Purple Pals gets students, their children involved

When deciding which university to attend, many students consider campus perks. These might include dorm quality, what the food on campus is like and the social atmosphere.

A quality many nontraditional students might consider is how they might be able to spend time with their children.

Purple Pals is a club for children of Weber State University students. Children 17 years old and younger are eligible.

Debbie Cragun, the coordinator for the Nontraditional Student Center, started the club two years ago. She said she started the club for two reasons: to give student-parents time to spend with their children, and to help those children feel comfortable and connected with a university early in their lives.

“It’s kind of twofold. So the parents do benefit; they get to spend time with their kids,” Cragun said. “It is for students; I don’t want people to think, ‘Well, it’s just for kids.’”

Cragun said she hopes children will see their parents attending school and want to follow that example.

Brenda Smith, a sophomore studying health promotion, goes to school full-time and has four children. All of her children have been Purple Pals. She said she tells her children that, through Purple Pals, they are part of WSU and can consider it their school.

Cragun said if the club’s participants are on campus several times per semester, hopefully the campus won’t be as intimidating for them.

Stephanie Saffell-Wilkinson, a WSU student working on general education courses, said she absolutely loves Purple Pals. Her three children are all members.

She said many student-parents don’t have a lot of time or money for extracurricular activities, which is where Purple Pals comes in. She said her children enjoy the activities and it is encouraging to them to be on campus for different events.

An annual fee of $5 is required to join Purple Pals. Each member receives a T-shirt, a free game of bowling and free play of one arcade game at Wildcat Lanes, a “Fun Pack,” and access to special activities on campus with their Purple Pals ID.

“Really, the $5 annual fee — the T-shirt’s worth more than that,” Smith said.

Each year, each member is also mailed a birthday card that includes more free games of bowling and a small soda from Wildcat Lanes.

On the WSU Nontraditional Student Center activities calendar for fall 2012, some activities are marked with wildcat paws. These signify special events or opportunities for Purple Pals.

“So it’s a great opportunity just to have the kids feel like they’re part of my education and that they’re still important, although I’m a college student,” Saffell-Wilkinson said.

Each semester, Purple Pals plans two big activities for its members. Last year, the club went to Get Air, a trampoline park in Roy.

Saffell-Wilkinson said it would normally cost her family $40 to do this activity, but Purple Pals got to do it for free. Another trip to Get Air is planned for this December.

“The hopes of our Purple Pals kids club is to include our students’ children in their experience with school and hope that they get them excited to start college when they become the age,” Smith said.

Cragun said she hopes to survey Purple Pals participants in coming years to measure the club’s effectiveness; she said she wants to know not only how many Purple Pals will have attended college, but how many stayed and graduated. She said her hope is that Purple Pals will choose to attend WSU.

The club also hopes to include more academic programming. Cragun said she encourages other departments at WSU to get involved with Purple Pals so children can participate in different activities.

“Any way we can get not only the kids, but their parents involved in the university as a whole, I would support and look for people to kind of encourage that,” Cragun said.

Purple Pals is also available at the Davis campus.

Saffell-Wilkinson said her children originally planned on attending other universities, but, since joining Purple Pals, they want to be WSU Wildcats.