In a steady stream of sleepy smiles and slow shuffles, Muncie Central High School students began filing through the main entrance doors held open by Supporting Our Students (SOS) members.
With a “Good morning,” “Have a great day” and a fist bump, SOS members welcomed each student personally and offered words of encouragement to start the school day.
Most students offered a fist bump in return; some even offered conversation, yet some avoided the contact and kept their heads down.
“There are so many kids that do interact with us; you can’t give up on them. In my experience, we’ve just been winning them,” said Johnny Strong, a 3-year SOS volunteer. “They didn’t start that way, but I think they all expect it now. You just have to keep on keeping on, and when you finally get a fist bump from a student who normally ignores you, it feels great.”
In 2016, during a meeting for Motivate Our Minds (MOM), 35 people began brainstorming ways to support the students, teachers and staff at Muncie Central High School.
The group knew they wanted to create a team that engaged the community and the students together, so they decided to gather a group of volunteers who would greet students every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
Mary Dollison, one of the founders of SOS, and seven other volunteers have now become “regular” greeters in their neon green shirts with purple SOS letters outlined on the front.
“We didn’t know what we were doing when we started out. The kids didn’t know what we were doing, and they wondered, ‘What are these strangers doing here with these green shirts? They look like they’re from outer space,’” Dollison said. “They were not friendly. They wondered, ‘What’s going on?’ We had no idea how to react because we were told to do certain things and not do certain things.”
Over time, Dollison said students began to warm up to the idea of having guests, especially when they began to recognize the same people each time.
“We’ve been told we’ve really helped with attendance since we first started,” Dollison said. “When we first started, we would watch students walk in and turn around and walk right back out after their parents left. But now, we don’t see that as much.”
Beyond making an impact at the school, SOS also partners with MOM to help connect students with different services when they need them and to offer guidance for parents.
For one volunteer, Steve Robert, that was offering to help a student who’d come to school with tape holding his glasses together for two weeks.
“I’d noticed him a lot, so finally one day I stopped him, and I said, ‘Hey dude, if you want some help with that, just let us know.’ And he kind of blew me off saying, ‘No, I don’t want that.’ But then, a minute later he came back and said, ‘Yeah, some help would be great,’” Robert said. “It’s stories like that which make me so happy to volunteer.”
Robert also said that every Tuesday and Thursday morning, he tries to make each kid feel important and special.
“I quit smoking in the year 2000, and I needed stuff to keep me busy. So I started going to the Y [YMCA] every night after work,” Robert said. “The guy at the front desk who handed out the towels, Mr. Goody, always said, ‘Oh hi Mr. Robert, here’s your towel. Have a great day.’ I mean, he was just so attentive to people.
“So one day, I said, ‘Mr. Goody, you don’t have to call me Mr. Robert,’ and he said, ‘Oh no. It’s my job to make sure you have a good experience here, and I’m happy to have it.’ I’ve tried to model myself after Mr. Goody. He made me feel like the Y cared if I showed up, and I want to do the same for these kids.”
Aside from greeting students each week, SOS volunteers also participate in “Lunchtime Opportunities” once a month, a program where they can eat and mingle more with students during lunchtime.
People from other schools have also asked SOS to do the same for their students on different mornings, but Dollison said it would not be possible for them because of the other volunteering commitments SOS volunteers have.
“What we would like to do is to help other schools find volunteers to run their own programs,” Dollison said. “We want the community to get involved and show their support. We also think it would be a great way for parents to get more involved with their children’s school.”
While she said she has a lot on her plate, Dollison added that the SOS program will continue as long as she is alive and well.
“We are so excited that they allow us to be here,” Dollison said. “We love promoting Central, and we love waking up early to support these students.”