The program was started at the elementary school in 2013. Two years later, teacher Jacque DeGeorge, wife of Head Baseball Coach Dave DeGeorge, took over the program. About five players participated in the program’s inaugural year but that quickly grew as the players raved about the time they were able to spend with their buddies. Now about 25 players participate each year. The baseball players that choose to participate are paired with elementary school students at Hackett. Each week, the players visit their buddy to eat lunch together followed by ‘hang out’ time that typically consists of playing a board game and getting to know each other. The impact of the relationships built on the children at Hackett was clear from the start but the impact on the players could not have been foreseen.
“The Buddy Program has been very positive for Hackett students,” said Jacque DeGeorge. “The kids light up when they see their Buddy. They look forward to that visit all week. They memorize what day their buddy comes and they get so excited they start announcing it.” She noted that students have even said they came to school that day because they knew their Lunch Buddy was coming.
Buccaneer baseball players participating in the program noted the impact it has on them too. Junior catcher/first baseman Jake Baltierrez (Whittier, Calif.) said, “I’ve been a Lunch Buddy since my freshman year of college and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made so far. I love seeing how happy the kids get as they see us walk in the door.” His sentiments are mirrored by others that participate in the program.
“My favorite part of the program is how invested the kids get with all of us,” added senior third baseman Terrence Cribbs (Willowbrook, Ill.). Junior outfielder Ben Jensen (Ruston, Wash.) noted his favorite part is the excitement he is greeted with each time he arrives at Hackett. “The smiles and energy really make me feel like I’m making a difference.”
Regardless of what the pairs do, it is the visit itself that is the most meaningful. “The relationships we build with these kids is very important,” said Cribbs. “Having someone to talk to and hang out with means a lot to them.” That impact is recognized by the players as well. “This program is extremely valuable for the team because the positive impact we have on the students outlasts even the best days we have on the field,” added Jensen. The program has truly become part of the team’s culture.
Moving forward, Jacque DeGeorge hopes to get women’s sports programs involved as the program pairs baseball players with boys at the school currently. DeGeorge frequently receives requests from girls in the same grades to have a Lunch Buddy.
“Being part of the Hackett Lunch Buddy Program makes me proud to be a Beloit baseball player,” said Jensen. “To be welcomed with a high five and a hand drawn picture made just for me that my buddy made during their art time earlier in the week could turn any down day into the best day of the week. I don’t know who has a bigger impact on who.”
Coach DeGeorge is proud of the participation from his team and the positive impact felt by the students at Hackett and the Beloit College baseball program. “Our relationship with Hackett has been very rewarding,” said DeGeorge. “The kids love our players and greatly enjoy the attention they receive from a group of college students. At the same time, our players may be experiencing the biggest impact of this program. Our players have found out that when they devote their time to a child, things like batting average and ERA aren’t that important. Gaining this perspective has helped our players replace pressure with joy as both students and athletes.”