to impact these local youths.”

All majors can be accepted in the program, and both undergraduate and graduate students can volunteer.

Graduate assistant Kelsi Grubisich said students interested in the program need to complete an online application, be in good academic standing and have time to attend weekly meetings throughout the fall semester.

“With the semester-long commitment, it will help the children build a relationship with the students on campus, and it really is a positive experience for the children,” Grubisich said.

Applications will close Sept. 8, ending just in time for the training starting Sept. 11.

To help fix any issues, each site in the program will have student captains who will help answer any questions the site managers or the other student volunteers may have.

“They would be the ones to call us if our volunteers are having an issue. Whether it’s a change in their schedule or with transportation, they would go to the PLAY captain first,” Gillespie said. “So that person is the coordinator of everything and our cheerful problem-solver.”

There are seven sections of PLAY students can volunteer for. These include the math programs at Carl Sandburg Elementary School and Charleston Middle School, the Salvation Army and a hip-hop dance class.

Grubisich said the middle school programs and sometimes the math program can be the harder ones to get volunteers for, though it depends on the program.

About seven students can sign up for each section because of transportation limitations. The exception to this is the Young Athletes program, which is held at both Eastern and Mark Twain Elementary School.

The program at Eastern can have unlimited volunteers, while the Young Athletes in the elementary school can have seven.

Volunteers for the Young Athletes will help youths who have intellectual disabilities learn motor skills by teaching them how to play different sports.

Student volunteers who have an interest in tutoring local youth and helping them with homework can work at Ashmore and Oakland schools, The Salvation Army, Charleston Middle School and Carl Sandburg Elementary School.

The hip-hop dance classes are offered at the Salvation Army at Charleston.

Volunteers will prepare fifth- through seventh-graders for a dance performance at the end of the semester.

“Spending time with kids is fun. The kids in our community are hilarious (and) they’re smart. Especially at the elementary age, they are still totally open to adult interaction, and so they are looking to us as adults for feedback and approval and guidance,” Gillespie said. “When our students walk in the door, those kids are immediately in love with them.”

Crystal Brown, student community service assistant director, said after spending so much time with the local youth throughout the program, the volunteers develop a natural bond.

“By the end of the semester, not only the children but the volunteers are sad to see it over,” Brown said.

http://www.eiu.edu/volunteer/PLAY.php

Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or kehays[email protected]