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On Saturday, August 17th, I was fortunate to participate in two fantastic events that will provide great help to the children living in our 24:1 communities. One was really big and the other very modest in size, while both spoke to the delivery system we need to have in place if our children are going to be successful.
The big event was the Beyond the Backpack, a back to school event we held in partnership with the Normandy Schools Collaborative. The small event was the graduation ceremony for eight Pre-K educators working with our partner United 4 Children, who just completed 120 hours of early childhood development.
Historically, we and many others held some type of back to school event in our community and rarely coordinated our efforts. This year we determined, as in many other aspects of our work, if we could align our existing resources more effectively that we could serve more children and their families.
When asked if they would partner with us to create one big event everyone said “yes.” As the planning continued, we knew we wanted to make sure that a variety of other service agencies were at the event to further offer the services that we knew our families were in need of.
As the excitement grew so did our partnerships.
Thanks to the hard work of many of my staff, great volunteers, sponsorships, and the partnership with the Normandy Schools Collaborative, Beyond the Backpack at Normandy High School was an unmitigated success! Our back to school event usually assisted 300-400 children while many others in the community served the same or a lot less. This year, we gave out over 1,400 backpacks! Let me say that again, we gave out over 1,400 backpacks! Backpacks included additional school supplies like pens, pencils, crayons, paper and more.
There were 40 partner agencies represented, ranging from traditional social service agencies and community based businesses to a local bank partner. Over 2,000 attended and the energy throughout the courtyard was simply fantastic. During this year’s Beyond the Backpack, Almost 100 children received haircuts, a wellness van was on site to give exams, local fruits and vegetables were given away, a healthy cooking demonstration was on site, bounce houses were present and much more. School staff were thrilled to see so many students being assisted in their preparation for the first day of class.
As I observed the magic of the day, I was quoted by St. Louis Public Radio stating:
“We want the kids to start the school year not only with the supplies they need, but more importantly with the energy and the enthusiasm and the knowledge … that this community is behind them and they’re going to support their individual success, which will lead to the collective success of the Normandy Schools Collaborative.”
True! This was our first time holding an event of this size and scale and we already know many things we will improve on next year. Big event!
I left Beyond the Backpack and headed over to Girls, Inc. for the CDA Graduation event. Every year, with Beyond Housing’s support, a group of teachers from our Programs Achieving Quality (PAQ) in partnership with United 4 Children graduates after completing 120 hours of service training. This training culminates with a test to gain the certification. Today, we have trained over 40 teachers within the 12 sites that currently serve over 800 children each and every day.
I have been to this event every year it has been held. The crowd this year to support the eight graduates was about 60 family and friends. Over 2,000 in frenetic energy to this modest crowd was quite a shock. That being said, the commitment of these eight teachers to getting better at their trade is no small feat. 120 hours is a great deal of commitment and dedication to getting better at your craft. What could be more important than working with the youngest members of community to get them prepared for life?
The children of our community deserve the absolute best support we can muster to ensure their academic success and well as life success. Being able to provide this training is no less important that providing all the support we offered at the Beyond the Backpack event. As for these graduates, they are teachers in every sense of the word and quite possibly the most important teacher their students will ever have.
WE NEED TO REALIZE THAT IF OUR CHILDREN ARE TO ACHIEVE ALL THE GREATNESS THEY HAVE INSIDE, WE AS ADULTS NEED TO SUPPORT THEM IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE.
THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS.
THERE IS NO MAGIC SOLUTION.
We must surround the children with love, support and all the tools they need to reach the stars. Those tools include a decent, safe place to live, a high quality education system, access to primary health care services, access to jobs and training to ensure the ability to rise up the income ladder and economic development activity that creates a true sense of place. Big and small and everything in between – that is what we need to provide to our children each and every day.
What can we do each day to ensure that our children’s dreams and aspirations come true?
We can do a lot and all of it shines brighter when we do this together.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.