Making an impact

GVL / Courtesy - GVSU Pals
The Grand Valley State Pals Student Mentor group poses for a photo at Campus Life Night in parking lot H on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016.


GVL / Courtesy – GVSU Pals The Grand Valley State Pals Student Mentor group poses for a photo at Campus Life Night in parking lot H on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016.

Tylee Bush

The Grand Valley State University Pals Student Mentors organization is dedicated to making an impact on the lives of at-risk youth in the greater Grand Rapids area by partnering disadvantaged kids, ages four to six, with GVSU students, or “pals.” These GVSU students are encouraged to mentor the children with whom they’re paired and to be role models for them.

Students are expected to spend a minimum of four hours per month with their mentees, and they are encouraged to mentor whenever they want and however they want. Some students spend time with their mentees by taking them out to eat, while others attend their paired kids’ sporting events. Still others go to the park or shop at the mall. All bonding sessions are done on their own time and at the convenience of the students and the children’s families.

Additionally, GVSU Pals provides the students and children with one free event to attend together every month. These events include free bowling, music lessons, sporting events and many others.

For example, in November, 2016, GVSU Pals held a Thanksgiving dinner with traditional home-cooked food for mentors and mentees to enjoy together. Kids were then sent home with the leftovers to share with their families. Next month, students and mentees will be offered some free bounce time at Sky Zone Trampoline Park. The organization is run on donations and fundraisers, which makes these free events possible for students and kids.

“Students at Grand Valley should get involved with this program because of how rewarding it is,” said Mariah Modson, president of GVSU Pals. “No matter the age, every one of them loves the experiences they get out of the program. It is honestly so fun, definitely one of the best decisions I have made here at Grand Valley.”

Beyond their time invested with the kids, GVSU students who volunteer as Pals mentors are also expected to attend a monthly general assembly and occasional training sessions. At these meetings, all members of the GVSU Pals organization get together, and various guest speakers from the area come in to talk about the importance of mentoring kids.

Aaron Robert and Lelah Davis are both public relations coordinators for GVSU Pals. They began as volunteer mentors, and now they additionally collaborate on various approaches to best promote the organization and increase student involvement.

Aaron Robert enjoys his position in the Pals organization, as well as his role on the executive board.

“(Volunteering for Pals is) not a big commitment but makes a really big impact,” Robert said. “Just being there for the duration of a year with one kid is huge.”

Davis is also grateful to be involved with GVSU Pals. She was looking for ways to get involved at GVSU and within the Grand Rapids community, so she took on the role of being a Pals mentor to two kids her sophomore year of college.

“It changes every kid in a different way, but you can definitely see the benefits of it, and it’s the most amazing feeling,” Davis said. “I can’t imagine not being involved in (Pals).”

GVSU Pals is a unique volunteer opportunity for students, given that it has the potential to extend beyond a student’s college career. Students aren’t limited to mentoring their kids strictly during their time at GVSU. Instead, they are both welcomed and encouraged to remain involved in their mentees’ lives well beyond graduation.

“You continue your relationship with (the kids) for however long you want through your college career, and then generally you stay in contact with them after you graduate,” Davis said.

Currently, there are about 143 GVSU students volunteering with Pals, and the organization is always looking for more volunteers to keep up with the increasing number of kids involved. Students from all departments are encouraged to join because, no matter their degree, volunteering with Pals enables students to give back to their community and make a lasting impact on a child’s life.

Families are allowed to enroll their children with Pals at any time throughout the year, so GVSU students who would like to become mentors have the option of open enrollment as well. Pals is always accepting applications online, so students do not have to wait for the beginning of a semester or the start of a new academic year to apply.

The application process to become a Pals mentor can be found at the organization’s website at, and the online application is followed up by a background check and interview. After that, students are immediately paired with a child and encouraged to begin mentoring them.