The Oxford Eagle
Leap Frog is an after school tutoring-mentoring program that serves first through third graders in Oxford and Lafayette County.
“We might make an impact on these kids’ lives,” volunteer Mary-Kate Rowland said, “but at the end of the day, they’re the ones changing ours.”
Rowland has been working with Leap Frog for most of her college career. As she enters her senior year at Ole Miss, she thanks the children of Leap Frog for changing her life.
“Leap Frog has given me a lot more than I thought it would,” Rowland said. “It has really opened my eyes to different family situations and the effect it can have on kids. It taught me a lot more compassion and understanding.
“With a lot of these kids, you have to understand that they might be acting out or doing something bad because they need the attention they’re not getting at home, or they have something going on at home and don’t know how to cope. I’ve really learned to take everything in and to not pass judgments so quickly.”
Oxford Leap Frog recently held their annual Christmas party at the Orchard Church. Rowland said it is important to have events like the party to give kids the extra attention they may not be receiving at school or at home.
“It lets them know that there is a group of people who care about them and want them to have a good Christmas,” Rowland said. “The reason we try to do this extra thing for them is because we know a few might not get to have a good Christmas, and we want to make it the best we can.”
When Ole Miss sophomore Savannah White heard about the opportunity to volunteer at the Leap Frog Christmas party, she jumped in.
“Parties like this one, as well as the Halloween one, are important for the kids, simply because they deserve it,” White said. “They deserve to get a little of bit of special treatment, and to know their hard work is not going unnoticed.”
White wishes she could dedicate more of her time and become a mentor, but she said her schedule interfered this year. She hopes to be a full time volunteer next semester.
“I have yet to see anyone without a smile stretching ear to ear on party days,” White said, “and I don’t think it’s just because of the goodies either. I don’t know quite what it is yet, but something deeper happens to them when they are able to let go and just relax.”
White said being around the kids makes her a better person. She said the joy they bring is extraordinary, and they never fail to brighten her day.
“I was taking pictures of them, and a girl asked for a picture, so I said okay, and snapped a shot,” White said. “The girl stopped and said, ‘No, I want a picture with you so I can take it home.’ It made my week. It’s things like that I’ll remember forever.”
White said her favorite part of the party was watching kids get picked up by their parents because they got to show them all the crafts they had made.
“There is just something about seeing someone’s face light up when they are talking about something they love,” White said. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful things.”
Rowland said parties like this are safe havens for kids. Even if it’s just for two hours, it is two hours that is all about them. They don’t have to worry about anything else.
“All the kids need to know what it is like to actually be a kid,” Rowland said. “Sometimes they worry about things that I never even knew, and certainty didn’t think about at their age. They get robbed of their childhood.”
Rowland said she has grown attached to the kids and cares for them like family.
“I know a lot about them, what they’re struggling with and how their home lives are, and I want to see them succeed as much as possible,” Rowland said. “I worry about certain kids because I know they have it harder than most, and I worry about what will happen when they age out of Leap Frog. I just hope they can get the support they need to succeed later on in life.”
White said being around children made her realize how lucky she is.
“I have a family who supports me and is there for me,” White said. “I have enough food to get me through the week without worrying. I have some extra money to buy clothes with here and there. Before volunteering, I took all this for granted.
“Many of these kids rely on food banks to get their meals. Most of them come from single parent, low income, or oftentimes both homes with multiple other children. Hearing what they go through makes you take a step back and be thankful for what you have.”
Both Rowland and White agree that you cannot help but fall in love with each and every one of the kids. White said whether you spend five minuets or an hour with them, you see something special in each one.
“Many of them have been through so much at such a young age, but they don’t let it affect them,” Rowland said. “They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, and honestly I wish I could be a little bit more like them.”
Rowland said the kids are able to get a sense of stability because of Leap Frog. Leap Frog lets them know someone will always be there for them. But she said it is because of the children that she is able to be the best version of herself.
“Leap Frog, in general, and especially on party days, taught me there is no better joy than seeing the joy you bring to others,” Rowland said. “I used to think happiness was all about making my life the best it could be. Little did I know, there was much more satisfaction to be found when you look for it in the people you touch.”