When you think of how a young, upwardly mobile Twin Cities couple would like to spend their free time, being a Study Buddy for a CommonBond housing community probably does not come to mind. However, for one young married couple, Sarah Martin and Mark Hickey, being a Study Buddy is how they spend every Monday after a full day at work. On their way home, they head to the Crown Ridge community in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. This unique CommonBond program not only provides a youth-friendly environment where young residents can develop the skills they need to succeed, but it also enriches the lives of the volunteers who, according to Mark, leave “each session with more from the kids than imaginable.”
Crown Ridge is a CommonBond community providing 64 homes primarily for families. It is nestled in a beautiful community with a church, a small shopping area, a park, and a coffee shop within a minute of its front doors. Upon entering the complex during after school hours, the front halls and adjoining Advantage Center are bustling with children of all ages. The Study Buddies program is so popular and the need is so great, that there are currently nine children on a waiting list at Crown Ridge to be matched with a Study Buddy. Fortunately, on every Monday afternoon, two very special and lucky children, Chloe and Malakai, await their adult Study Buddies, Sarah and Mark.
Sarah’s Study Buddy, 12-year-old Chloe, has deep brown beautiful eyes and a smile and demeanor that exude a level of confidence and maturity beyond her tender age. She’s happy and comfortable to talk about her favorite day of the week which is Monday, when she gets to see Sarah. After a debriefing of Chloe’s day, the two of them dig into her favorite subject – math. As Chloe confides, “Math use to be so hard, but now it’s easy!” Sarah explains that Chloe has worked hard to overcome her math hurdles and it was only through her hard work and determination that it happened. For Sarah, Chloe is her inspiration and is the “highlight of my week!” Sarah has been a Study Buddy at Crown Ridge for four years, the past three with Chloe. Sarah has watched Chloe grow up and has seen a positive change in the way she relates to people. “She’s smart, patient and isn’t afraid to speak up for herself.” Those are clearly tools that will serve her well as she heads into her adolescent years. For Chloe, she depends on Sarah for not only her homework help, but her warm smile and friendship when things aren’t quite going her way. As an added bonus, Sarah is a yoga instructor and has provided free classes for the Study Buddies children at Crown Ridge. Along the way, Sarah has taught Chloe a few extra breathing and relaxation tips that she, in turn, has taught her mother.
Around the corner from Sarah and Chloe is another Study Buddy team hard at work – Malakai and Mark. Malakai, a 9-year-old third grader is anxious to tell his story. He, too loves math, but it hasn’t been easy. But now, as Malakai proudly states as he snaps his fingers, “I get math just like that!” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mark, his tutor for nearly the past three years, is an engineer by day – the perfect math tutor! Mark and Malakai are even working on math skills that have yet to be introduced at school because Malakai has interest and wants to do more. Math and reading aren’t the only activities of the day, as they play board games, search for Waldo, and play an occasional football game. Of course, in addition to the excellent one-on-one instruction and assistance that Malakai receives from Mark, he also has found a friend. As Malakai said, “Mark is probably my best friend as a grown-up. We love all of the same things – math, word searches and the same colors.” Of course, Mark is quite attached to Malakai stating, “He has grown up by leaps and bounds over the past three years. He has a better attitude, works harder and is able to face a tough situation and know when and how to take a deep breath and walk away.” Mark beamed as he recounted this transformation of his young, gregarious friend.
Sarah learned about the Study Buddies program through a friend and then Mark just couldn’t help but join. When asked independently, they both shared similar thoughts regarding the program. They initially joined Study Buddies with the hopes of having an impact on an individual child, which they clearly have done. But in addition, they became part of a vibrant community of children and volunteers at Crown Ridge. They look forward to seeing all of the children, sharing a snack, playing a group game, and being a part of the silly and unpredictable banter that only a room full of children can provide. As far as they are concerned, they have been given a gift because of their volunteer work at CommonBond. Of course, Sarah and Mark are not your normal, young, married couple volunteers – they are a dynamic duo! As stated by Brenda Delaney, the Advantage Services Regional Manager for CommonBond Communities and based out of Crown Ridge, “Sarah and Mark have been exceptional volunteers, their commitment to the program has provided great stability for their Study Buddies and the impact they have had on each of them is immeasurable.”