Eastern students given opportunity to ‘PLAY’

Mercury Bowen, Entertainment Reporter

The Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism has created eight different Positive Learning for Active Youth (PLAY) programs.

The after-school programs are student-powered, and they involve homework help, activities and often snacks.

Beth Gillespie, the interim director of civic engagement, said the office wants those planning to volunteer for the program to commit to be available once a week for the ten weeks it will happen.

“We want the students who are participating in PLAY to be consistent so they can build genuine relationships with the kids in the PLAY program,” Gillespie said.

The PLAY programs take place in Charleston, Ashmore and Mattoon, and the office will provide transportation to and from the programs.

Gillespie said on average the PLAY programs include nearly 100 children with approximately 40 Eastern students volunteering.

“It makes a significant difference to the kids in our program,” Gillespie said.

A recent addition to the PLAY programs was a partnership program with the Fit-2-Serve Community Garden in Mattoon called Farm to Table.

In the Farm to Table program, Eastern volunteers will help the workers at the Fit-2-Serve Community Garden teach children how food is made, how to grow it and what to do with it, as well as other things.

Annie Garner, a second-year graduate assistant, said she thinks the Farm to Table program is an exciting one.

“We’re just starting it this semester, so we’re hoping that people know it’s out there and hear about it,” Garner said. “I think it could be really beneficial for both the students and the little kids that come and learn about all of that.”

Another PLAY program called Young Athletes involves volunteers helping children learn gross motor skills, such as how to throw, kick and catch.

Because the program is partnered with the Special Olympics, Garner said some of the children involved may have intellectual or physical disabilities; however, the program is open to all children ages two to seven.

At the end of the Young Athletes program, the children’s parents can attend an event where the children demonstrate what skills they learned.

Gillespie said in the past the response from both the children and the volunteers has been positive, with children who participated in the program asking when the Eastern students are coming back.

“To give somebody the gift of your time can make a significant impact,” Gillespie said. “It doesn’t have to take a thousand hours or a thousand dollars to change somebody’s day for the better.”

Mercury Bowen can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].