Varsity athletes give back in Friends Mentor program

Emily Solomon, Sports Editor

College student mentors play an important role in many people’s lives, and they are especially crucial for kids who do not have someone they can look up to in their own family or household.

The Friends of Children of Walla Walla Mentor Program brings Whitman students to many of the elementary schools in Walla Walla, partnering Whitman students with an elementary school student. Whitman students hang out with their mentees during the child’s lunch and recess once a week, providing them with a positive role model who plays a consistent role in the life of their mentee. 

Many of the children in the program have rough home lives and are in need of a positive mentor in their life. Additionally, many of the children who were selected to take part in the Friends program have experienced ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to some degree.

Friends Program Coordinator Marissa Ruzicka Lopez is very grateful for her role in helping connect Whitman with elementary school students, both of whom benefit greatly from having the other in their lives. 

“We believe that every child just needs that one special person in life to help guide them and be that consistent figure in their life to help them see a better future for themselves,” Ruzicka Lopez said. “Many children say that all week long they look forward to being able to spend time with their mentor. It’s something they will get to cherish their whole life – that their mentor came to visit them each week and showed up for them.”

Many Whitman varsity athletes have taken advantage of taking on a mentoring role in the Friends Program. They understand the importance of having a positive person in their lives to provide encouragement and joy, and the impact that has on the rest of the child’s life. Members of many Whitman sports teams have a friend whom they visit at lunch and recess each week, and they just might like it as much as their mentees do. 

Junior volleyball player Ruby Matthews has had a friend in the program for most of her time here at Whitman, and she enjoys the fun relationship she has built with her buddy.

“I think my buddy and I make a good, balanced team, reminding one another that life does not have to be so serious all the time and to seize the small, joyful moments,” Matthews said. 

Senior soccer player Kenzie Tierney has a friend at Sharpstein Elementary. She likes that she can go visit the school and get a break from the stressful Whitman atmosphere for a short amount of time each week. 

“I love that just 35 minutes a week can bring joy to a child,” Tierney said. “I think kids benefit from the Friends Program because they are given a buddy to look up to, to trust and to have fun with. I feel like I get just as much out of the program as my buddy does. For about half an hour a week I can go be surrounded by goofy, light-hearted elementary school students who bring me just as much joy.”

While elementary school kids can provide their mentors with a light-hearted break from college life, it also allows them a peek into what life is like in college. Many of the kids enjoy bragging to their friends about having a Whitman mentor who comes to hang out with them every week. 

“Kids who have mentors benefit by just being exposed to accomplished people like Whitman students,” Matthews said. “A lot of the kids in the program do not have positive role models, and the fact that they can count on us to be there for them is bigger than those 35 minutes a week.”

Since the program benefits everyone involved in so many diverse ways, Ruzicka Lopez hopes to expand the impact by getting more Whitman students involved. 

“I think the Friends Program could improve and gain more mentorships if we were more present on campus,” Ruzicka Lopez said. “It would be wonderful to be able to reach out to more students and share how important mentoring is. We partnered with the Student Engagement Center with Susan Prudente, and we love any additional opportunity to get to share about the Friends Program.”

Not all Friends participants have to be a member of a sports team. If you are interested in becoming a mentor and spending a day a week at lunch and recess with a child who might be experiencing one or more ACEs, contact Friends Program Coordinator Marissa Ruzicka Lopez at [email protected] or at 509-200-1580 to get more information or an application.