Volunteers find ways to ‘root for’ children during pandemic

A young boy uses a smart phone during a virtual tutoring session from his home. The Francis Center Dare to Care Kid’s Café tutoring program was adapted to an online format at the beginning of this school year.
(Photo Special to The Record)

When the pandemic forced the Francis Center’s Dare to Care Kid’s Café to close its doors last spring, no one imagined it would be closed for more than a year.

“We thought we’d re-open in two weeks,” said Ursuline Sister of Louisville Ruth Ann Haunz, who serves as manager of the café on the campus of St. John Paul II Church, 3042 Hikes Lane.

When the lockdown persisted through the summer, she said, volunteers started asking how they could help the children, who receive help with homework and are mentored by the center’s volunteers.

Volunteers were able to take the center’s tutoring and mentoring program online last fall. A group of high school students and adult volunteers tutor close to 30 students each week, said Sister Haunz.

“Some have been very creative in figuring out what they can do in this online format,” she said.

The Kids Café opened in 2016 to serve hot meals and provide help with homework three times a week to about 50 children, she said. Linda Miller has volunteered from the beginning. Before the pandemic closed the center, she tutored a group of about four children. Since the online program started, she’s been working one-on-one with two sixth-grade boys, she said.

A young boy reads during a virtual tutoring session from his home. The Francis Center Dare to Care Kid’s Café tutoring program was adapted to an online format at the beginning of this school year. (Photo Special to The Record)

“I’m not good with technology, so ours is over the phone,” said Martin in a recent interview.

Even through this unconventional route, they’ve made it work. For instance, one student sends her pictures of his math assignment or reads out loud so she can help him with words he can’t pronounce, she noted.

One doesn’t need much help with homework, but appreciates her calls just to talk, she said. The other child needs a lot of help, she said. She tutors him in social studies, reading, math and science.

Both students are Hispanic, but have a good command of the English language, she noted. Their families, however, struggle with English, which puts the children at a disadvantage with receiving homework help, she said.

“I really do see a language barrier that can keep them from helping their children,” said Martin. She calls them once a week, but she’s available to them whenever they need her, she said.

Sister Haunz pointed out that the program offers more than tutoring; the volunteers serve as mentors to the children as well.

“The kids need adults that care for them. I tell the volunteers that building a relationship with the child is just as important as their educational help,” said Sister Haunz. “They are mentoring them in all their activities in life.”

Martin agrees that developing a relationship with the children is important, especially during the pandemic when contact with people outside the home is limited.

“A child always needs somebody rooting for them to be the best they can be,” she said. “I feel very connected to both on a personal level. It gives me a purpose to be helpful to another child. I’ve been isolated from my own grandchildren.”

One of the high school volunteers, Carson Ching, a senior at St. Xavier High School, has been a volunteer tutor at the Kid’s Café for at least two years. He works with a fifth-grade boy for an hour each week, helping him mostly with long-division, multiplication and fractions.

“He has come a long way since the beginning of the school year,” said Ching.

Other than some occasional problems connecting to WiFi, he said the online program has run smoothly. Being able to help a student with schoolwork during the pandemic is important, said Ching who also works at a tutoring center.

“I know his mom tries to help him, but sometimes it’s easier for me to help him. It really does help him when I can tutor him one-on-one for an hour,” said Ching. “He’s progressed really well.”

Sister Haunz said the program will remain virtual until there’s greater certainty that it’s safe to meet in person.

To learn more about the Francis Center’s Dare to Care Kid’s Café, click here.

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