Viking Kids Day Connects North Park University Students, Community Families and Children

Viking Kids Day
Student volunteers join children at 2011 Viking Kids Day to make posters they took to the Vikings' football game on Oct. 8.

Annual event drew more than 75 student volunteers

CHICAGO (October 12, 2011) – North Park University student volunteers spent a sunny October afternoon together with children who came to the Albany Park campus to have fun, enjoy some pizza and ice cream, watch a Vikings football game, learn about the University, and in the process, form meaningful relationships.

Known as "Viking Kids Day," the event is an urban outreach initiative of North Park's University Ministries. The sixth annual Viking Kids Day was Oct. 8, with at least 75 North Park University students volunteering their time to work one-on-one with about 75 children.

Viking Kids Day is part of the University's commitment to President Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. North Park is one of nearly 250 participating colleges and universities which pledged to strengthen communities through service and uniting people across lines of faith through dialogue and understanding. The University worked with three organizations that brought children from their after-school programs to Vikings Kids Day: By the Hand, in Chicago's Austin neighborhood; Bethel Family Programs, in the Humboldt Park neighborhood; and Holy Family, in the former Cabrini Green neighborhood. 

"Many of our students don't come from Chicago," said Richard Kohng, urban outreach coordinator, North Park University Ministries. "Hearing the stories from the kids always makes a big impact on them. To be able to put a face with a name really humanizes it for our students, so that when they think of the Austin neighborhood, they have actually met someone from that neighborhood."

Another objective of Viking Kids Day is to encourage students to volunteer their time with some 15 to 20 other community organizations with which the University maintains working relationships, Kohng said.

Bianca Pinetti, Lake Zurich, Ill., was among student leaders who organized this year's event. "When I came to North Park, I wanted to be sure I was attending a school that provided service and had a connection with the city — which is why I wanted to be involved with University Ministries and the urban outreach department," she said. The sophomore sociology and youth ministry major participated in last year's event and was a tutor last year with Holy Family.

Viking Kids Day works because of the individual time the children spend with the students, she said. "I think just having someone love them and give them individual time is what they look forward to. I experienced that at Holy Family and Cabrini Green. Sharing Christ's love with them and being consistent with them is what they look forward to most."

Seeing children from the community excited about being on a college campus is what makes the program special, said Nathan Ciulla, senior in biblical studies, Lexington, Ill., and intern with University Ministries. The children see things they can aspire to, he said. At the same time, student volunteers learn about the community surrounding the University. "It's a great program. We can find common ground, and we can learn a little bit about each other," he said.

Kelly Thoes, New Life Centers of Chicagoland, was at the first Viking Kids Day. She is the New Life Centers' director for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. The program offers after-school and summer programming in a variety of subjects. Thoes, who earned a bachelor's in education at North Park in 2009, brought 24 students and three adults to this year's event.

Many of the young participants come from big families and are in big classes in school. "Viking Kids Day gives a kid positive one-on-one attention they don't get a lot of other places," she said. They don't always have one person who cares specifically about what they do at school, and wants to know who they are. Viking Kids Day is that one-on-one time that they need so much."


For further information or resources, contact John Brooks, Director of Media Relations and News, via email or at (773) 244-5522. Learn more about North Park University.

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