There is a way for Auburn students to get involved in the community, be a role model and play with Nerf guns.
Hannah Rushin, a junior in communication disorders, spends a few hours each week with Jay, her 6-year-old “little brother.” Rushin is a volunteer for the Project Uplift program. Project Uplift is a mentoring program at Auburn that pairs college students with children ages 5 to 12 in the community.
Her freshman year, Rushin didn’t know about Project Uplift. When a friend saw how much she loved being with children, he suggested she look into the program.
“I decided I wanted to get more involved in the community and work with kids who don’t have the same opportunities I had growing up,” Rushin said.
Interested students must complete an interview with a Project Uplift Coordinator and attend a training session before becoming a volunteer. Rushin completed her training last fall, and she finally met her new little brother in February.
Jay just turned six this month. “He’s little. He still has so much energy,” she said. They play tag and hide-and-go-seek together. He loves playing with Nerf guns. “Hickory Dickory Park is great. We go there a lot,” Rushin said. “He doesn’t like to sit still.”
Mentors are encouraged to spend time with their little brother or sister, not money. Project Uplift suggests mentors only spend $5 each month on their little brothers and sisters. Rushin looks for inexpensive places to go, but mostly Jay just enjoys spending time on campus with Rushin and her friends.
Rushin said she tries to have other college students spend time with Jay when he comes over, especially boys, so he can have good male role models.
Being a mentor can be emotionally stressful. The biggest challenge for her is that sometimes she doubts she can make a lasting impression.
“I know I can’t control some parts of it. He’s going to go home and nothing’s going to change. He’s still going to be in the same situation, he’s still going to be doing the same things at school. You know nothing is going to get reinforced until the next time you see him,” Rushin said.
Rushin said relationships from Project Uplift can last a lifetime. Volunteers are encouraged to stay paired with the same child throughout their time at Auburn. Sometimes the Auburn students come back after graduation and visit their little brothers and sisters. Little brothers and sisters have been in the wedding of their mentors before.
Rushin said every time Jay is excited to see her, she realizes she is making an impact.