Pacific Union College Gives Kids Their Own Day

By By Julie Z. Lee on November 14, 2007

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Although some parents would argue that everyday's a kid's day, students at Pacific Union College have decided otherwise. Remembering the childhood complaint of "Why isn't there a special day for kids?" the college students put together a special holiday honoring people under the age of five.

On December 2, Pacific Union College celebrated the second official Kids' Day on campus. Approximately one hundred pre-school children from local preschool programs gathered on the floor of the PUC gymnasium, each tyke paired with his/her very own college-age big brother or sister for the day.

Divided into groups bearing names, such as the "lions" and "wolves," the coupled students, young and old, visited different stations scattered throughout the gymnasium. Between face painting, relay races, a petting zoo, and bouncing in a gigantic inflated castle, impromptu piggy-back rides and games of duck-duck-goose abound.

"When planning the activities, we try to keep in mind the different ways we can stimulate the kids, whether it be physical, artistic, or educational," says Iram Leon, who is part of the organization commitee. "But the main goal is to have fun. If the kids have a good time, that's a great accomplishment."

Kids' Day was organized by PUC's Lighthouse Ministries, a community service oriented club. The idea for Kids' Day came about last spring, when the club was trying to develop a project that would allow college students to interact and hopefully develop a relationship with kids in the community.

"So many children need one on one attention, but it's hard to get," says Elizabeth Ritterskamp, one of the student organizers of the event. "This is a way for college students to reach out and find out what a difference a couple of hours can make."

After consultations with several pre-school teachers, Lighthouse was referred to the Napa and Solano county Head Start Organization, a child and family service program that offers opportunities for children of low income families to attend pre-school.

"At first they [Head Start] didn't think it was possible," remembers Jorge Gurrola, president of Lighthouse Ministries. "They didn't know how we would coordinate getting all the kids to our campus. But we discussed it some more, and I gave them a proposal that could work."

Somewhat on a test basis, Head Start sent the St. Helena-based school to PUC. Along with the children from Discoveryland, an Angwin preschool, there were approximately 40 kids all together. Lighthouse recruited 40 college students to volunteer their time, and Kids' Day was born. It turned out to be a great success.

"Everybody loved it, especially the kids. We heard that they kept talking about it at school and at home," says Jorge. "So this year, Head Start called and practically begged us to do it again."

Lighthouse plans to hold another Kids' Day during the spring quarter. One hundred eighty pre-school children are expected to show up, and there are already plenty of college students eager to participate in the festivities. This is surprising, considering that Lighthouse Ministries avoids the use of mass publicity, such as flyers, for recruitment. Instead, volunteers are found through personal invitations and word of mouth. This unusual technique brings in plenty of college students who, in spite of their busy schedules, are finding out it's worth the extra time.

"Lighthouse approached me in the cafeteria, and at first I was reluctant to participate because I thought I didn't have time," said senior communications major Anna McCart, who was entertaining her "little brother" with a shoulder ride. "But I'm so glad I did. I'm so glad."

When asked about the purpose of Lighthouse Ministries, Jorge is reluctant to give an exact definition. He is afraid of making a statement that will trivialize the club's intentions. Even the interview for an article was taken with apprehension, since Lighthouse does not seek attention for their accomplishments. After some hesistation, he answers.

"My philosophy is that you can give without loving," says Jorge. "But you can't really love someone without giving. With Lighthouse, we really love people; and we are constantly trying to find the needs in our community and ways in which we can meet them. We just want to exercise our faith and show the practical side of Christianity."

Back at the crafts table, a brown haired four-year-old glues the last macaroni shell onto his popsicle-stick picture frame. Later in the day he will add a poloroid of himself with his big sister to take home as a souvenir. Wiping his hands clean, he turns around and tugs on his big sister's sleeve.

"Can we go see the baby goats again?" he asks, looking towards the small petting zoo outside the gymnasium.

A flood of laughter from a nearby booth drowns out his big sister's answer. But the answer is most likely yes. After all, it's his day.