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Social work students tutoring at Stepping Stone

Every Monday afternoon Dr. Donald Ludman’s social work students tutor for Ester Stanley’s free after-school program at The Stepping Stone, 214 Miller St., Dowagiac. Stanley, a Dowagiac teacher for 32 years, visited Ludman’s Introduction to Social Work class in October. After her presentation, several students asked to visit and are now engaged in tutoring elementary-age students in reading, mathematics and social studies homework.

Ludman accompanies the four students, who Nov. 6 included Madison Bergan from Niles, Deyonna Gaines from South Haven, Kaitlin Ingold from Portage and Nicole Fuller from Edwardsburg and her daughter, Taya, 11, who attends Edwardsburg Middle School.

They’re certainly not doing it for extra credit because they receive none.

“They’re just doing it to volunteer,” Ludman said.

Bergan, a Brandywine High School graduate interested in addiction counseling, said, “I’m not kidding, I learn from the kids. They’re super smart!”

Ingold, who is interested in foster care, read a chapter book with an older student wearing a Class of 2024 shirt.

Ingold agreed with Bergan. “I feel like they help us more than we help them. I learned a lot today” brushing cobwebs off atrophied grade-school skills, such as the difference between cardinal and ordinal numbers.

Ingold also finds the sessions relieve college stress.

Gaines hopes to work in foster care or with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ll definitely be coming back,” said Fuller, who has two other children, 9 and 4. “They’re all in school, so it’s time for me to do something,” like going to college to become a social worker.

Fuller started school in Niles at Brandywine before moving to Edwardsburg in sixth grade.

The SMC students admire Stanley’s passion for teaching and the “positive energy” she exudes.

“I loved everything about that job,” Stanley reflects. “I loved it so much I felt guilty taking a check,” recalling the KCP (Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks) college visitation program.

“We were in New York, Florida, Nashville,” said Stanley, who sat near President Bill Clinton at Parks’ November 2005 memorial service in Detroit.

One girl is astounded to learn Parks actually visited Dowagiac and Niles.

Stanley’s non-profit organization is almost six years old, but is in its second school year in its own building.

The Stepping Stone’s open sign flashes from 4 until 6:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday. They sit on chairs repurposed from Round Oak Restaurant.

“We have 30 on the roll. Twelve to 15 come regularly,” she said.

She also gives them Spanish lessons.

Ironically, given how many people Stanley interacts with, she is an introvert who prefers going off by herself, “cruising on my motorcycle with some good music.”

Stanley also “loves to work. This summer we worked 11 hours a day, six days a week” constructing a portable house to auction.

“We clamped together four (10-foot-by-10-foot) sheds into one unit.”

Visible up the street is the new Stone’s Throw Soup Kitchen created with the help of a $5,000 Pokagon Fund grant.

“Let me make this clear as I can,” Stanley said. “All I want to do is cruise on my motorcycle, but I didn’t ride my bike one time last summer. This is not for me, I’m trying to pass something on. I’m trying to get younger people to take over and be entrepreneurs. I need to pass the torch. I only want to work two more years.”

Participants play a few games to unwind after studying and are served lasagna before heading home.