Supplying Students for Success
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Supplying Students for Success

Grand Circle associates donate 152 backpacks filled with school supplies to low-income students in Boston

Each year, as summer draws to a close and families prepare for the back-to-school season, Grand Circle associates Kathy and John Wilder are thinking about the many families in Massachusetts who face challenges during this normally exciting time of year. For parents in low-income households, the annual expense for new school supplies is often more than they can afford. While some classmates are comparing brightly colored notebooks and pencils, others feel a sense of embarrassment or inadequacy. "Starting the school year without the proper learning tools has a negative impact on a child's self-esteem and starts them off on the wrong foot at school," explains Kathy.

To help bridge this gap between those who have and those who have not, Kathy and John host a community service event that has become an annual favorite at Grand Circle: a back-to-school backpack and supply drive. The couple first hosted the event under the banner of their own charitable organization, Community of Friends, which they founded together in 2003. Knowing that many of her Grand Circle colleagues share her passion for community service, Kathy, now a 12-year associate, decided to introduce the event to Grand Circle in 2006. That year, associates filled and donated 40 backpacks. In 2011, the number grew to 152. "It has really caught on," Kathy says. "People love it."

Volunteers receive a school supply list, and purchase and fill a backpack with grade-appropriate materials, including pencils, notebooks, highlighters, three-ring binders, and scissors. Participants also receive the name, grade, gender, and favorite color of a specific student. "That's what people really love about it," says Kathy. "I think they feel connected to the child."

This year, Kathy and John got creative with their fundraising methods by hosting the very first "Recess at the Loading Dock," which took place on a sunny afternoon in the lot behind Grand Circle headquarters. "We played Four Square, ate ice cream, and learned that we have many associates who are 'Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,'" says Kathy. They also raised $642—enough to fill seven additional backpacks.

There was another welcome change to the event this year that was especially significant to Grand Circle Foundation: Kathy and John added the Parkside Christian Academy to their list of backpack recipients. Back in April of 2011, Parkside was the site of the Foundation's annual Rebuilding Together Boston project, and event leaders were impressed by the parents' commitment to their children's education. "The parents are so involved, they help with the school's maintenance," says Kathy. "Also, 90% of classes from grades K-8 are performing above grade level on the SAT 10 exam." Volunteers filled 28 backpacks for Parkside students, and donated extra supplies to their teachers. Other long-standing partners were the KIPP Academy in Lynn, an exceptionally challenging college prep middle school; and the METCO Program, which enables students from inner city Boston to attend suburban schools.

"Each school greeted us with welcome, loving, thankful arms, and were thrilled to be receiving such help," says Kathy. She thanks all of the generous Grand Circle associates who donated their time and money to help fill backpacks this year. "Please reflect proudly upon the fact that 152 kids are sitting at their desks right now with the supplies they need to start the school year," Kathy says. "This gives them and their parents one less worry, allowing them to focus on their important schoolwork."

Featured in our September 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.