A Look Inside: Q&A With the Illinois State University Chapter

We had the opportunity to chat with the college student president of the Illinois State University chapter of College Mentors for Kids, Ryan.

Tell me a little bit about your chapter this year:
The Illinois State Chapter of College Mentors for Kids currently serves 167 buddies and will be adding a few more in the spring semester. With 197 total mentors and staff, we work with 4 elementary schools in the Bloomington, IL school district and enjoy our time with all our little buddies! We have worked with local restaurants this semester to fundraise over $600 in just group-effort fundraisers where restaurants give back a percentage of profits to College Mentors for Kids. We are looking forward to our new fundraiser we have acquired for the Spring where College Mentors for Kids at Illinois State is partnering with semi-pro hockey team Bloomington Thunder and we are selling tickets to the game! Our new set of Vice Presidents have stepped up to the plate this year to get our amazing chapter going!

What’s your favorite part of College Mentors for Kids?
My favorite part of College Mentors for Kids is the overwhelming feeling I get after being involved in the program of how much of an impact myself and our chapter have made to these kids. I don’t think most mentors can see and feel their impact of the program until after you have gotten to know the little buddies for more than a semester in the program. There is no better feeling than seeing our kids get dropped off at ISU and run off of the bus with smiling faces to their mentors. There is no better feeling than seeing a mentor/buddy pair in a classroom working on a project together and talking like they are best friends. There are lots of great benefits from the program, but the impact we have has to be the most inspiring.

What impact has College Mentors for Kids had on you?
They say that all of us college mentors have the most impact on the kids, but I believe it is the other way around. My view on various social issues and attitudes has changed since beginning as a mentor to these amazing kids four years ago. They defy any stereotype about low-income families or at-risk youth. We work with the most spectacular kids who inspire the mentors in our program to come to our activities with positive attitudes, to do their best to be there for their buddy, and encourage our mentors to fundraise to the best of their ability to give our buddies the ultimate experience with College Mentors for Kids.

What impact has College Mentors had on the little buddies? Any stories in particular?
One story that I have to share from this year in particular involves a little buddy who left the program 2 years ago and is now a 7th grader in middle school. When I was a mentor, my little buddy and the one in this story, Ja’re, were best friends. Our buddy pairs would always do everything together, whether it was participating in the activities as a duo or playing football outside of school. Both little buddies however struggled in school, academically and behaviorally. Luckily by the end of their last year in the program, myself and Ja’res’ mentor were fairly confident the two boys would go into middle school with positive attitudes and an academic drive to do well. Two years later, Ja’re is in 7th grade and is a member of the Boys & Girls Club after-school program. I volunteer there for observation hours for my program, and ran into Ja’re. I saw him across the room to see if he recognized me, and he turned around and yelled my name. After seeing me, he ran in-between the desks in the classroom and pulled out his phone from his pocket. With it being homework time, we hugged and I told him to pull out his homework to see what I could help with. Instead, he continued back onto his phone and said, “Wait I want to show you something!” I looked down at the phone, and he had his grades from his first semester pulled up. He had all A’s. Shocked at what he had to show me, I gave him a high five and told him how awesome that is!

I don’t know many elementary or middle school students that would be willingly excited to show you his or her grades. All I know is that coming from watching him struggle with math and grammar and continually having to come up with good ways to study with him specifically, to see where he is today was truly inspiring and made me realize how amazing of an impact College Mentors for Kids had on Ja’re!

What’s your favorite activity?
I would say my favorite activity is when we work with the ROTC on campus. The amazing guest speakers that we have come in to teach them about the program, and how joining the ROTC helps pay for your college tuition and prepares you to be an officer in the military. The kids like seeing all of the military gear that is brought in and doing some fun drills with the ROTC students.

What makes your chapter unique?
What makes our chapter most unique is the great background that our mentors have as most of our mentors are education majors, as well as the overwhelming support we have from our College Mentors for Kids alum. The unique background that most of our mentors have gives them the upper hand with knowing the best way to talk to the kids and to connect with them on a level they can interpret well. Also, our alumni are always asking how to get involved and how they can help in various areas to contribute back to the program. They are crucial to our success as a chapter and are the ones who have gotten us to where we are today!

What are you most proud of your chapter for?
I am most proud of our chapter for the dedication and commitment that our mentors make to their buddies. Daily I see acts of love and commitment from our mentors to their buddies to make them laugh, smile and have fun. It’s great to know that the attitudes of our mentors are something that does not need to be reminded to our mentors because it is natural for them.