Norby’s Buddies: Building Literacy and Resiliency


Mentors and teachers are vital to a child’s growth and learning within school. However, statistics state that 1 in 3 children will grow up without a mentor. In other words, within a classroom of thirty children, ten of them may never receive the support and resources they need to grow to their fullest potential.

In order to meet this need, a new service program called Norby’s Buddies has been started. The program matches children from Howe Elementary and St. Thomas More with a “buddy” in order to build literacy and resiliency skills.

Sr. Thomas 3
Joel Thomas, Americorps volunteer, reading to children at Howe Elementary School


Over 30 St. Norbert students are already serving at Howe Elementary School and St. Thomas More. They build relationships and connections with children through 1:1 attention during the daytime and after-school programs.

“[Students] might be the only ones who provide the children with the 1 on 1 time and attention they yearn for and need each day.” said Joel Thomas.  

Joel Thomas, an Americorps member through the Marshfield Clinic AmeriCorps program, is the volunteer coordinator for Norby’s Buddies in addition to being a volunteer himself.

The Norby’s Buddies program started after Jill Lavarda (‘94) from the YMCA and Chloe Hansen, Director of the Howe Community Resource Center, approached Nancy Mathias, director of the Sturzl Center, with a special request. Lavarda and Hansen saw a need for mentors and requested for volunteers who would work in a long term, 1:1 format. Their idea was actually based on a Norby’s Buddies program that existed back in the 1990s at St. Norbert, in which SNC volunteer tutors served at Tank Elementary School.

As a result, Norby’s Buddies is geared towards students who want to gain more experience working within the classroom over a semester or longer period of time. Whether students are Education, Psychology, or Biology majors, Norby’s Buddies may be a way to discover a passion for working with kids. It is a great opportunity for students who only have an hour or two a week and want to stay involved with children they previously served as part of an Academic Service-Learning class or other service program.

“There is no better way to discern your vocation as a teacher than applying theories from the classroom to your work with elementary school students,” states Joel.  

One important aspect of Norby’s Buddies is that it is extremely flexible and allows students to work with their college schedules. Some students choose to volunteer one hour per week, while others are in the classroom for three hours in one day. Volunteers are asked to serve at least 15 hours per semester.

In addition, Norby’s buddies allows St. Norbert students to build cultural competency.

“It’s an incredibly culturally diverse school,” explained Joel. “Kids come from all over the world, Sudan, Laos, Mexico, Honduras and here in Green Bay.”  

Over 90% of the children are low-income and 34% have limited English proficiency. Many of the student volunteers are also trained on trauma-informed care, classroom management, and how to help students overcome adversity.

For students whose passions don’t involve working in the classroom, there are many other opportunities to help children through programs at the Howe Community Resource Center. 

Students who want to get involved can email Joel at or stop by the Sturzl Center to chat with our friendly staff members.


Sources: ;




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