When the program Beach Buddy debuted in fall 2020, the peer mentorship service at Long Beach State, it could not have come at a better time.
Students were grappling with the transition to the first full-length virtual semester, experiencing job loss, housing insecurity or seeing a family member contract COVID-19 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and meanwhile, a contentious election cycle played out across social media and television.
The program came out of a need to introduce more outreach and student support, according to Bongjoo Hwang, director of Counseling and Psychological Services, and consists of CSULB student mentors who are trained to connect with students in need of emotional support or guidance on mental health.
According to Gloria Flores, a peer mentor coordinator at CAPS, peer guidance is what makes programs like Beach Buddy effective.
“Peer-to-peers tend to value the input of someone from their community, and they tend to see them as someone they can trust, someone that can understand what they’re going through, and someone that they can turn to more comfortably, as opposed to [a] professional that may not be the same generation or might not have the same background,” Flores said.
Beach Buddy, in partnership with CAPS and the College of Health and Human Services, has nine student student mentors working in the program, both graduate and undergraduate students who proved that they would be dedicated to their positions and put in the time necessary.
For graduate student Jessica Gonzalez, a counseling psychology major, saw the program as an opportunity to get involved with the community.
“I just thought that the program has a really good mission of students helping students, and I think that that’s not something that you see all the time,” Gonzalez said. “I think just being able to create that safe space within students is something that’s very important.”
Flores said that mentors in the program received 30 hours of training and took part in a peer educator certification training through Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, an international program that drives innovation in higher education.
Beyond that, it’s the Beach Buddy mentors who chose the workshop topics for CSULB students to attend, like Gonzalez’s decision to create a workshop on intimate partner violence, which discussed signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Another program that was created by the Beach Buddy mentors was a workshop on dealing with Imposter Syndrome, an experience where someone believes their achievements were not gained through their skill or work and subsequently feeling like a fraud because of it.
According to Flores, that was one of their highest attended workshops.
Mara Lewis, a speech-language pathology major and Beach Buddy mentor, said that a workshop she enjoyed was a mentoring session for graduate students.
Lewis completed her undergraduate studies at California State University Fresno, and like Gonzalez, said that this program was an opportunity to get involved with the CSULB community.
While working as a peer mentor, Lewis saw the variety of issues students came to her with, including time management and organizational issues.
“I think that when people think of Beach Buddies or receiving help, they might think it needs to be a little bit more of the heavier stuff, which is not really true,” Lewis said. “We’re students helping students.”
The Beach Buddy program saw about 300 students visit presentations, participate in workshops and seek one-on-one counseling, according to Flores.
All of that work was insightful to the mentors as well, who are still learning themselves.
Courtney Joseph, a second-year transfer student who is majoring in sports psychology, said that being a mentor is viewed differently than being a therapist, something she ultimately wants to become. Therefore, it was necessary for her to act as a mentor, which she described as being a friend that someone didn’t know they had.
“Us as humans, it is so natural for us to be like, ‘Oh yeah, sure this was what works for me, do this, this and this,’ when we have been trained to not just give advice, again, meet them where they’re at and create a plan together and work together with them,” Joseph said.
Gonzalez said that being a mentor has helped her separate what she has learned in her counseling classes because mentorship is so different. She said that mentors must recognize that they may not have the answers to everything.
“It’s just learning to find that balance of just knowing to listen and try to gauge what that person needs at that time,” Gonzalez said.
The Beach Buddy program will continue into their second semester, and the program is ready to continue working with students and determining how to better connect with the campus community.
“We really just want to be here to normalize a lot of things that we are experiencing as individuals and let everyone know like, ‘Hey, a lot of us are experiencing these same things too,’ when it’s normal and it’s okay to go through these things because we’re not alone,” Lewis said.