Campus Corps benefits both at-risk youth, CSU students

Gina Spoden

Campus Corps, a 3-credit service learning course, is looking to expand to a broad range of students who would like the opportunity to work individually with community youth.

Student-mentors work alongside a child between the ages of 11 and 18 for 12 weeks out of the semester, providing them with individualized academic support and activities that build self esteem.  

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The youth that enter this program are usually referred by surrounding juvenile justice systems, schools and human services due to possible difficulties with the law, substance abuse or neglect at home.

CSU students that participate in Campus Corps also have a 127 percent higher chance of graduating, according to recent study done by CSU’s Institutional Research Office.

Jen Krafchick, project co-director of Campus Corps, said this is due to the significant commitment students make to the program, but argues it is also largely because of the impact of the experience and relationships that students gain.

“Students, we know, want to have some experience through their college education that’s meaningful, that feels real, and Campus Corps really fills that,” Krafchick said.

The group setting at Campus Corps provides both mentees and mentors with a safe, fun and judgement-free atmosphere to share who they are and learn about others’ experiences.  

“It gets inside you and makes you want to know more about everyone else, including yourself,” said sophomore Matthew DeMatteo about his first semester with Campus Corps. “It’s not like I suddenly have the answers to life — it just feels like there’s nothing we can’t solve at Campus Corps together.”

Since the beginning of the program in 2010, over 1,700 youth in Larimer County have been helped, receiving both national and international recognition. Studies conducted by Campus Corps have found that participants in the program have decreased incidences of substance use and behavioral problems and have improved overall well-being. 

Campus Corps offers students an opportunity to develop professional skills, add to their resume, receive college credit and be better qualified for jobs.

“Campus Corps is a chance to step outside our CSU bubble and really learn about our community,” Krafchick said.

Students who are accepted into the program are assigned to a specific day of the week to meet in the Gifford building for their weekly session with their mentee group.

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Beginning with an hour of pre-lab, students meet to discuss readings and hear briefings from those involved in local education and legal systems. Mentors then take their mentee to a specific building on campus to encourage positive thoughts about college, followed by individualized tutoring to gear the youth toward success. The second half of the night is spent eating dinner and participating in activities that promote active lifestyles and pro-social behaviors. 

CSU students arrive an hour earlier and stay an hour later than the mentees in order to prep and debrief the experiences that are to come. Campus Corps focuses on student-mentors knowing the ‘why’ behind the actions of the youth they are mentoring.

“It’s actually applying what you’re learning in a way that has the potential to change somebody else’s life and change your own life, too,” Krafchick said.

Nicky Arja, a CSU student and lead mentor coach who has completed five semesters with Campus Corps, said the journey has not always been easy, but it has been worth it.

“It is so rewarding to go home after a long night at Campus Corps to know that I may be exhausted, but I changed some lives that night,” Arja said.

One of Arja’s favorite memories from her time at Campus Corps was when a youth mentee declared to everyone that she finally felt accepted and wanted, something she had not felt before.

Knowing that she had played a part in this girl’s happiness left Arja with a fulfillment she will never forget.

Tyler Werner, a senior who decided to become a mentor this past fall and has already enrolled for the spring semester, agreed with Arja.

“Here’s the thing: These kids need us. But, what you’ll soon realize is that they have just as big of an impact on your life as you do on theirs,” Werner said. “The sense of reward and accomplishment that you get from this program outweighs the three credits received, and when you are enrolled in a class for any reason other than receiving credit for it, I think that only then do you know how valuable that particular class is. For me, that class is Campus Corps.”

Collegian Reporter Gina Spoden can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @gina_spoden5.