Claire Kerr first heard about Project Vida while scrolling through her email. The Honors public health student noticed the club announcement sitting at the bottom of the Honors newsletter. The description included public health, kids, education — all things Kerr wanted to do in the future.
Soon, Kerr found herself meeting a group of Honors students in a parking lot outside of a local church every week preparing games, crafts or snacks for the children inside. For six weeks every semester, Project Vida works with Ezekiel Ministries, an after-school program for inner-city children, to teach children about living a healthy lifestyle.
Activities range from making skeletons out of Q-tips to learning about personal hygiene. Arlis Dawsey, a freshman public health student and the newest president of Project Vida, said his favorite activity focused on the heart.
"Tying the heart in, like the function of the heart to empathy for others, and just seeing the kids learn that and really reciprocate that to others, that was my favorite," Dawsey said. "Just to see them have fun."
Dawsey said in addition to helping them learn, he enjoys creating a lasting connection with the children he meets. He makes a point to know their names and enjoys seeing them each week.
"They're great kids, so fun-loving, they just come and then just give you the biggest hug, and they don't want to let go," Dawsey said.
Kerr said Project Vida’s regular visits are a great way for Honors students to connect with the community and create stability for the children they visit. Kerr, and some other members of the organization, have been volunteering every week for the past two years.
"In the beginning, it was more like 'Who are you? What are you doing? This is my territory? Why are you trying to come in here and teach me about public health,’" Kerr said. "Now as soon as you open that door, they see your face and go 'Miss Claire, Miss Claire, oh my gosh, I love you!’"
Kerr said she is impressed with how much the children already know and learn during the visits.
"We get to Project Vida. And the first question we ask is how many bones are in the body, and a girl raised her hand and says 206," Kerr said. "It just blows me away how smart they are because you kind of forget what children are like in college."
Project Vida also meets weekly to plan visits and create lessons to engage the students. They visit with Ezekiel every week during the semester and plan lessons that are the most relevant to students throughout the year.
The group is mainly Honors public health students, but Dawsey hopes to continue expanding the program to more areas of campus. Project Vida is open to all USC students, and Dawsey said it would be an excellent opportunity for students studying everything from education to social work.
As she graduates, Kerr said that, looking back, she is happy she committed so much time and effort to a club she found at the bottom of an email.
"It is also worth it when you go back every Monday, and they're running and hugging
you. And then they're crying when you're leaving, you're like, okay, this makes all
of the struggle and the stress so worth it,” Kerr said. “These kids don't see any
of that, they just see our smiling faces."
Students interested in getting involved in Project Vida can find out more on GarnetGate or through the organization’s Instagram.