Lunch Buddies Makes A Big Impact On Kids

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Lunch Buddies is a mentoring program for children in North and South Elementary Schools who have lunch once a week with adult volunteers. The program was spearheaded by the Benton County Youth Coalition (BCYC) last year through leadership efforts of BCYC member, Pastor Chad Danfield, and North School Principal, Beth Love. The boosts of encouragement that volunteers give to their lunch buddies is having positive benefits in social and academic areas.
“One student in the program was thrilled about having a lunch buddy last school year,” said Teresa Flores, Counselor at North School who facilitates matching of lunch buddies. “That student asked me if it was possible to have the same lunch buddy again this year, and fortunately that arrangement was possible.”
Many school districts around the state and country are finding that lunch buddies programs are good for students as well as their adult volunteers. It allows informal friendships to develop, and gives the student a cheerleader who can be counted on to listen and be there for them on a regular basis. 
At the current time, there are six adult volunteers in Warsaw who happen to be members of the BCYC. However, volunteering opportunities are available to other adults in the area. They meet once a week with one or two lunch buddies and have made a commitment to stay with the program during the whole school year.
Pastor Loren Whetsell, is a volunteer who has two lunch buddies and meets with them on Thursdays at South School. He has lunch with a third grader at 11:30 AM, and a fifth grader at 12 PM.
“I sit and talk with my lunch buddy, but there are other students sitting with us and we all can carry on conversations,” said Pastor Whetsell. “We would like to expand the program.”
Counselor Flores said that anyone wanting to become a volunteer can call either North or South School or go through BCYC. An application form will have to be filled out and fingerprints and a background check will have to be obtained by the volunteer (at a cost of about $35.) Flores said that background checks can be provided by offices in Sedalia or Clinton. 
“Training that lasts about 30 minutes to an hour is held at the beginning of each school year, and again after the winter break,” said Flores. “Volunteers are told what is expected of them, how to get their lunch when meeting with their lunch buddies, and other information. We also ask that the volunteers try not to act like a counselor and give advice, but just to be a friend.”
Children in the lunch buddies program are matched with volunteers after the counselor confers with the principal and teachers to see who might benefit most from the mentoring. Parents are sent letters explaining the program and have to give their permission for their children to participate.