Lunch Buddies transitions to pen pals
Cornell College students wanted to make sure a long-running youth mentorship program could continue this year, despite the pandemic.
Instead of the typical format, the Lunch Buddies program is temporarily transitioning to a pen pal program where college students will write letters or emails to their third-grade Mount Vernon buddies instead of visiting them in-person.
“Lunch Buddies has always been such a beacon of hope and joy for our community, something we all need now more than ever,” said Mentor Programs Coordinator Hanna Bergsten, who is a double major in studio art and education. “I hope that by connecting through letters despite these difficult times, buddies and mentors alike will feel a little less alone, a bit better understood, and the joy the program has always embodied.”
Each block the group is also planning Zoom events with their buddies, which may include grab-and-go craft packages, watch parties, and Zoom games.
During regular years, Cornell students connect with local third graders for lunch and recess three times a month. Students enjoy getting to know families in the community and becoming a role model and mentor.
First-year student Ben Parkins enjoys participating in the letter-writing program this year. He received a letter from his buddy around Thanksgiving.
“The letter that he sent me talks about his favorite food, sweet potatoes, and asks me what my favorite video game is,” Parkins said. “He lists his family members, and I can connect with him because I also have a very big family.”
Bergsten, a junior from Estes Park, Colorado, says she still spends time with the buddies she has had over the years and their families.
“Whether it be through babysitting opportunities, an occasional meal together, or attending Magical Night or Chalk the Walk, I feel like I’m a part of something even bigger than our campus,” she said.
Students say the children always look forward to the Lunch Buddies program as college students listen to them, support them, teach them something new, and play with them. But it’s not just the little ones who benefit from this program.
“For our Cornell mentors, being among the kids helps put our lives as college students into perspective,” Bergsten said. “Playing tag truly is one of the best things in the world and it’s so easy to forget that simple joy as we get older! By tapping into our sense of inner childhood, stress is released and we walk away feeling refreshed, ready for whatever the block may bring our way.”
Third grader Carleigh Haugse with a letter from her buddy Rachel Wadkins '21
Third grade buddy Abbie Schnoor with a letter from her Cornell mentor Calista Dittmer
Third grade buddy Cody Bock with a letter from his Cornell buddy