Volunteers needed to PLAY with kids

Analicia Haynes, Managing Editor

From organizing and passing out food at food pantries to tutoring a kid in need, the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism offers several volunteer opportunities for students this semester.

One of those opportunities includes PLAY, which is an after school program focused on helping elementary and middle school-level kids.

The program has been at Eastern for almost five years and starts the week of Sept. 10.

Beth Gillespie, the interim director of new student programs, said there are nine total activities within the program.

“We’ve got nine different after school programs that are going to happen because our Eastern students step up and volunteer,” Gillespie said. “PLAY is an after school program that is powered by Eastern students.”

Each activity or program spans across Monday through Thursday and varies between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Danaya Burnett, a graduate assistant for the office, said that the program is her project for the semester, and she is in charge of organizing and keeping it together.

“I used to do summer camps and after school programs all the time, so I’m used to it,” Burnett said. “It’s something that I’m good at and I’m going for school counseling and I work with kids all the time.”

Burnett said she was waiting all summer for the program to start and is excited.

The program serves a variety of kids with different interests such as those who want to play sports or want to dance.

“We do our young athletes programs which is a partnership with Special Olympics, and it was originally designed to help kids with any kind of special need work on coordination and its sports focused, but now young athletes is open to any child,” Gillespie said.

The office also has a partnership with the Salvation Army out of Mattoon, which is their biggest “at risk” group of local kids, Gillespie said.

Volunteers involved with the program also travel to Ashmore, a community on the other side of Charleston, and offer after school programming such as homework help to their students.

Though originally most of the PLAY program was aimed at elementary-aged kids, Gillespie said there is a new program that is going to be for middle school-aged kids.

Annie Garner, a graduate assistant for the office, said the new program does not have a name yet, but it is a partnership with Teen Reach.

It will consist of different groups on campus who will show the kids in the program what Eastern is like and what it has to offer.

“It’s trying to get the kids here on campus and out and about and not in a gym,” Garner said.

Garner said some of the different activities that are already arranged include a tour of WEIU and an opportunity to meet the Eastern track and field team to see what playing a college sport is all about.

“We’re just trying to say that there are lots of cool things on campus and they should come and check it out,” Gillespie said.

Currently, Gillespie said the office is looking for several volunteers and two captains or “point people” who can help lead the program.

“(The captains) are our point person, they are the ones who drive the car to the site and help make sure everybody knows what’s going on and leads the way.”

She also said the difference with volunteering with the PLAY program is the weekly commitment.

“So we’re looking for students who can say, ‘yes, I’m available every Monday from 4 to 5 p.m. this semester,’ so our students are interacting consistently with kids in the program so they can build a relationship, they can be a mentor and a positive part of that child’s life for the semester, so that’s what PLAY is all about,” Gillespie said.

Transportation will be provided for those who volunteer, and Gillespie said that is because they do not want a lack of a car to stop students from making a difference in the lives of kids.

Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up at eiu.edu/volunteer.

“Any student can get involved, whether they just like kids or they’re going into a field that is youth-focused, whether it’s education or counseling, but it doesn’t have to be connected to what they’re looking to do,” Gillespie said.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].