Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Education: Backpacks Help Relieve the Load

Working at United Way I get the opportunity to hear a lot about the need, but not all the time do I have the chance to actually see it in front of me.

Yesterday, I had that chance.

At Samaritan Community Center, United Way staff and volunteers from across the community helped to distribute more than 700 backpacks to children. Most often, these were children from families where school supplies, especially new ones, are considered a luxury. And a backpack to put them in is an even greater indulgence.

I remember the excitement that I felt when school was approaching and I got my school supply list. My mom would take me shopping and I would become overwhelmed at the choices I had – blue, purple, green spiral notebooks; black or blue pens; mechanical or sharpened pencils – but I never thought then that there were kids that didn’t have the same choices.

And while our experiences were not the same, I saw the same joy on the faces of those kids – but better. Their faces weren’t the only ones filling with joy, but their parents, volunteers and staff supporting the distribution that day were excited, too.

For me, the excitement I had was not just because I was a part of helping make their lives a little better that day. I felt joy because I knew that without these supplies, these kids wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about going back to school. Students from low-income families face increased challenges to being successful in school, and supplies should not be an additional barrier.

An interesting look at these barriers can be found at www.liveunited.org/forecaster. Multiple tools are available to see what the graduation rates are in an area or what barriers there are to for children, but the Forecaster can actually show what happens when you change certain conditions in our community.

Seeing the faces of those children reaffirms my belief that if we can reach out a hand to just one by giving them a foundation where learning starts - confidence - then we can truly make our community better.

In the faces of those families, I confirmed my belief in how important it is for us to encourage everyone to find a LIVE UNITED story.

My new LIVE UNITED story is that I was a part of making a child's load a little lighter simply by giving them a backpack.

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