Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Al’s pals help elementary kids explore creativity

Whether it be animal lore, cooking, flute or photography, all of the mentors in the Al’s Pals mentoring program have something different to bring to the tables, gym and library at McKenzie Court.

Al’s Pals is a new mentoring program created this year. About 60 students, including greeks and independents, Honors College students and non-Honors College students, and students of different races, go to the McKenzie Court Community Center on Wednesdays and Thursdays to work one-on-one with students who live in the apartments there.

The mentees are students from nearby elementary schools and range from kindergarteners to sixth graders. When school is over, they can walk from their home to the community center to meet up with their mentors and work on homework, play in the gym and read.

Star Bloom, who created Al’s Pals, said she believes this new mentoring program is effective because it provides students with a mentor who can help them with their homework, be a role model and become their friend. The students are split into three groups by age and rotate between exercise, reading and studying. This way, the students are being helped one-on-one academically and also acting upon their after-school energy.

Rob Heflin, a second-year-graduate student who worked with Bloom to create Al’s Pals, said the program is unique in that it is located in the neighborhood where the children live rather than in a school environment, which allows for more flexibility in the curriculum and the opportunity to have family events and enrichment activities.

“I think it is great for kids to build relationships and be able to work with students who are their age but go to different schools,” Rob Heflin said. “Also, by working with a community, we have gotten much more parent involvement, which is something we hope to grow.”

Heflin said another way Al’s Pals differs from other mentoring programs is that all the volunteers are involved because they want to be, as opposed to getting credit for a class. All volunteers have to fill out an application and go through an interview before becoming a mentor.

“The last program I worked with had a large number of mentors that were required to be there as part of classes,” Rob Heflin said. “All our mentors really want to be there and have done an amazing job of engaging with the kids and taking initiative to improve the program.”

Junior Cameron Shevlin is a student leader for Al’s Pals and brainstorms with Bloom and other leaders about new and interesting activities for the children. Shevlin, who has been mentoring for two years, said she has faith in mentoring programs because they provide children with encouragement, a good environment and a real-life role model.

“A lot of times there are kids that don’t necessarily have someone to look up to,” Shevlin said. “Programs like these give real life examples that they can talk with and interact with.”

Bloom and other mentors said they agree that the benefits of being a mentor are two-way. Shevlin said she gets just as much out of the mentoring as the children do, and student leader Jack Heflin values the importance of building a relationship with the children.

Jack Heflin, a junior who has been mentoring since he was in 8th grade, calls his mentoring experience life-changing, and said he volunteers to give the gifts of encouragement and a vision for the future to children. He said UA students are fortunate to be here and have all had help on their journey to college.

“There’s nothing better you could do in this world then make a difference in somebody’s life,” Jack Heflin said. “If one kid chooses to make a better decision, then the whole program has been a success.”

Although there are only half as many male mentors as females, the fact that there are males is a good thing, Bloom said, because boys will have a male college student to teach them how to behave. The mentors come from all areas on campus, and their majors range from math to criminal justice to biology to international studies.

As a member of a fraternity, Jack Heflin said he enjoys the diversity of mentors within the Al’s Pals program.

“This is the most diverse environment I’ve been in in college,” Jack Heflin said. “We’re all working towards a common goal – making a difference in these kids’ lives. This is how we tear those barriers down.”

Bloom said the need for mentoring programs in the area is enormous, and she said she feels the communities are letting young people down. She said she hopes to go forward with the program next fall and hopefully expand.

“After four or five weeks and that child’s face lights up when you get there and they bring that report card home that has a better grade, you just can’t help but say to yourself ‘I am doing good here,’” Bloom said. “When you’re part of something like this and see the problems that others are facing, it puts things in perspective and makes us grateful for things in our own lives.”



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