New program pairs university students and grade-schoolers

The Mercy Center is running a new program to benefit children in Erie and students here at Mercyhurst University.

Laura Lewis, Ph.D, and AmeriCorps VISTA Caitlin Sniezek developed The Mercy Buddy program. Their hope was to pair up 13 students in local grade schools, nine children at the Mercy Center, and members of the Social Work Club and have them meet for at least an hour every week. This consistency would be good for the children to have a friend there whenever they need them.

“These kids are really starved for attention. I think the Mercy Buddy program will be good one-on-one attention so they could get that,” said Sniezek.
“I hope it would boost self confidence and self esteem and make the kids overall happier.”

Lewis is the chair of the board at Mercy Center for Women, and she saw the need these children had for a program such as this.

“I spoke to Caitlin about the possibility of having some Mercyhurst students provide some afterschool activities for the children at MCW and she came up with the idea of a buddy program,” said Lewis.

“She has really taken it from there. She connected with the Child Specialist at MCW and reached out to Mercyhurst students in the social work, psychology and education departments about becoming a buddy.”

The children and buddies together will pick out the activities they do each week.

“As the kids and mothers get to know the buddies, if the buddies want to take them out for a snack or something, they can do that,” Sniezek said.

“Children and mothers filled out child bios to show what the child likes and dislikes. It shows what the kids want to do and what the moms are hoping their children will gain from the buddy experience. Then we can share that with whoever the child is set up with. That way they can get a feel of what the kid wants to do.”
Planning started approximately two months ago, and it is well on its way to becoming a reality.

“The kick-off party will be in November or December before Christmas break so that way the kids can meet their buddies and kind of have a fun party to start it off.

Also, the moms can come in and see who the buddies are, so everyone gets acquainted,” Sniezek said.

The program is for the children’s fun, but it is also so the buddies can help them with any education struggles they may be having.

“I plan on having fun with my buddy by playing house and to help them with reading,” sophomore Susan Baltes said.

Baltes says she is almost as excited for the program to begin as the kids are.

“I look forward to seeing the kids and hearing ‘Hi Miss Susan’. The opportunity came at a perfect time and I am so happy to be a part of the program,” Baltes said.
Sniezek said the program hopes to soon reach out to education, art therapy and psychology majors when additional children join the club. For more information, email