Students give time, effort at Kids’ Cafe

Gannon University’s Center for Social Concerns and Office of Service Learning have partnered with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie to send students to volunteer at Kids’ Café, an afterschool program designed to provide a hot meal and engaging activities to children in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to Jessie Badach Hubert, assistant director for the Center of Social Concerns.

“Kids’ Café is a feeding program that gets some government funding to provide a hot meal to kids,” Hubert said, “with the understanding that their household won’t be able to provide them a hot meal that evening.”

Hubert said Fridays at the Kids’ Café is a great way for Gannon students to volunteer their time for service learning credit and also for students who are interested in beginning their volunteer career.

“For students who don’t have access to transportation and who would like to start volunteering but don’t want to go alone, this is a great place to get introduced to volunteering with a group of people in an established program,” Hubert said.

“The Fridays at the Kids’ Café program is a great opportunity for them to plug into something that’s easy to access and will provide a really powerful experience in terms of thinking about how some of our neighbors live, what their needs are, what their gifts are and what we have to learn from people in those communities.”

Freshman nursing major Niobi Dunn said he started volunteering at Kids’ Café for service learning credit but now he continues to volunteer on his own time.

“Every time I go back it feels as if nothing else matters at that moment except for the kids,” Dunn said.

“I feel as though it is not just a volunteer job for me but a duty to reach out to the kids there and make them feel special for the two hours of time I spend with them.”

Students who are interested in volunteering for the Friday at Kids’ Café program are asked to contact Hubert no later than 4 p.m. Thursday the week before they wish to volunteer. Volunteers are also required to attend Kids’ Café a minimum of three times so the students can build a rapport with the children in the program, Hubert said.

“What’s important is that you establish a relationship that will help the student you’re working with develop a stronger sense of self, a sense of efficacy in what they do and the value that they have as a human being in society,” Hubert said.

“So to that end, it’s really important to us that volunteers don’t just drop in one time but instead go at least three times to establish a genuine relationship with the kids who are there.”

Allison Adkins, a senior liberal studies major, said she tries to be a role model for the children in the program, but she feels they have impacted her in more ways than she has reached them.

“In some cases, we are the closest people they have to look up to,” Adkins said. “What drives me to keep going back every week is the bonds that I have made with them.

“As much as I feel like I’m helping them, they are truly the ones helping me.”

Hubert said that since Gannon students are more mature, college-age volunteers, the mentorship the program participants provide can help shape the futures of the younger kids.

“A lot of the kids who live in that neighborhood are in a vulnerable time of their lives,” Hubert said.

“They’re entering the preteen years or the teenage years and trying to get a good sense of self and who they are, what they want to be, or what they have the capability or opportunity to be.”

Adkins said the joy of volunteering does not come from seeing immediate results, but seeing the bigger picture.

“A lot of people struggle with volunteering because they can’t see a finished product in the same sense that Habitat volunteers see in a finished wall,” Adkins said. “But it’s not about seeing an end result, it’s about spending time with a child and making them feel special and appreciated because you may be the only person who was able to give that to them that day.”


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