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Sonya Project
The Roots of the Sonya Project 
The project is named in honor of Sonya Carson, the mother of Dr. Ben Carson. When Ben was just a boy, there was little in his life that could have predicted that he would one day grow up to become a world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon. But his mother had big dreams for her two sons. Despite the obstacles she faced herself–she was a single mother who never finished high school–she nonetheless instilled in her boys a life-long love of learning that showed them the way to “dream big.” Every week, Sonya Carson required her sons to visit the public library and choose two books. The choice was theirs, but the expectation was not to be ignored. Ben and his brother would then have to “report” on the books they had selected (orally, when they were very young, but then in writing as they grew older). Ben grew up searching the library stacks for books that interested him and discovering a world that was much bigger than his own. Today, Ben Carson has a foundation dedicated to building reading rooms across the country where children can find safe places to discover these other worlds and lift their eyes well beyond their immediate horizons. His foundation also raises money for scholarships for young people to pursue their dreams of college.
The Sonya Project strives to recreate the magic that Sonya Carson sparked in Ben by linking Illinois College student mentors to at-risk children in Jacksonville’s public schools and enabling them to form supportive relationships that encourage the children and Illinois College students to strive for personal excellence.
The mission of the Sonya Project at Illinois College is to assess and help meet the greatest needs in local education for low-income and at-risk youth and expand literacy and math skills through buddy reading, tutoring, and mentorship.
The goals of the Sonya Project at Illinois College are:
  • to improve reading and math skills of students at local low-income schools
  • to increase the enjoyment of reading and learning among at-risk youth
  • to help form well-educated, productive citizens capable of participating fully in their community
For more information about the Sonya Project, please contact Katie Brunk at 217.245.3571 or

Want to get involved?

Faculty can integrate The Sonya Project into courses as a service-learning project.

Students can apply to volunteer.
Contact Katie Brunk for more information.
2013 - 2014 Program Data

Feedback from Teachers

  • Thirty-three out of thirty-four participating teachers believe participating in The Sonya Project improved their students’ reading or math skills.
  • 85% of teachers believed that participating in The Sonya Project helped their students build character.
  • 100% of teachers said that their students enjoyed participating in The Sonya Project and that they’d like to have Sonya Project volunteers work with their students in the future

Feedback from Volunteers

  • 100% of volunteers rated their volunteer experience as average or higher. 50% rated it as excellent.
  • 86% of volunteers said they were able to apply skills and knowledge from their academic courses to their volunteer experience.
  • 85% of volunteers want to continue volunteering with The Sonya Project.
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