Maureen Odegard, the principal of Highland Park School, said the buddies program started last year with three high school boys who began going to Highland Park after Odegard talked to High School Principal Craig Mueller.
They spoke of kids at Highland Park School who just needed someone to talk to, be their friends and listen to them. Mueller found three boys who were willing to go down to Highland Park, and it turned out to be such a success that this year, 21 high school students are participating.
Two of the boys graduated last year, but the third is still participating in the program.
"So, one student still has their buddy," Odegard said. "It's pretty neat."
At first it was nine boys who were participating this year. Odegard talked to Mueller about getting girls interested in joining the program, because she had girls who had needs too. Mueller went to John Ita, who supervises the high school Key Club.
Ita said the Key Club was very interested, and the rest is history, Odegard said.
China Bohn, a senior, and Hannah Pepprock, a junior, are the two spearheading the project from the Key Club.
"It's a buddy system, not a big brother or big sister thing," Bohn said. "We try to be a positive influence in their lives."
"We try to be a role model for kids who might not have one and just be a friend," Pepprock said.
Both girls said due to the popularity of the project, they will be able to keep the system one-on-one instead of high school students having to take on two or more buddies.
"We're looking to double the number of boys," Bohn said.
Pepprock said there are 21 volunteers from in and out of the Key Club, but that number is growing.
"We want to keep passing the project down through leaders of the Key Club," Pepprock said.
Odegard said she is talking to more students, trying to set them up with a place in the project.
The high school students visit their buddies at Highland Park throughout the day, depending on when their study hall hour is. Each high school student involved in the project visits Highland Park once a week for about 30 minutes, though once the year gets rolling, they might take a look at which students would benefit from two visits a week, Odegard said.
"The high school students pick their day," Odegard said. "They have to manage their schedules and be adults."
"This is all student-led," Ita said.
The leader of the Key Club had the idea of creating committees within the club and Bohn is the head of the Children and Communities Committee. She and Pepprock decided to mentor at Highland Park.
"I think the big thing that will come out of this is that the high school kids will get as as much out of it as the Highland Park kids," Ita said.
Ita said he is trying to make sure the project continues on beyond the 2013-2014 school year.
"I just want to make sure it doesn't just happen this year just because we have an enthusiastic group of kids this year," Ita said.
Odegard said the benefits of the project to the high school students is the spirit of giving.
"It's just giving themselves, saying there's a need in the world and I'm going to be a part of it," Odegard said. "To see young people wanting to help their community in that way is a great thing."