How CSUN’s “Big Buddies” program is helping students

by Cougar News Contributor 336 views0

By Ryan Burke

 

As one of COC’s top transfer schools, Cal State Northridge is home to many alumni. Relocating

to a new campus, especially a CSU or UC, is a daunting step for some, but it is not impossible to

handle. The most common and effective way a student can have a smooth transition is by joining

a school club.

 

Combined with its admirable integrity and the valuable life training it provides, CSUN’s Big

Buddies club is a welcoming organization designed to help underprivileged children gain

opportunities outside of a school setting.

 

“Some communities usually don’t have after-school programs,” said the outreach program’s

president, Tiffany Benjamin, “Or at least anything they can afford.”

 

The group’s main focus consists of tutoring children, usually in grades 3-6, and by having

physical education days once a week.

 

“We provide homework help and hold after-school activities like crafts and outdoor games,”

Benjamin said.

 

When watching the program in action, it was clear to see that these college students were

making these kids’ whole week from the excited shouts they emitted  as they rushed to hug the

mentor’s legs.

 

The current home for the Big Buddies program in mainly in Pacoima, in a free, pre-existing

establishment known as the ATAP center, or All Things Are Possible, where elementary-aged

children in the area go after school on weekdays. The volunteers  make their way over there,

often carpooling as a group, usually twice a week.

 

The deciding factor in choosing the ATAP center as a volunteering home was mainly due to the

lack of youth centers in Northridge willing to participate. But since the Buddies’ beginning,

they’ve worked together for most of their events.

 

“ATAP was happy to take us in ever since our formation,” said Benjamin, “They’re happy to

accept our help and we really like the place.”

 

One of the goals that Big Buddies has is to help youth that do not have opportunities to succeed

outside of school, something similar to what ATAP is trying to achieve. Another reason they

match is due to the area where ATAP is located, in a low-incoming housing complex where

residents get government-subsidized living, an area that benefits from Big Buddies’ help.

 

According to their website, All Things Are Possible is community-based, non-profit organization

that is not only located in Pacoima, but has locations throughout Southern California, and are

not affiliated with Big Buddies in any location but this one. Their goal is to help promote the

culture of “family,” something that was a good fit for the club.

 

“It’s nice to see the same kids come back week after week,” said Christian Lopez, a Big Buddies

volunteer, “and it’s cool when they recognize you and start talking to you, it makes you feel like

you’re doing something special.”

 

Lopez considers his fondest memory of volunteering to be one that happened last semester, when

he helped 2nd grader who regularly attends ATAP events with his math homework.

 

“It was pretty worthwhile, I don’t know,” Lopez explained, “those type of things make you put

everything into perspective.”He is just one of the members who volunteer at least once a

week for the club, without a requirement from his major.

 

Shouts of “Big Buddies!” and excited cheers emerge from the group of kids when the ATAP

doors open, and when one of the kids spot their favorite club member, they are attached at the hip

for the next 90 minutes. Regular attendees recognize big buddies from previous weeks, while

newcomers take longer to warm-up to the volunteers, and some kids refuse to talk to anyone

besides their favorite one.

 

After the group arrives at the ATAP center, they get right to work with the children, playing

games like capture-the-flag, foursquare or freeze-tag on Tuesdays, or setting up arts-and-crafts

activities on Wednesdays.

 

As well as leading different events for the ATAP-goers twice a week, Big Buddies conducts a

yearly fundraiser during the holiday season, in which the group receives sponsors for the

kids they work with, who gets them gifts. Although the gifts range from necessities such as socks

or a something like a basketball, it is still the ATAP’s most popular day of the year, according to

the club.

 

“It was the biggest turnout we had for a volunteering event,” said Benjamin, “We had to buy

more toys so all the kids who showed up would get gifts.”  

 

Mentoring and assisting underprivileged youth is Big Buddies’ primary objective, yet there are a

share of added benefits that some group members see.

 

“It’s just a way to get involved in CSUN activities,” said Benjamin, a junior in her third year in

the club, “and a lot of our volunteers were community college students who transferred over to

CSUN.”

 

Not only does it provide an easy introduction to life at a bigger school, but it also can help with

some students’ academic careers, depending on their major, like COC graduate and senior

psychology major Brandon Lynn, who attributes Big Buddies to helping him with his career

path.

 

Big Buddies is one of many clubs on CSUN’s campus, yet provides a unique experience for its

members by giving them opportunities to help with children.

 

“It’s giving me experience with working with kids who may have faced hardships in the past,”

Lynn explained.

 

Not only is it giving him valuable experience, but it’s giving him college credit as well. You see,

for students pursuing a career in child development, like Lynn, the volunteering work

that the Buddies engage in count towards necessary volunteering hours that the school requires.

 

Psychology is one of CSUN’s  most impacted majors, one that provides necessary knowledge

for students attempting to find a job working with kids, and Big Buddies seems to be a good

jumping-off point.

 

“My goal is to be a high school counselor,” Lynn said, “and even though the kids we’ve been

working with are younger, it’s making me think about my future, as well as theirs.”

 

According to the US Dept. of Education, 4.5 percent of 2016 COC graduates left with an

associates degree in Psychology, and 5.5 percent earned a degree in social sciences. For those

looking to transfer to pursue a Bachelor’s in these fields, like Lynn, the Big Buddies are

providing a worthwhile opportunity in preparing them to be successful through their volunteering

opportunities. But, as well as helping with the academic side of college, it also assisted with the

transition from community college to a four-year university, something that students often

struggle with.

 

“Just by getting to know not only the kids were working with, but the other members of the

club,” said Lynn, “it has been helpful in getting used to a new-ish campus after COC.”

Besides Northridge, there are plenty of other schools that COC students aim to transfer to after

completing their time here, all of which will take some getting used to after attending this

commuter-heavy school.

 

Transfer students might not have to wait until they finish their COC careers for much longer, as

Big Buddies has plans of expansion.

 

“I really want to reach out to other schools, especially community colleges like COC, and even

LAVC and Pierce,” said Benjamin. “It’s definitely something I want to achieve by the time I

graduate.”

 

If she and the Big Buddies achieve this feat, students will be given an easy transition into

university life, through connections made with the club.

 

“I definitely think that expanding Big Buddies will give us more reach, as well as an increase in

membership,” Benjamin said.

 

As of Spring semester of the 2019 school year, Big Buddies currently has 42 official members,

and sees a rotation of different CSUN students volunteering week-to-week. According to

Benjamin, a fair share of members got involved after only planning to volunteer one time.

 

Four members of the group have leadership roles varying from activity coordinator to treasurer

who hold monthly meetings, lead by the president and vice president. Activity coordinators work

with social media coordinators to plan and promote their volunteer days, and all positions are

elected by fellow members.

 

With the help of an expansion past CSUN,  the outreach program’s goal over the next few years

is to increase membership with their expansion to other schools.

 

“A lot of them joined after only one meeting, so expanding the Big Buddies to other schools is

going to help us grow in the future,” Benjamin said.

 

Outreach programs can be found at different universities, and provide a smooth transition when

joined by a student looking to transfer. Transferring is a daunting task for many, and Big Buddies

is just one opportunity that can help someone succeed in all aspects of college.

 

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