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Lunch Buddies brings kids, mentors together



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GOING OVER SCHOOLWORK, Big Sister Patti Guilfoyle, Elkhorn, works with her “little,” Fallon, a first-grader at Eastview Elementary School, Lake Geneva during their Lunch Buddies time. Once a week, Guilfoyle mentors Fallon at the school, where they talk, review homework and eat lunch together. Lunch Buddies is a program through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program of Walworth, Rock and Jefferson counties.

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January 29, 2013 | 03:13 PM
Fallon doesn't like American cheese, which she had in her lunch. But she loves string cheese, which Patti just happened to have in her's.

They trade cheeses.

Sounds like two school friends trading, just to make lunch that much better.

Fallon, 6, is a first-grader at Eastview Elementary School.

Patti is Patti Guilfoyle of Elkhorn, a grandma and a Big Sister in the Walworth, Rock and Jefferson counties chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Fallon is one of five students at Eastview participating in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Lunch Buddy program.

For about 45 minutes once a week, usually Thursdays, Fallon and Patti get together at the school, share some time at recess and then share a lunch period together.

And what do they do, besides trade cheeses?

"I catch up on homework," Fallon said.

"You've got a ton of work to do," added Guilfoyle.

Just before they step outside for 15 minutes of recess, Guilfoyle said she and Fallon seldom finish their lunches on those Thursdays.

"We talk too much," she said.

During lunch, students can eat in the cafeteria or in the classroom. Fallon decides on the classroom.

Sitting down at two desks, Patti and Fallon get down to business. Patti brought a roast beef sandwich, while Fallon makes turkey and cracker sandwiches.

Fallon has blueberry applesauce. Patti's applesauce is unsweetened. Fallon likes Skittles.

Then comes the homework. Words that end in "ock." Clock. Dock. Sock.

Even Patti doesn't know all the answers. A picture of birds stymies the two for a while before the answer occurs to them.

Flock.

Then it's time to go over words ending in "op." Mop. Cop. Top.

"Hey, you know all those," Patti says admiringly.

Like most little girls, Fallon is shy, has a pretty smile, and is given to moments of energy, when she spontaneously pirouettes or spins on a chair in the classroom.

On the classroom wall is a short story Fallon wrote. It reads: "Santa is a good man.

He says "Ho, ho, ho," Fallon reads out loud to Patti. "Mrs. Claus gives Santa pixie dust to sprinkle on the reindeer. He loves all the kids."

"Pixie dust?" asks Patti.

Turns out, that makes the reindeer fly.

Like Patti said, they don't quite get done with lunch before the students come back into the classroom.

Time is up, and Patti and Fallon part ways for another week.

This is Patti Guilfoyle's second year as a mentor.

Last year, she mentored a fifth-grade girl at Eastview. But the program only goes to fifth grade.

So now, Guilfoyle has moved on to another little sister.

Guilfoyle has four children of her own, three daughters and a son, now all grown. She also has a grandson and a granddaughter.

Guilfoyle said this is different from parenting.

"I thought this is going to be hard." Guilfoyle said. Once she started, she discovered "it's the easiest thing I've done," she said.

"There are no expectations," said Guilfoyle. "Fallon is very accepting of who I am."

She said Fallon asked her early on if she was old.

"I said yes. I'm a grandma," said Guilfoyle. "And that was OK with her. She is a sweet child."

The important thing is to use those 45 or so short minutes to connect with the child, said Guilfoyle.

"If they're having a rough day, find out what's going on," Guilfoyle said. If that means talking to the teacher or social worker or principal, so be it, she said.

Drew Halbesma, Eastview principal, said he's glad to have the program in his school.

"It's one of those programs that helps the school bridge the gap between school and community," he said.

Not everyone has a perfect home life, Halbesma said.

"It gives our students a chance to have a mentor," he said.

He said the school doesn't have any hard data, but from observing students who are in the program, he said he believes it has a positive impact.

"They look forward to it and enjoy doing it," he said.

"Students have that period to spend quality time with an adult," said Emily Schumacher Eastview's social worker.

She said it helps with the youngsters' socialization and communication skills. It's also a time to have someone with them once a week who is there just for them and to be there for them.

Pam Carper, district director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rock, Walworth & Jefferson Counties, said January is National Mentoring Month which was created 12 years ago to raise awareness of Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programs and the need for mentors.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, founded in 1904, is the oldest most respected youth mentoring organization in the country.

According to Carper, there are more children on the Big Brothers Big Sisters waiting list than mentors.

In Walworth County, eight children on the waiting list, Carper said.

For more information, call (262) 728-8865 or visit www.bbbs4kids.org.

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