WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Whether it is teaching computer skills to elementary school students, playing blocks with preschoolers with special needs or gathering toys for patients in a children’s hospital, students at Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management are working to make their community a better place.
In turn, they say they get a lot back as well. “I enjoy going into the community and helping where I can,” says Christopher Burch, a member of the 2008 full-time MBA class, who calls Central, S.C., home.
Spending time with others who face a different set of struggles helps Babcock graduate students put their academic challenges in perspective.
“I enjoy doing stuff like this,” Burch says. “It’s fun to play with the kids. I like the chance to act like a kid. It brings you back to reality in a way. It reminds you that school is not the most important thing in life.”
Leah Warfield is also a member of the 2008 full-time MBA class. The Gibson City, Ill., native spends a lot of her free time volunteering and helping area children.
“Everyone here at Babcock is so serious, so it’s fun to get away for a little while and hang out with kids,” Warfield says. “We’ve all worked hard to get here (Wake Forest), but everyone here is fortunate. Not everyone is as lucky as we are. So we feel that it’s our responsibility to help them where we can.”
Both Warfield and Burch took time out on a recent Friday to hang out with 3- and 4-year-olds at The Special Children’s School. It was the students’ second visit this fall to the school that will be the recipient of the proceeds from Babcock’s annual spring charity auction. “We wanted to get to know the kids better, and they’ve allowed us to be involved hands-on and build relationships,” Warfield says.
Warfield explained that the students chose the school that specializes in helping children with special needs because it had been on the short list of charities to help in recent years but it hadn’t been picked yet. “They have a great organization,” she says. “They do great things with kids with special needs, and they deserve our help.”
William Donohue, executive director of The Special Children’s School, says the show of volunteerism by Babcock students provides an academic resonance for him – students from a setting of higher learning sharing their gifts with students just beginning their academic journeys. “In that the MBA is a special degree in higher education, this is all the more impactful that these students would share their time and joy with those less fortunate,” he says. “It gives me hope and confidence in our social structure and society that graduate students in business – our country’s future leaders – would give so generously.”
Warfield is also a driving force behind Babcock’s annual toy drive that this year collected the equivalent of 186 toys, beating last year’s record of 146. The toys and gift cards will go to Brenner Children’s Hospital for its holiday party on Dec. 1. Babcock is the primary source of gifts for the party, and students have been collecting them and helping hand them out at the party since 2003. Brenner specializes in treating cancer in those ages 6-17.
Warfield is also among the students who are teaching computer skills at Mineral Springs Elementary in Winston-Salem. Others include Daniel Adler and Yoko Ishiyama, members of the 2009 full-time MBA class; and Ryan Brookman, a member of the 2008 full-time MBA class.
Adler, who is from Richmond, Va., led the fourth- and fifth-grade students in their first after-school enrichment computer lesson.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to give back to the community of Winston-Salem and to do something outside the classroom,” says Adler, who has mentored students in the past through Junior Achievement. “I thought I could practice skills I’ll be using after I get out of school.”
Ishiyama is from Funabashi Chiba, Japan, and she joined the group because she wanted to see what elementary schools in America were like. “I want to see what life in America is like outside of school,” she says. “It’s my first time visiting a U.S. elementary school. I’m exploring America. I want to see the differences between Japanese kids and American kids.”
One difference Ishiyama noticed right away was when they pulled up to the elementary school. “I saw parents picking up their kids,” she says. “In Japan, kids walk to school.”
Ishiyama told the Mineral Springs students that she needed them to help her learn English.
Brookman, a California native, says he volunteers because he just wanted to get involved in the community. “I thought I could help contribute,” he says.
During the hour-and-15-minute class that meets once a week, the Babcock students teach the elementary students how to create greeting cards and use such programs as e-mail, Power Point and Excel. Adler showed them how to change a page’s orientation from portrait to landscape during their first lesson and the students also learned some basic keyboarding skills.
The younger students also learn the importance of goal setting and working cooperatively, says Peggy Desautels, who is the technologist for Mineral Springs and the computer club’s sponsor.
“The actual computer learning opens up doors for them, and what they learn from the students opens up windows of possibilities,” she says. “Their parents didn’t go to college, so most of these kids will be first-generation college attendees. The students tell them about their job interviews. It’s all about expanding their worlds. Technology is the vehicle, but interacting and getting to know each other is really powerful.
“It’s been a very strong partnership and a lot of my friends at other schools are jealous that we’ve got it,” Desautels adds.