Students in the Harrisonville School District won’t go back to school next month with an empty backpack.
Hundreds of school supplies items, along with clothing items and new shoes, will be distributed Monday, July 29, to students who can’t afford the basics for going back to school, thanks to a special group of volunteers formed by the district’s Harrisonville Bright Futures initiative.
Eligible participants were required to submit an application to participate in the first-ever Bright Futures Back-To-School Fair. One hundred fifty kids from more than 70 families will benefit from the event.
Harrisonville became an affiliate of Bright Futures USA last summer. The non-profit organization was founded in Joplin and is dedicated to bringing communities together to focus on the success of children.
The initiative helps deploy volunteers and resources from around to community to help students meet their needs in order to be successful, and providing school supplies is just one of the avenues Bright Future helps.
Harrisonville Schools Social Worker Jennifer Beavers and district Communications and Community Relations Director Jill Filer serve as the co-coordinators for the one-year-old organization. The organization is also provided oversight from Advisory Board Chairs Carrie Caruthers and Steve Croy.
Filer said the needs in the Harrisonville area have grown in recent years, with a greater number of students who are considered homeless and with 43 percent of the district’s students meet eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program.
This summer, Community Bank of Harrisonville partnered with the organization by seeking school supplies donations for their annual “Stuff the Bus” school supply drive to give to the organization.
Bank employees recently dropped off their collection of items at Harrisonville Middle School, where a handful of community members organized the supplies for the distribution next week.
Supplies were also collected in donation barrels throughout the community.
During the fair, students will also be able to receive required immunizations, make residency requirements, pickup hygiene kits, clothing and new shoes, receive haircuts and meet with the district’s bus company about any transportation questions.
“Whatever we do will be good for the families and the kids and help them get started on a good foot for the school year,” Filer said.
The Bright Futures framework engages businesses, human service agencies, faith-based organizations, and parent groups within communities to meet the needs of children so students can be successful.
A handful of school districts in southwest Missouri, one in Kansas and Virginia, along with Holden and Grandview, locally, are affiliates of the organization.
In its first year in Harrisonville, the organization met 3,719 individual student needs and connected 167 community volunteers with school-related needs.
“Our school district and our kids have always been strongly-supported, but sometimes people want to help, but don’t know where or how,” Filer said. “This gives us an avenue to plug people in at the right places, giving us things that can really benefit our students.”
Bright Futures has connected with numerous community partners to provide meet needs for students, including haircuts for more than 60 elementary students, a discounted prom closet, bags of books to give away to 200 kids, meals through the Food 4 Thought program, sports physicals, and Spanish translation services, among many contributions.
Other needs are simple, but critical to student success.
One district elementary teacher had a student struggling to get to school because he was depending on a family member to wake him up. There had been a number of incidents that the student missed the bus, so the teacher put out a call to see if someone could donate an alarm clock. The need was met and the student’s attendance has since improved.
Another ongoing Bright Futures effort is the “Cats Basement,” a clothing and shoe resource for the district to assist students throughout the year.
The “basement” is housed at the district's alternative school.
“Our concept is that we have a place where we can have clothing, shoes, and other things, ready,” Filer said.
A new volunteer-led initiative by Harrisonville resident Julie Hicks will launch through the Bright Futures organization this fall to provide birthday cakes to children who would otherwise go without. Hicks works at the Democrat Missourian.
An avid baker, Hicks was inspired to launch “Make a Cake” after hearing a story about a similar “Birthday Blessings” program in Kansas City, Kan.
Sometimes birthday cakes become an unaffordable luxury when a family’s income is competing with priorities for medicine, clothing and rent, Hicks said. She said children need positive experiences that show they are valued, and when they see a birthday cake with their name on it, they know that the occasion is just for them.
“I started thinking that about using this talent to help kids in low-income situations,” Hicks said. “Our goal is to show these children that they are special and valued even with something as simple as a birthday cake with their name on it.”
Hicks is looking for volunteer bakers and delivery drivers. If interested, contact her at 816-258-1844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the next year, the organization will be expanding their efforts to focus more on mentoring students.
“Bright Futures is all about time, talent and treasure. It’s not always helping the physical needs, it’s also about being there to support the kids,” Filer said. “(Mentoring) is going to provide our kids with some solid role models to not just offer academic support, but more of someone to listen to and be there to talk and share. All of our buildings have said that is a need.”
Bright Futures is still collecting supplies, along with new pairs of shoes, for the upcoming school year.
Individuals wishing to donate can drop off items in one of the 10 Bright Futures blue donations barrels located throughout Harrisonville at Commerce Bank, Harrisonville Community Center, United Methodist Church, Cass County Public Library, First Baptist Church, First Christian Church, Sherwood Community Bank and the Nazarene Church.
To stay updated about Bright Futures, Filer said individuals can sign up to receive emails by contacting her at email@example.com or following the organization on Facebook.