For local children who may not otherwise have an opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy weekend outings in the Binghamton area, SUNY Kids provides free activities and lunch every Saturday.
Last weekend, 22 children from the Binghamton area, accompanied by 13 students from Binghamton University, took a day trip to the movies for the first SUNY Kids field trip of the semester. Most of the children come from foster homes and are appointed to the organization through the Broome County Department of Social Services.
“We help provide a fun, safe environment for the children to enjoy as well as to learn,” said Yana Kryvokhyzha, SUNY Kids president and a senior double-majoring in biology and Spanish.
Funded by the Student Association, the organization aims to give back to the community by keeping children off the streets and offering student role models. Between 30 and 40 children, who are between the ages of 5 and 13, attend the trip each week, accompanied by 10 to 15 BU student volunteers called “counselors.”
Last weekend the counselors took the children to see the movie “Wreck-It Ralph,” which left many of the kids quoting the movie’s main character throughout lunch and during the bus ride home.
“I think every trip we go on is an adventure and I can’t imagine my life without SUNY Kids,” Kryvokhyzha said. “I remember there was this one boy and it was his last year because he was turning 13. He wrote us a letter saying that when he grows up, he wants to be just like us. He wants to attend BU and become one of the counselors for SUNY Kids. It was very sweet and it truly touched my heart.”
Past trips included visits to Chuck E. Cheese, the Ross Park Zoo, the Discovery Center children’s museum, bowling alleys and apple orchards.
Many children said they enjoy these activities and that they look forward to the outings each Saturday.
“My favorite trip was when we went roller blading earlier in the year,” one 9-year-old girl said.
Aimee Munn, a junior double-majoring in economics and mathematics, has volunteered for one trip and said she had a great experience.
“I got involved with SUNY Kids because I love working with youth and wanted to work more with the community,” Munn said.
Annie Zhao, co-director and a sophomore double-majoring in human development and biology, said that SUNY Kids has approached different organizations for funding after being denied a funding increase from the Student Association this semester.
“The quality of trips depends on funding, so more funding gives a more quality experience to the children and can allow more children to attend,” Zhao said.
SUNY Kids also buys children presents around the holidays, since many of their parents or guardians cannot afford them.
Emily DeTomaso, co-director of the club and a junior majoring in mathematics, said the children that attend the trips tend to look up to their counselors.
“The children look forward to the trips every weekend, and really cherish their time with the counselors,” DeTomaso said. “Emotional bonds are formed between the children and counselors in a big-brother, big-sister capacity.”
Kryvokhyzha said that SUNY Kids has grown over time and is looking to recruit volunteers.
“The social worker that we work with has done an amazing job with advertising the program and it has grown,” Kryvokhyzha said. “We also try to advertise SUNY Kids throughout Binghamton University and we are very grateful to the students that volunteer their time to be a part of SUNY Kids.”