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Aug. 4, 2020

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Lunch Buddy trio, mentor break bread once more

Nine years ago, they began three years of weekly lunches at elementary school

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
5 Photos
Longtime Lunch Buddy Steve Runyan greets Isaiah Ephraim, from left, Nathan Harris and Seth Hunt at Lapellah for a grown-up lunch Friday. Nine years ago Runyan began meeting with his three lunch buddies, who all attended low-income Martin Luther King Elementary.
Longtime Lunch Buddy Steve Runyan greets Isaiah Ephraim, from left, Nathan Harris and Seth Hunt at Lapellah for a grown-up lunch Friday. Nine years ago Runyan began meeting with his three lunch buddies, who all attended low-income Martin Luther King Elementary. All three graduated from local high schools this month. Photo Gallery

Lunch Buddy Program

• Began in 1993 at Hazel Dell Elementary School.

• Today: 19 Vancouver Public Schools elementary schools.

• 2014-15 school year: 365 student-mentor pairs.

• Waiting list: about 100 kids, mostly boys.

• 2015-16 school year program begins late September.

• Informational meeting: noon Sept. 23, Bates Center for Educational Leadership, 2921 Falk Road.

• Contact: 313-4730 or lunchbuddy@vansd.org

• Website: http://foundationforvps.org/mentoring/

Steve Runyan and three old friends met Friday to talk over lunch at a reunion of sorts.

It’s a habit they formed nine years ago when Runyan was a Lunch Buddy program mentor and Nathan Harris, Seth Hunt and Isaiah Ephraim were third-graders at Martin Luther King Elementary School.

Once a week for three years, Runyan showed up at school to eat with his lunch buddies, talk about life, read books and play board games.

“When you brush your teeth at the end of the day, you can say, ‘I made a difference,’ ” said Runyan, a retired jeweler and businessman.

Friday’s reunion at Lapellah marked the high school graduations of all three young men earlier this month.

Lunch Buddy Program

• Began in 1993 at Hazel Dell Elementary School.

• Today: 19 Vancouver Public Schools elementary schools.

• 2014-15 school year: 365 student-mentor pairs.

• Waiting list: about 100 kids, mostly boys.

• 2015-16 school year program begins late September.

• Informational meeting: noon Sept. 23, Bates Center for Educational Leadership, 2921 Falk Road.

&#8226; Contact: 313-4730 or <a href="mailto:lunchbuddy@vansd.org">lunchbuddy@vansd.org</a>

&#8226; Website: <a href="http://foundationforvps.org/mentoring/">http://foundationforvps.org/mentoring/</a>

Harris, 19, graduated from Fort Vancouver High School. He’s planning to earn his associate degree at Clark College, pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with the goal of becoming a police officer like his father.

Hunt, 17, who graduated from Summit View High School in Battle Ground, plans to study welding at Clark College and then transfer to a trade school in Oklahoma.

Ephraim, 18, graduated from Camas High School. In the fall, he’ll attend Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande, Ore., as he pursues his dream of becoming a teacher and coach.

“He brought us lunch. He was there to spend time with us,” Ephraim said. “He also played a part in me wanting to be a coach and a teacher.”

Runyan attended Ephraim’s graduation party at the family’s home.

“I was flabbergasted that after this many years, the bond still lived on,” Runyan said.

At the outset of the Lunch Buddy program, Runyan was one of the first adults to sign up to be a mentor. Runyan met with the boys from third through fifth grade. Sometimes, there were three boys eating lunch with Runyan, and sometimes more. He sometimes brought the boys hamburgers or pizza. But then the boys moved on to middle school.

Over lunch Friday, the young men talked about what the Lunch Buddy program and being mentored by Runyan meant to them.

“Lunch Buddies made me want to go to school. It made me want to help people who are less fortunate,” said Hunt.

Later in high school, Hunt joined the Air Force JROTC program and helped middle school students in a leadership class.

For his senior project, Ephraim started a track club at their old school, King Elementary, where his mom, Janell Ephraim, is the principal.

Ephraim’s track club began with a 45-minute study period because “I wanted to let them know that school comes first,” he said.

“Steve showed me what hard work can get you,” said Harris, who helped with Ephraim’s track club.

“I remember the first day I met him,” Ephraim said about Runyan. “My friend Adrian was eating with him, and Mr. Runyan invited me to join him.”

“It was the same for me!” added Hunt, whose friend VaShon Perkins was eating lunch with Runyan, who invited the boy to join them.

For 18 years, Runyan was committed to having lunch weekly with buddies not only at King Elementary, but also at Minnehaha and Chinook elementaries. Four years ago, Runyan retired his Lunch Buddy commitment. He is unsure how many kids he mentored over the years.

“I couldn’t tell you. We had up to five with this group,” he said, looking around the lunch table. “It took so little to make an impression. You don’t leave it behind when you leave the school that day.”

Self-esteem and confidence building are the main by-products of kids participating in the program, said Marija Hobbs, who coordinates the Lunch Buddy program.

“Overall, it makes the students happier. When you have a student who is in a good mood and is on top of the world and comes back to class, it’s infectious,” Hobbs said.

The Lunch Buddy program began at Hazel Dell Elementary School in 1993 as a project for the Greater Clark County Rotary. A year later, it was expanded by the Vancouver Rotary Club and added King, Roosevelt, Harney and Washington elementary schools.

In 2005, Lunch Buddy Mentoring became a Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools program that works with community organizations and businesses. In 2014-2015, there were 365 Lunch Buddy student-mentor pairs in 19 elementary school.

More mentors are needed. Almost 100 kids, the majority of them boys, waited for a mentor this past school year. Adults who would like to become a Lunch Buddy can attend an informational session Sept. 23.

“It can be life-changing to have someone there who is caring and meeting with you one-on-one every week,” Hobbs said.

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