Over the past three years at Pinkston Street Elementary School, Bob Fleming has been joining a group of fifth-grade boys for lunch.
Through Vance County Schools’ Lunch Buddy program, available in all 16 schools throughout the district, the semi-retired legal counsel for Barnett Properties in Henderson receives a new batch of students each semester, joining them for lunch on a regular basis.
The program, most active in elementary schools, involves volunteers going into the schools during lunchtime, simply to spend time with a student or group of students, eat lunch and serve as a positive role model.
Thursday afternoon Fleming waited in the hall for his lunch buddies to be released from class. Moments later he was surrounded by four smiling faces ready to join him in the cafeteria.
Fleming got involved with the Lunch Buddy program through his church, First United Methodist in Henderson, which has partnered with Pinkston Street, working closely to meet the needs of the students.
“We do some tutoring, help supply some Christmas needs, and school supplies at the beginning of the year,” Fleming said.
Akhiris Holden was among the group of four boys chosen for the program.
“We talk about stuff like what kind of grades we’re getting on our test, or what kind of book we’re reading, and what it’s about so far,” Holden said.
As he sat down with his tray of food during lunch, he promptly informed Fleming of scores he and a friend received on their most recent math test.
“He made a 98 on his test, and I made an 80,” Holden said.
“That is our math man right here,” Fleming said of Amauri Harris, who received the 98.
“I only missed one,” Harris proudly announced in response.
Heddie Somerville, principal of 20 years at Pinkston Street, believes the Lunch Buddy program provides fifth-grade boys the chance to connect with someone outside their normal environment, and sees many beneficial aspects.
“We do it with our fifth-grade boys, those boys who don’t have that male connection at home, the group that will benefit most from that kind of a relationship,” Somerville said. “They have those conversations and you hear them having those conversations with other children.”
Fifth-grade lunch buddies are members of Magnus Hemans & Waverly Mills fifth-grade classes.
“The kids really look forward to Thursday,” Hemans said. “They like to hear stories, and it gets them thinking of what to do in terms of a career.”
A popular figure, and one who the boys have gained particular interest in, is Fleming’s son, who often participates in the program, visiting students for lunch and telling stories of his career as a park ranger at Kerr Lake.
“He works at Kerr Lake, and their lake is a pretty popular lake,” said fifth-grader Jesus Garcia.
Harris added to the conversation saying, “He told us about the park he worked at, and said that water is not so deep, but then when you go out it’s really deep.”
For Somerville those types of conversations are vital.
“They talk about his occupation, and did you realize if you go to school for that you have to really study nature, and science?” Somerville said. “So, that’s just really amazing.”
Contact the writer at email@example.com.
Want to help?
To be a lunch buddy in the Vance County Schools, contact the school of your interest and speak with the school’s guidance counselor.