Lunch Buddies mentors reflect on program's growth, impact


Northville sophmore Erin Scott (left) and Ann Arbor junior Susan Valensky (right) draw on lunch bags for Lunch Buddies on Nov. 14 in the Bovee University Center Auditorium. 

A program that started with 20 mentors in 2004 now has more than 140 student volunteers who have lunch with their "buddies" every Friday. 

Central Michigan University students who volunteer to be Lunch Buddies mentors spend lunch and recess with a student every Friday at elementary schools in the community. 

The Lunch Buddies program helps elementary students develop positive attitudes about school and learn about nutrition and physical activity.

This Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center program has helped more than 1,500 families and continues to impact the community, said Symantha Misale, mentoring programs graduate assistant.

Students who are interested in becoming mentors can fill out an application on OrgSync beginning Dec. 8. The application will be open until the beginning of the spring semester. 

Lunch Buddies student coordinator and Westland senior Kandace Trombley became a Lunch Buddies mentor her sophomore year. 

Majoring in Early Childhood Development and Learning, Trombley said being part of the Lunch Buddies program has allowed her to be involved in something she’s truly passionate about because she loves working with children and having a positive influence in their lives. 

She hopes Lunch Buddies will have a great impact on students. 

“Lunch Buddies as a program wants to reach out to students who have never heard of the program and who want to make an impact for the elementary students in the community, as well as develop a positive relationship between the student and the buddy,” Trombley said.

Lunch Buddies hosted its facilitation training Friday, Nov. 17 in the Bovee University Center Auditorium, where attendees focused on the importance of being a mentor.

At the beginning of training, the mentors decorated brown paper bags with markers, writing positive messages to children about nutrition.

The students reflected on why they chose to be mentors and what they are gaining from their volunteer experience. 

They came up with three core values they want to represent the Lunch Buddies program and the schools they visit every week: growth, empathy and optimism. 

Lansing freshman Alejandro Salais got involved in Lunch Buddies through a recommendation email and knew it would be the right opportunity for him to contribute to the community. He thinks the three phrases represent the experience of volunteering through Lunch Buddies. 

"Being a mentor means to be a role model and a source of support," Salais said. "Lunch Buddies has taught me how to be a leader and how much of a difference we can make in a child’s life."