This year, Oberlin College students once again entered the community in force, performing public-service programs ranging from food drives to neighborhood cleanups. One student group that seeks to combine College and community in a special way to benefit local children is the Oberlin Mentors.
Planned several years ago as a winter-term project, Mentors is now a student-organized, student-taught course in Oberlin's Experimental College (ExCo) in which students befriend children from around Oberlin and participate with their "mentees" in weekly activities.
The focus of the program is on one-on-one activities that provide the child with a friend and role model and the College student with a view of the world outside the campus.
"It's so easy to get wrapped up in things on campus, and being involved in someone else's life can bring you away from that," said Nina Reck, a freshman from Amherst, Massachusetts.
Mentors see their responsibilities as quite clear-cut. "We feel that simply being there for them gives them a sense of stability and helps them to build their self-esteem," said Kim Brockway, a sophomore biology major from Kirkland, Washington.
To this end, mentors and mentees do homework together, play sports, go to the library, and bake cookies. They strive to emphasize fun activities, not just homework and tutoring, because "that would be a different kind of relationship, an authority kind of relationship," said college sophomore and geology major Kari Moshenberg.
Brockway and Moshenberg, who organized and ran the ExCo class this year, hold weekly meetings with other mentors to discuss their experiences and plan activities for the coming week. The program has also organized several large group projects, the latest being the unfolding of the AIDS Memorial Quilt when it was in Oberlin last fall.
Brockway believes that Oberlin Mentors plays a useful role in town-gown relations, but emphasizes the personal nature of the program. "We always appreciate help from the College administration and the town," she said, "but it's our relationship with the kids that really matters."
--Joshua Ritter '99
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