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MSU alumni non-profit creates lasting impacts on Greater Lansing youth

May 18, 2024
Photo courtesy of Equiduct Inc.
Photo courtesy of Equiduct Inc.

While many college students groveled over the tedious task of studying for spring semester finals, others took to IM East for Equiduct’s annual Financial Field Day. Students from Mt. Hope Elementary School gathered to play games, chat with college students and faculty and learn more about opportunities for their future all hosted by Equiduct.

For this event, Equiduct teamed up with Broad Student Senate to help get college students informed and involved with the organization.

Equiduct, which originated as a registered student organization founded by John Henige and Jonas Padilla, has since grown into a local nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of students in the greater Lansing community

Recognizing the challenges faced by Lansing district schools, which are among the lowest-performing in the state, Equiduct focuses on bridging the gap between K-12 students and college volunteers. Not only does this provide a free opportunity for kids to improve their test scores, but it establishes a relationship with these volunteers to highlight a possible future for the students.

By providing academic support and fostering meaningful relationships, Equiduct endeavors to empower students and broaden their horizons.

“It’s all about showing these kids what they can do,” Henige said. “We want them to know they have options. They aren’t just restricted to one path or another. They’ve got a plethora of options just waiting for them.” 

Padilla underscores the importance of exposing children to diverse pathways to success, particularly first-generation students. For these students, college may seem like an abstract concept.

However, through interactions with volunteers, Equiduct aims to break down barriers and instill the belief that higher education is within reach.

Equiduct has two in-school programs where volunteers do in-classroom work with students. Students are divided into one of three categories based on standardized test scores to better target areas of improvement: reading, writing, and mathematics. Volunteers try to meet established standards set by the schools, but also aim to bolster each individual student’s confidence by targeting their own needs and ambitions, Padilla said.

“What’s really unique about these programs is that we aren’t full-grown adults, we’re college kids,” Henige said. “Our volunteers are able to reflect on when they were in middle school and they can better connect with these students’ struggles and worries. It makes it less of a simple mentorship and an actual bond between the volunteers and students.”

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While the mentors can earn volunteer hours, Padilla says that there is no other financial incentive for the work. Volunteers make the trek to these schools solely because they want to improve the life of the future generations, said Henige

One of Equiduct’s programs, Inspire to Achieve, creates lasting impacts on not only the students, but the mentors.

The Inspire to Achieve program pairs students with one college mentor to learn from while involving themselves in outings meant to build a steady relationship.

For Grant Layne, a volunteer on the Equiduct Leadership Team, Inspire to Achieve has created a space where he is able to see visible change from his own hard work put into his community.

Layne currently mentors two students -- both from different backgrounds. Like many other mentors, he wants to teach his kids about the opportunities around them, while providing them with fun outlets. Layne likes to take his students out to bowl, plays video games with them and takes them out to dinner

“These experiences have not only allowed me to help students with their academics but have also given me the chance to form genuine connections with them and their families,” Layne said. “Equiduct has provided a platform for me to engage in activities that align with my passion for education and mentorship, and promote educational equity.”

During the event, Layne helped organize and lead a hula-hoop game where students were encouraged to problem-solve and collaborate with one another. The aim of the game was to pass a hula-hoop from one end of the line to the other and back again without breaking the chain of linked hands.

Political science freshman Brandon Dosley also volunteered for Equiduct’s Financial Field Day with his cousin. As an out-of-state student, Dosley said he enjoyed connecting and learning more about the Lansing community through the eyes of children

Dosley’s favorite event was an egg race where students were placed into teams and had to balance an egg on a spoon as they walked toward the finish line

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While he never volunteered for Equiduct before, he says he understood why his peers do. In the few hours he spent, he already found himself connecting with the students and was exhilarated when his team won the egg race.

Other events throughout the day included classic games like tug-of-war and water balloon fights. In between, students were encouraged to connect and interact with volunteers.

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While the day aimed to get students connected and interested in their futures, it provided a similar outcome for the volunteers. Dosley said he never heard of Equiduct before the field day event; now, he’s more interested in getting involved with the organization

“Equiduct influences children to seek out good in their own lives,” Dosley says. “There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing how excited the kids get to see what could be their futures.”

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