Al's Pals offers mentorship for local, school childrenBy Madison Jinks | 04/08/2015 9:27am
Al’s Pals was developed in 2010 to meet two goals. The first goal was to provide academic assistance and social development for low-income elementary students, and the second was to improve leadership development for college students. When the program started, Al’s Pals had only 65 mentors and 30 elementary students. Four years in, the program involves more than 550 volunteers and 270 elementary students. Now housed within the Center for Sustainable Service and Volunteerism at the University, Al’s Pals has become the largest volunteer outreach project at the University.
“Children do not chose their parents or economic circumstances, but every child deserves support and a chance to reach their potential,” said Star Bloom, director of Al’s Pals. “For me, joy is helping others.”
Various schools in the Tuscaloosa community receive two days of mentoring per week. The program is offered a total of four days a week at four elementary schools. Each week from 3 to 5 p.m., volunteers travel to their assigned elementary school to meet with their mentee, who can range from kindergarten to fifth grade. During these two hours, volunteers help their mentee complete their homework and complete an enrichment activity. These activities can include everything from science experiments to learning Zumba. Bloom said these activities are meant to help the children find a subject they enjoy and encourage them to pursue it. She said many of the elementary students come from low-income backgrounds, so exposing them to as many different interests as possible is imperative.
Al’s Pals is meant to reinforce teacher’s lessons to their students by providing one-on-one assistance to each child. The program is also a support system for the child’s parents because Al’s Pals helps them complete their homework after school, allowing for more quality parent-child time at home, Bloom said.
Although research has not been done to prove these children do better on standardized testing through participating in this program, the social benefits of this program are endless, said Matt Moore, president of Al’s Pals.
“While I cannot tell you about test scores, I can speak anecdotally about Ian, a young seventh grader who keeps hanging around the Weaver Bolden Library and has taken a keen interest in their teen technology sessions,” he said. “I can tell you that Evonne, a sixth grade ‘graduate’ of Al’s Pals, encourages her younger siblings to stick with the program. The most minute of details are what inspire those who are in Al’s Pals to continue doing what they do.”
Meghan McCrann, a student leader for the program, said Al’s Pals also impacts its volunteers on a personal level.
“What I love most about the program is watching the impact Al’s Pals has on the mentees as well as the mentor,” she said. “Most people don’t realize how much your life will change while doing this program. This program builds a special bond between mentors and mentees, and it is one like I’ve never seen before. Watching the bond build between the mentors and mentees throughout the semesters is what I love most.”