Bigs & Littles together again through Buddy Program

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Eighth grader Jack Lang (left) will get homework help and advice this year from his buddy, Quinn Hundgen, who is a senior.

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO | Eighth grader Jack Lang (left) will get homework help and advice this year from his buddy, Quinn Hundgen, who is a senior.

Jack Lang is 13 and in the eighth grade.

A tough time for any kid.

He looks to his 17-year-old “buddy” Quinn Hundgen for help with homework and sports, but mostly for advice about how to handle various situations that might confront him as he moves into the high school.

“It’s good,” Jack said about the Buddy Program, which was renewed this year after it went on hiatus last year. Jack knows that whatever happens, he has a friend who will always be there to give him a push in the right direction.

“It’s really important for the school,” Quinn, a senior, said about the program, which he believes helps establish a sense of community between younger and older students.

The program, created in 2007 by the Communities That Care of Shelter Island nonprofit group, has been revived this year during a critical time for the school, which is undergoing major curriculum changes and even a reconfiguration in the use of space.

What gave the program new life, everyone agreed, were the energies of Quinn and sophomore Elizabeth Dunning, who led the efforts due in part to their positive experiences with the program when they were wide-eyed middle schoolers. They “essentially organized the entire program and ensured its success,” said faculty adviser Brian Doelger.

Communities That Care Coordinator Marilynn Pysher would add two other names to that list — Mr. Doelger and Peter Miedema — faculty members who stepped up to help reinvigorate and guide the program.

Mr. Doelger said that what makes the Buddy Program so special is it’s altruistic nature. It’s just “a bunch of good people [with] no agenda other than to help kids.”

Both older and younger buddies were “sincerely excited to join the program,” he reported.

There are now about 18 pairs of buddies, with kids in grades 6 through 8 being mentored by high schoolers, Quinn said.

While the program, which is one of several run nationwide by chapters of Communities that Care, is designed to tackle bullying problems that arise on many campuses, Quinn said he doesn’t think there’s that much of a problem with bullying on Shelter Island.

Nonetheless, he believes the program is important to help students deal with any issues that may arise.

Even though Quinn is graduating, with Elizabeth being just a sophomore, those involved believe it will continue into the future.

“Everything seemed to fall into place to make it an amazing start to hopefully a very rewarding year for our students,” Mr. Doelger said. “I am definitely convinced of the importance of the program in helping our students make good decisions.”

He predicted that the Buddy Program would continue to establish “deep and meaningful relationships” between older and younger students moving forward.

Karen Cohen, director of special events and youth engagement for the Mentoring Partnership of Long Island, another nonprofit that works with Communities That Care chapters, trained the older students.

Parent Susan Binder organized a pizza party to get the older and younger students interacting with one another.

“I got choked up; our kids are very compassionate,” she said.

The program has also given new impetus to the local CTC chapter, Ms. Pysher said.

She was disappointed when she had to cancel a parent program, Guiding Good Choices, this fall. In the past, the program has brought together parents to discuss their issues and work together to monitor their children’s behavior. But while program veterans continue to gather from time to time, there was insufficient interest in launching a new group.

With the re-energized Buddy Program, Ms. Pysher said she has renewed hopes.

The local chapter has some new board members this year who also are helping to revitalize the organization, she said.