Big Buddies – Stepping Out of the Lutedome

By Krysta Morley, ’14

Bernice Monkah ’13 assists her Little Buddy, Tavion, with reading a book

Monkah interacts with other Big Buddies as they prepare snack
Photos by Krysta Morley

As the PLU community has begun to question its use of the term “Parkland Youth,” one senior already working in Parkland through the Big Buddies program is ready to lay negative stereotypes to rest.

Bernice Monkah, a senior studying Political Science and Mathematical Science, started work for Big Buddies at the beginning of Fall semester. In high school, Monkah said she was involved in her surrounding community much more than she has been with Parkland. Not wanting to leave without making an impact on the Parkland community, she applied to become a Big Buddy. The idea of working with a single student attracted her to the program.

Big Buddies, or the After-School Engagement Program (ASEP), was founded in 1982. Each Tuesday and Thursday, 24 mentors (Big Buddies) from PLU travel to James Sales Elementary school to assist students. They help Little Buddies with homework and facilitate games and free time. According to the program’s mission statement, Big Buddies was created to help James Sales students “develop and strengthen their academic, social, and/or behavioral skills.”

The program is currently run by the PLU Center for Community Engagement and Service (CCES). Tiffany Lemmon, assistant director of CCES, has been involved with Big Buddies for the past five years.

“I believe that any stereotypes are broken down as Buddies build a bond and relationship built through tutoring, mentoring, and play,” Lemmon said in regards to the Parkland/PLU relationship.

Monkah admits hesitation when she first applied to the program, because she had been told many stereotypes about the Parkland community. Among other things, she had heard that the community was not safe. However, her experience in the Big Buddies program has abolished those assumptions made by PLU students who have failed to become active members of the outside community.

“The term PY or “oh it’s Parkland” should not be used, because the kids are as innocent as any other kids,” Monkah said.

Her experiences with her Little Buddy, a second-grader named Tavion, have been very positive. Involvement with Big Buddies has given her a view she previously did not have. Not only has Monkah interacted with the children of the community, but families of students, as well. Through the program, she built a strong relationship with her Little Buddy and has been able to encourage him to look forward to the experience of a college education.

“Big Buddies helped me with math, reading, and playing,” Tavion said.

Before taking part in Big Buddies, Monkah acknowledges that she failed to go outside of the PLU “Lutedome.” Now that she has experienced the Parkland community first-hand, she encourages students to evaluate use of terms like “PY” or belief in negative stereotypes about Parkland. Monkah believes if they choose not to take part in the community, they should be careful about making judgments. After her interaction with Parkland through Big Buddies, she no longer listens to the negative views. Instead, Monkah hopes that open dialogue with the Parkland community will continue and expand in the coming years.

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