Be a Pal: PCI ministry “builds bridges”

13 years ago Triangle 0

by Billy Findley
Copy Editor

Photo courtesy of Phillip Kohler. Senior Melissa Longoria with her little pal of four years, 10-year-old Selena DeLuna
Senior Melissa Longoria with her little pal of four years, 10-year-old Selena DeLuna. Photo courtesy of Phillip Kohler

Pals is a PCI ministry dedicated to befriending and mentoring children in need. Throughout each week of the semester, members of this team travel into neigbourhoods, trailer parks and government housing in Dayton and other residencies in the southern Tennessee area. According to Pals team leader senior Phillip Kohler, the ministry’s mission is to match children (little pals) with specific college students (big pals) who will spend at least a few hours a week hanging out and getting know each other. According to PCI Director Ben Norquist, most of the children are recommended by people in the community.

The children, ages 5 to 17, are often in situations where the family is dysfunctional, according to Kohler. Some children hardly receive any attention from their parents. To make matters worse, the families often have low incomes making it difficult for the parents to adequately provide for the children.

Kohler said that one time, while visiting a little pal, he ran into a boy whose father had been taken to jail the week before. The child, with his mother at the time, hadn’t been recommended by anyone so Kohler seized the opportunity to befriend him and took him to one of the chapel services.

“When he thinks of somebody he can trust, he knows he can trust us,” Kohler says. According to freshman Kristen Culver, her experience as a big pal revealed the lack of attention the children receive.

“The kids just stare at you because they know you’re a pal and they all want a pal,” Culver says.

Culver is responsible for one of the youngest of the little pals, 5-year-old Victoria. Culver says she and Victoria hung out on the Bryan campus, and had dinner at the cafeteria. “She ate all my stir fry,” Culver says.

Culver says Victoria also needed a new pair of shoes badly, so they went shopping afterward.

According to Culver, Victoria lives with her mother and grandmother, and it didn’t seem like she was receiving some of the most basic needs at home.

“It didn’t seem like they wanted her around a whole lot,” Culver says.

According to Kohler, for several members, the mentoring process has led to some lifelong friendships between the students and their pals. Some big pals have been with their little pals since their freshman year of college. One student had her little pal as a bridesmaid in her wedding Kohler says. According to Norquist, Pals is a way of “building bridges” between the students and the young people in the community. One of the greatest needs pervading the lives of the children is the inability to connect with families that are not dysfunctional, Norquist says. This year, Pals has teamed up with the New Mercies ministry at Westminister Presbyterian Church to find families that are willing to “adopt” a big pal and a little pal one night each month for a year.

“This could be a great way for children to see that families can be a good thing,” Norquist says.

Pals has more than doubled its size with the addition of 12 new members this semester, but the need is still