Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Brauer, A14Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Brauer, A14, is creating new opportunities for Tufts students to engage with local communities and make contributions to the lives of kids.  As a Tisch Scholar for Citizenship and Public Service, Brauer has developed a program that pairs Tufts undergraduates with youths at the Boys and Girls Club of Medford for one-on-one mentoring and tutoring.  She began her work last fall, serving as the club’s volunteer coordinator.

“The first semester was all about getting my bearings and assessing their needs,” said Brauer.  “I had a lot of help from Jacquelyn Rudis, the director of the club, and Dana Benjamin, who oversees all the clubs in the county.  They’ve done a great job bringing in high school students and former youth club members as volunteers.  I worked with Tufts groups that were already involved, like the Social Justice Arts Initiative and Strong Women Strong Girls, managing their volunteer process and working out the schedules. And I helped bring in new groups, like the Tufts Quidditch team who came and taught the kids how to play.”

While interactions with Tufts student groups enriched the experience for Boys and Girls Club members, it became clear that some kids would benefit from more focused involvement with engaged young adults.  Last spring, Brauer focused on launching a one-to-one mentoring program.

“We had nine mentors, including myself,” she said.  “Mentors volunteer for at least two hours each week, one of those during the ‘power hour’ when the kids are working on their homework.”

The art history major added that she’s loved the opportunity to interact one-on-one and provide direct service to youth in the community.

Brauer said courses like School and Society, offered by the education department in the School of Arts and Sciences, have enhanced her experience in the scholars program, and have played an integral role in educating her to better serve the community and the Boys and Girls club.  One of many courses on Tisch College’s Active Citizenship in the Curriculum list, the class focuses on the attempted desegregation of US schools, particularly in the Boston area.  Taught by lecturer Steve Cohen, the courses encourages students to examine how social issues are play out public school settings.

Now in her junior year, Brauer is building on what she’s learned and expanding the program for the fall. The Tisch Scholars program consciously builds knowledge and skills year-by-year, so students can take on increasingly complex and meaningful projects.

Members of the the Medford Boys and Girls Club play a game of Quidditch, guided by the Tufts Quidditch Team.
Members of the the Medford Boys and Girls Club play Quidditch, guided by the Tufts Quidditch Team.

“The student body at Tufts wants these opportunities,” she said.  “There’s a group of mentors continuing from last year, and we’re adding new ones.  The goal is to have at least fifteen, and I’m confident we’ll get there.”

Brauer says the key is making sure there’s a good match between Boys and Girls club members and Tufts mentors.  She works with each potential mentor to create a profile, based on their experience and interests, then works with staff to match mentors to students who most need academic and social support.  Students range from first to eighth grade, and the goal is to help them do better both at the Boys and Girls club and in school.

Before the mentors begin working with the youths, Brauer holds workshops with each group.  “For the Tufts students it’s about what their role is, what the club is like, and how to support the kids while maintaining boundaries,” she said.  “For the mentees and their families and it’s about preparing them for the program, and helping them to understand what to expect.  We have the kids and their families sign an agreement with the club, to make it a mutual commitment.”

“The relationships develop gradually,” said Brauer.  “The first hour they’re working on homework, and the kids are split up by age.  Normally there’s only one staff member in the room with the whole group, so the mentee gets one-on-one attention they wouldn’t otherwise.  During the second hour the club has activities and programming, but sometimes the kids want to spend more time with the mentor, which can mean continuing with homework, working on a personal project, having a snack, or doing something outside like drawing with chalk.  You let them take the lead.”

“This fall we’re doing a journal exchange to help build the relationship,” added Brauer.  “The mentor and mentee decorate the book together, and then they trade off, each keeping it for a week and using it to write to the other person.  It really helps break the ice and get them communicating a little more deeply.”

Brauer is committed to building the program as a scholar, and making sure it can be sustained after she graduates.

“I want it to continue and flourish,” she said.  “I think sustained active citizenship is really important, it’s how you can create a lasting change.”

Originally published October 2012