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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 25, 2011
VOL. 49, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Chrism Mass: Consecration by oils sets faithful apart
Order of Malta group making annual pilgrimage to Lourdes
Carnival introduces kids
to college at Saint Mary’s

Students from St. Martin de Porres School attempt to catch a goldfish at the Carnival 4 Kids at Saint Mary’s College.
José Luis Aguirre photo

When Yesenia Baires was in fifth grade at St. Martin de Porres School, she went to a carnival.

She remembers the arts and crafts. The dunk tank was a big hit. “One of the most memorable memories,” the now-19-year-old recalled.

Maybe Rocio Rodriguez will have similar memories. The first-grader from Concord was among pupils from four schools who were treated to carnival activities ranging from arts and crafts to soccer kicks during an afternoon of fun at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Rocio Rodriguez decorates a hat at the Carnival 4 Kids. Her Big Buddies Joanna Guerrero, left, and Yesenia Baires join in the fun.
José Luis Aguirre photo
But beyond the hats they could decorate to take home, or the goldfish they could catch from a wading pool, the young visitors had something else that will last: interaction with a Big Buddy.

The pupils, who come to the Moraga campus on buses provided by Saint Mary’s, are paired with a college student for an afternoon of fun and games. Carnival 4 Kids, created by two Saint Mary’s students in 2002, is run by a student group under the auspices of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action.

Rocio got extremely lucky, with two buddies to accompany her for the after-school fun. One was Joanna Guererro, 18. The other was Yesenia Baires, carnival-goer-turned-big-buddy.

Sometimes it was hard to tell who was having the better time, as the buddies lined up near the statue of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, waiting for the buses to arrive.

An archway of balloons

With an archway of bright balloons on the chapel quad marking the way, the youngsters got off the buses and, in two lines, skipped their way to meet their buddies.

Crêpe paper decorated posts, and each young visitor received a backpack and a brand-new book upon arrival.

With first and second graders in her family, Yesenia was at home with Rocio.

“Are you excited?” she asked.

The little girl nodded.

“I was, too.”

Rocio tried her hand at the homemade clay, and deciding apparently, the texture was not to her liking. She then gamely visited the exhibit of snakes, tarantulas and lizards from East Bay Vivarium. Lucky to be in the company of two biology majors, she let her big buddies do all the reptile handling. Baires allowed a tarantula to dance across her hand.

A long line greeted the balloon animal makers. Although there may not be a balloon animal making course in the accounting program, the volunteers demonstrated great proficiency. Dogs and flowers were the order of the day.

Laurie Klemens, 21, a junior, shrugged off the accolades as she twisted balloons into shapes. “It’s just something the Accounting Club does.”

The International Club helped youngsters net a fish. One kindergartner was so happy: “I’ve never had a fish before,” he excitedly told his Big Buddy.

The Honors Program, Project Green and Legacy Garden teamed up to offer a little something to take home: Young visitors could plant a seed — flower or vegetable — in a small pot. The pots, too, were biodegradable. “Keep it green,” said Drew Williams, a Saint Mary’s senior.

Face painters found butterflies for the girls and dinosaurs for the boys to be popular requests. The young visitors could also sign a banner commemorating the day. One offered: Thank you St. Mary’s.

Madelein Morales, a 21-year-old senior whose next stop is a year with the Lasallian Volunteers, said the afternoon brought back memories. The sociology major and women’s studies minor worked in afterschool programs when she was in high school.

The Democratic Club had a Portuguese water dog — a lookalike to Bo Obama — that charmed the visitors.

“I don’t know who gets more out of it: the college students or the little ones,” said Marshall Welch, director of the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action on the campus. “College students learn about leadership and giving, while having fun with the children. These college students serve as great role models for the children.”

For Yesenia Baires, the day at the carnival as a Big Buddy to a little college prospect must have seemed like coming full circle. Saint Mary’s College came back into her life two years ago, about this time of year, when she was weighing where to go to college. As a senior at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, she found herself choosing among campuses of California State University, University of California and Saint Mary’s.

“I spoke to my counselor because I was having trouble choosing,” she said.

Saint Mary’s small classes and increased opportunities to interact with professors tipped the scales in favor of the Moraga campus.

She has not been disappointed. “The idea of having lunch with professors may seem ridiculous elsewhere,” she said. “Here you do.”

The sophomore biology major has her sights set on a career in veterinary medicine and soon will begin volunteer work at the Oakland Animal Shelter.

Her older sister, Rosemary, graduated from Saint Mary’s College in 2006. She’s the first in the family to do so: Yesenia is carrying on a new family tradition.

In addition to her rigorous academic schedule, she finds time to give back to the community. “I do LEO Center Tuesday and Thursdays,” she said. At the Lasallian Educational Opportunities Center, near St. Martin de Porres School’s Oakland campus, she tutors middle-school students in math and Spanish.

“I love teaching,” she said. Sometimes she stays two hours, other days longer. She doesn’t seem to mind the hours. “It doesn’t seem that long,” she said. “It’s so much fun to be there.”

Back at the campus, within view of the carnival, a banner proclaimed: “Let us remember. Celebrate De La Salle and Our Lasallian Heritage.”

They did so, with an eye to the future.

Such a sentiment was not lost on Patricia Rios from Oakland, who attended the event as a chaperone with her daughter’s kindergarten class from St. Martin de Porres School.

“It’s my first year coming here,” she said. “I think it’s great fun for the kids.”

But she knew the day on the college campus was much more than a good time.

“We encourage them,” she said of her 8- and 6-year-olds. “We’re looking forward to that day when they come to college.”

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