SHAWNEE – The Oklahoma Baptist Athletics Department has officially announced a new community service initiative aimed at providing mentors to elementary and middle school students in the greater Shawnee area. In partnership with Mission Shawnee, the "Bison Buddies" program will match every OBU student-athlete with a classroom at a local elementary or middle school.

"OBU Athletics is so excited to partner with Mission Shawnee and start Bison Buddies," said Anna Howle, assistant athletics director and Bison Buddies coordinator.

"Our student-athletes are amazing people that want to influence the lives of the kids in Shawnee. So many of our student-athletes have been impacted by athletic heroes that cared about them, and getting the opportunity to be a hero and to be a mentor for our local kids might be one of the most important things they ever do."

Each of OBU's 21 varsity athletics teams, as well as the spirit programs, will be involved in the Bison Buddies initiative. The university recently held a mentorship training event for all participating student-athletes led by Ryan Brooks, executive director of Mission Shawnee.

"We are so excited at Mission Shawnee to be able to partner with OBU and the Bison Buddies program," Brooks said. "We truly believe that mentoring relationships like the ones that will be created through the Bison Buddies program have the power to change lives."

On Mondays and Fridays, around 500 OBU student-athletes will spread out across nine local schools to tutor, mentor, and play with Shawnee area students. Schools currently participating in the Bison Buddies program include Will Rogers Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Sequoyah Elementary, Shawnee Early Childhood Center, Pleasant Grove School, Shawnee Middle School, Liberty Academy, and Grove School.

Members of the Bison lacrosse team and cheer and pom squads are also volunteering with the Blue Zones Walking School Bus at Pleasant Grove and Will Rogers each week.

For more information about Mission Shawnee, visit missionshawnee.org.