Church Program Gives New Brunswick Children a Place to Go After School

By: Gabriel Sustick

While many students return home after school others will walk down the street to the First Presbyterian Church to the Pilot Me Mentoring Program, which serves as an aftercare program for the students of Roosevelt Elementary School.

The founder of the organization, 42 year-old Helen Burd lives in New Brunswick and has been an active member of the community through other programs that take place at the church located on 100 Livingston Ave. in New Brunswick.  

Burd originally started the program 20 years ago when she realized how badly it was needed in the community.  She says she is a strong believer that if someone is struggling, it’s the community’s job to help and she has done just that with the help of the church and others.

The program has become larger enough to be added as an organization at Rutgers University.  Now, seven years in, Rutgers students can volunteer their time to become mentors to these kids in the program between 2:30-5:00 p.m.

Jen Sutter, a sophomore at Rutgers and vice president of the university chapter, says it’s a great way to help the younger population of New Brunswick “Most of these kids will go home and no one will be there because both of their parents work,” Sutter said.

Last semester the group had 40 volunteers, the highest amount there has ever been.  However, they are still limited to the amount of funding that they are given for their work with the kids.  

Each volunteer is assigned a child and is responsible for mentoring them for the semester.  They spend the time doing various activities, including theme days like science and ice cream day. They normally take field trips via the Rutgers bus system to places like the Rutgers Farm and parks in the area that are accessible via the bus system.

Kids can also do their schoolwork during that time, but it’s not required of them while at the program.  Many are encouraged though because while a majority of the students speak English, many of their parents are not as fluent, making them unable to help with their homework to the best of their abilities.

“You really don’t have to push them much” Sutter said, “If others are doing it they will likely follow.”    

The program is trying to get more funding, which determines how many different themed days and trips that they can take.  The group gets their funding from the Rutgers board but in many cases the amount is not enough or readily given.  Funding is a major reason why the program is capable of providing multiple activities and field trips for the children to participate in.  Without the funding, they are limited in what they can do with the children and how long the program lasts for.

The program is trying to get Rutgers to offer a scholarship to students who keep their grades up during their time through high school, Sutter explained.  It can be used as an incentive for when the students leave the program they continue to work towards something that’s connected to it, she says.  Right now there is not much news to report but Sutter expects it to gain more traction later on in the semester.

Sutter has seen firsthand how great of a reach this program has been and how much the children enjoy being in it since they always return for another year if they can.

“It’s really great when you come back and you see that one of the kids brought their siblings or friends to the group” Sutter said, “It shows that we are making a mark on them and they want to bring their friends into it as well.”

Burd acknowledges and appreciates what the students from Rutgers are doing by giving their time to help the kids that live in New Brunswick, Sutter says.

“She tells us that we’re part of the church’s community, that if we ever need anything like a ride or a place to stay we can always call her.”

The program provides a great benefit to the youth of New Brunswick, by giving them a place to go for them to have fun in a safe environment.  It’s a nice situation for parents, who may have to work while the children are home.  So instead of going home and sitting around watching television, the children can enjoy themselves and continue to grow and communicate with others outside of school.