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A career for kids

“We connect college students with the most to give to kids who need it most.”

This mission statement reflects the goals and opportunities offered through College Mentors for Kids. The CMFK program, with chapters in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, connects young, underprivileged kids with a college mentor. At the beginning of the semester, each “little buddy” (from grades one through eight) is paired with a college mentor. Every week, these kids participate in after-school activities with each other and college students. Mentors are able to show their little buddies the importance of education, self-reliance, initiative, and confidence.

“This program gives kids the opportunity to have a mentor in their life,” says Curtis Ward, “which is first and foremost the most important thing a child can have: someone who is affecting them positively. We are also exposing them at an early age to the possibility of a higher education.”

Curtis, a recent grad, has observed the spectacular accomplishments of this organization for almost six years, since he was a UIndy freshman. Like many other students, Curtis had chosen UIndy for the welcoming feel of the campus, its smaller class sizes, and its personable faculty. The weekend before classes started in his freshman year, Curtis attended UIndy’s Life Expo fair, where clubs on campus promote their programs.

Expo inspiration

Although he was unsure of which club he wanted to join, Curtis knew he wanted to become involved in some organization that valued peer mentoring and positive role modeling—both ideas that continue to be a source of passion in his life. College Mentors for Kids was the perfect organization. Curtis dove head first into the position of fundraising chair in the first semester of his freshman year. Not long after, he became club president.

“I knew that I wanted to be in a leadership role as soon as I got into it, because I believed in their organization and mission. I served as president for three and a half years. During those three and a half  years, I set goals for myself and the chapter. I always like setting goals to see how I can challenge myself, as well as the organization, and see how we can grow.”

Growth spurt

UIndy’s College Mentors for Kids certainly has grown. During Curtis’s tenure, its chapter almost tripled the number of kids being served. Today, UIndy’s chapter is the largest in the area: 75 students come to campus weekly, gaining a better understanding of college education along with positive relationships. What began as a passion for a club in college has now turned into a flourishing and rewarding career. After graduating from UIndy, Curtis was hired as the associate program director for CMFK in Indianapolis.

“I just wanted to help give back to the community of Indianapolis by volunteering and making a difference in children’s lives,” he says. “You never know what their lives will become because a mentor helped them through our program.”

Leading leaders

Recently, Curtis has moved up the ladder. Now the senior associate program director, he helps college students hone leadership abilities. He also collaborates with eight CMFK chapters to ensure their expansion succeeds. In that role, Curtis has been able to reconnect with UIndy, visiting with many of the children he mentored who have continued with its College Mentors program.

“It was a really rewarding experience to see all of the kids that had been in the program since first grade progress all the way to sixth grade,” Curtis says. “I was able to listen to them to give a clear understanding of what college is and what they would like to do in the future. It was really exciting to see my work four years ago still being a part of each child’s life right now.”

—Elizabeth Hale ’15