A Helping Hand in Education
On the outside, its just a backpack. On the inside, there are some school supplies, but for the kids getting them, it's not just anything.
"It gives the kids all equal footing. They don't have to hang their head and say, 'well, I didn't get any pencils or glue or anything'. So, its good," said Ken Butler, a SERVE retired senior volunteer.
"They're not getting labeled as you don't have the money to get those things," said Julie Roark, Callaway Action Network director.
The retired senior volunteers pack bookbags for SERVE's 15th annual back to school program.
"We are able to provide every student who has made an application with the program with an individualized backpack," said Roark.
With the program, 291 kids don't have to worry about their school supplies this year. SERVE is taking care of 100% of everything on their school supply list.
"This year is a little different; in the past, the bookbags have been filled with generic supplies," said Roark. "I said why would we want to give the kids this when they're not going to need it instead of giving them what they need."
The individualized backpacks don't come cheap, and that's where the United Way comes in.
"Without those United Way funds, Callaway Action Network would not exist. We could not do what we do without those funds. We completely rely on them," said Roark.
SERVE relies on the United Way just as some Callaway County parents rely on SERVE.
"We do what we can," said Butler.
Sometimes the parents are even more grateful than the kids.
"You have the parents, who we get everything from, thank you to tears because they knew there was no way they were going to be able to take care of that child's needs, and without this program, there options are very limited," said Roark.
Mary Ann Harris, a SERVE retired senior volunteer, worked in education for 25 years and she knows what it's like to see kids show up to school without their supplies.
"I felt very sorry for them. And we would work to try to find ways to see that they got their supplies without being embarrassed," she said.
The back to school program is a way to eliminate that embarrassment.
"This is probably the greatest program in terms of what it actually does for the community in the long run, because we're getting these kids ready to go to school, and to learn, and to become better citizens," said Roark.
SERVE is the largest recipient of United Way money in Callaway County.The Callaway Action Network is one of SERVE's programs and receives about a third of its working budget from those donations.