Institute of Notre Dame student-led program benefits younger, older students


By Elizabeth Lowe

Twitter: @ReviewLowe

After Kaala Campbell and Alexis Nong walked from Ss. James and John School in Baltimore to nearby Institute of Notre Dame, they got down to business.

“You should have your homework out, please,” announced Vanessa Williams, IND’s director of youth and campus ministry.

Nong, an IND junior, and Kaala, a third-grader at Ss. James and John, participate in Project K.IND, a student-led community outreach program which pairs IND students with elementary and middle school students in big sister-little sister relationships. 

In its 11th year, the program began as community outreach to provide alternatives for latchkey children.

On Mondays, a few IND students – including Nong – walk to Ss. James and John and accompany the younger students to the high school. About 30 Ss. James and John students in grades three to eight meet with about 30 IND students for an hour and a half.

A total of 209 IND students provide emotional and academic support to 252 elementary and middle school students from Ss. James and John, St. Casimir School in Canton, and Cardinal Shehan School and Mother Seton Academy, both in Baltimore.

They meet weekly, said Williams, who oversees the program. Some IND students volunteer at all four schools, while others dedicate their time to one.    

During a session April 15, Nong, a student program leader, assisted little sister Kaala with multiplication problems.

“I like coming to see my big sister on Mondays because my big sister is fun,” said Kaala, 8.

Nong said she and her peers “like having the opportunity to feel like a big sister to someone.”

After completing homework assignments, the students typically engage in an arts and crafts project or participate in a drama activity.

The program helps younger students gain self-esteem and feel special, Williams said.

As for the student leaders, “the girls here get a sense of leadership, a sense of empowerment,” Williams said. “It’s very student-led. I try to push it into their hands. It’s very important for me to encourage my girls, that they succeed in this and do this.”

The elementary and middle school students are often recommended to the program by their principals, said Williams, who hopes the program will continue to grow and noted “there’s definitely a demand and a need.”

As a former “little sister” in the program, Cache Lynch, an IND junior and student program leader, has first-hand experience with Project K.IND. 

“You connect with people you don’t know, you form a different level bond than you would form with your blood siblings,” Lynch said. “You find out that you and your little sister have things in common.”

“I like the activities,” said Tychelle Godwin, Lynch’s little sister and an eighth-grader at Ss. James and John. “It (the program) makes me feel comfortable, because I might be going to the school (IND) next year.”

Project K.IND wraps up May 14 with a closing ceremony at Cardinal Shehan.

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Copyright (c) April 25, 2013

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.